Olympics ignite passion in Canada

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By Christopher Poon [Media Editor]

I’ll admit, going into the Olympics, I had every intention to ignore the event and carry on as if nothing was going on. I was grossed out by the amount of Coke, junk food, and cellphone ads that had begun associating themselves with the Olympics. What was more disgusting was the use of so much taxpayer money for what I originally viewed as an glamorous party for an elite few.

My dismissal of the games worked well enough for the first couple of days, but as the Olympics rolled along, I found myself swept up in a patriotic fanaticism I would have never expected of Vancouver, much less myself.

On that final Sunday night, I found myself wandering the streets with 150,000 other Canadians, most of us clad in some combination of Canadian apparel and flags, and cheering loudly with the rest of the country.

Here’s how I went from opposing the games, to having one of the best times I’ve ever experienced in this country.

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It was easy to go into the games with nothing but cynicism. After all, at a cost of $6 billion, there are so many other things that the money could have gone towards.
The only thing that remotely interested me was the ‘free’ concerts; shows that were being paid by the kind taxpayers of our great province, and cities.

I watched the opening ceremony out of boredom, and found it mostly an embarrassment of our city and country (save for K.D. Lang’s brilliant rendition of Hallelujah).  An athlete had died earlier in the day, the fourth pillar failed to rise, and Gretzky had to endure an agonizingly-long ride in the rain, on the back of a pickup truck as he was paraded in front of so many yokels through downtown Vancouver on his way to light the cauldron.

Things seemed bleak for Vancouver’s games, and I pretty much gave up on the games then and there.

However, things took a turn for the better on the third day of the games, when Alexandre Bilodeau won the first Canadian gold medal at an Olympic games held in Canada.
I watched as Bilodeau embraced his brother, who suffered from cerebral palsy, and listened as the announcer detailed the backstory of the brother’s condition and how it had been an inspiration for Bilodeau. They then cut to Bilodeau being interviewed after winning his medal, and subsequently tearing up when the interviewer asked him about his brother’s condition and the role it played in his performance.

There were huge celebrations, and in the coming days, there were even more.

I began hitting up free shows nearly every night of the first week, I was there when the barricade gave way at Alexisonfire, and the crowd broke into O’ Canada before politely leaving the place, I was downtown when Jon Montgomery won his medal, and the spirit of Canada seemed to emanate from every passerby. People were decked out not only in Canada gear, but flags, pins, tattoos and paint. Every single one with a smile on their face. People were hugging complete strangers, it all seemed absurd to me.

And it was then that I realized, this is what it’s supposed to be about. Nevermind the corporations, the ridiculous amounts of Coca-Cola, RBC and McDonalds garbage that was floating around, it was about being Canadian, and sharing that with the world.

I began watching the games with a sense of excitement I had never before experienced.

I felt joy when our women bobsledders took first and second, I felt heartache when our men’s hockey team lost to team USA during the preliminary rounds, and the amazing thing was, the Canadians all around me carried each other through every step of the way.

Vancouver came alive during these games, a normally sleepy city, with a laid-back reputation suddenly found it’s wake-up call, and the people embraced it with enormous passion. Nearly every night the streets were flooded with people simply reveling in the feel-good times that the country had awoken to. I have never hugged/high-fived/sang O’ Canada as many times as I did during those two weeks.

The medal haul near the end was also a nice bonus, but really, it was about experiencing being Canadian in a way that I’m sure many during these games have never felt before.

For me, the lasting impression of these games will be the overwhelming show of national unity, and how, despite corporations and sponsors, the real spirit of the Olympics will always prevail.

At the end of it, it all made sense.

‘From far and wide, O’ Canada, we stand on guard for thee,’

Yep, we certainly did.

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