Crawl Across the Ocean

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic Wrap-Up

Wow, that was a pretty incredible two weeks. I have to give credit to all the blue jacketed volunteers who covered the city with huge enthusiasm for their often thanked but little rewarded task - and I should also give thanks to the weather :) - even if it didn't cooperate beforehand with the warmest January on record leading up to the games, a full week of sunshine is rare February treat in Vancouver and certainly helped turn the mood around after a rough first couple of days - and the skies even cleared again for the last day of competition and the closing ceremonies here on Sunday.

For posterity (because my memory is going), here are a few of the highlights for me, from the Olympics.

* After 6 hours of wind, fog and rain that alternated between pounding and blowing, seeing Jasey-Jay Anderson, 4 time Olympian, win gold with a come from behind victory against Austrian Benjamin Karl. I stood, along with the rest of the crowd, for the final run down the hill, but crouched a little so as not to block the view of the woman with the small child who was behind us in the stands. Only after Anderson's win, when the media came up into the stands did we realize that the woman was Anderson's wife and the child his young daughter.

Anderson actually had a real struggle with his first qualifying run down the hill, and needed a good time on his second run to even make the knockout stage. But he flew down the hill on the second run and qualified 10th (out of 16 that made the knockout round). Then in the semis he almost went down but somehow kept his balance well enough to still win the race.

Having seen the conditions at Cyrpess for myself, I have to say it was a true miracle of planning and effort that all the events at Cypress went off as scheduled.

* The men's short track relay team, changing their tactics at the last minute to do their relay transfer from the opposite side of the ice from the rest of the teams for the last few exchanges. While the Koreans, Chinese and Americans slowed each other down in the last few exchanges on the congested track, the Canadians opened up a lead that nobody could make up. In a straight skating competition I bet the Koreans beat the Canadians every time, but with better teamwork and strategy, the Canadians took gold.

* Then the next day, the men's long track relay team win gold. On the final corner, Mathieu Giroux, originally a short track skater, brings some innovation to long-track from the world of short-track. In the long track pursuit event, three teammates skate and the time is set by the last one to cross the line. On the final corner Giroux put his hand on the back of teammate Lucas Makowsky and helped push him around the corner. After the Canadians won the gold by .21 seconds, the teammates agreed that this innovation brought over from short track (where teammates pushing each other as they make the relay exchange is a key element) made the difference in winning gold.

* On the topic of the long track pursuit, in the semi-final on the women's side between Germany and the U.S. - with the Germans looked to be heading to victory. But then on the final corner the veteran Anna Friesinger-Postma lost her balance and almost fell over. Friesinger fell back so much that her teammates basically came to a stop at the line waiting for her. Almost unable to skate at all on the final straightaway, Friesinger threw herself over the line on her stomach, pounding her fist on the ice in despair, believing she had cost her teammates a chance to skate for gold - and then she looked up a few seconds later and smiled in shock as she realized that despite her near collapse at the end, she still crossed the line a couple of tenths of a second ahead of the last American skater.

* Earlier in the Olympics, at a time when the Canadian team was struggling a little, Jon Montgomery, a man with nerves of steel, or maybe no nerves at all, comes from behind on the final run to win the men's skeleton event, and leads a celebratory walk through Whistler village, grabbing and chugging a pitcher of beer along the way, becoming an instant legend.

* Peter Northug, with the weight of a country's expectations on his back, makes up a ton of time against some of the best skiers in the world, to bring Norway from 4th to 2nd for a silver medal in the men's cross country relay, and then caps things off with a gold medal sprint to the finish in the 50k marathon.

* While I'm on the topic of cross country, the men's team from Canada didn't win any medals but they put up a ton of best ever finishes for this country in men's cross country, with, if I counted right, 7 top ten finishes including a 4th and two 5ths. Canada's previous best finish in the 50k, for example, was 44th, but Devon Kershaw came 5th this time around, under 2 seconds behind the leader, and all 4 Canadian entrants came in the top 35.

* The raucous curling crowd serenading Kevin Martin and crew with O Canada near the end of the 10th end of the final, as the Norwegian skip Thomas Ulsrud, remarkably gracious in defeat, looked on and shared a laugh with Kevin Martin, telling him it must be such a great feeling to be able to curl in front of such an amazing home crowd. Also, Martin's almost perfect freeze in the 7th end, the shot of the match that allowed him to take a pair and carry his lead home from there.

* The Slovakian men's hockey team. They beat the Russians, they beat the Swedes, they damn near put the tying goal in on Canada with seconds to go, and they were quite unfortunate not to take the Bronze from Finland. The whole team played with a ton of heart and won a lot of respect from the hockey fans in Vancouver.

* So many other great performances, I'd be here all day trying to list them, Bilodeau and Heil performing so well under incredible pressure, our women's bobsled team going 1-2, Hamelin winning the men's 500m (short track) and his girlfriend Marianne St. Gelais winning silver in the women's 500m, gold for Christine Nesbitt, two medals for Groves and a final medal for Olympic legend Clara Hughes, Canada setting a (event expansion aided) all time record for gold medals at the Winter Games, Maelle Ricker and Ashleigh McIvor winning gold up at Cypress, the Dutch fans in Richmond, so at home in a land of dykes, beer, and speedskating, great performances by the Americans, winning the most total medals, and the Germans and the Norwegians finishing near the top of the medal table as well, and on down the line.

* Joannie Rochette, enough said.

* And of course, gold in the men's hockey, although I'm not sure I need to put it on the list for posterity, since I doubt it will ever be forgotten: Luongo making a nice shoulder save after a giveaway by Niedermayer, Niedermayer regrouping to make the outlet pass to Crosby, Crosby flying down the ice and trying to split the defense, winning the race to the corner for the puck and poking it to Iginla, who makes an incredible pass to Crosby who fires home the winner so quickly that the cameraman, the commentators and most importantly, standout American golaie Ryan Miller had no chance to react.

* I'm sure I missed a ton of things, and although I did try to see every single event I sadly missed a lot of them, but if I tried to cover every memorable moment, I'd be here all night.

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