Sunday afternoon would have been a great time to shop as virtually every Canadian and every TV was tuned to the biggest game in the history of hockey: Canada vs. USA. This one game was worth the millions spent by Canada on the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Since the announcement of Vancouver in July, 2003, the people of an entire nation had circled Sunday, February 28 on their calendars for the gold medal hockey game. For generations to come, Canadians will always remember where they were when Sidney Crosby – the next Wayne Gretzky – punched the puck past USA goaltender Ryan Miller.
I arrived at the Main Media Center after driving from Whistler, joining our USOC Media Team in the office to watch the final 10 minutes. It was a close fought hockey game, just 2-1 Canada, and a real defensive struggle. Time after time the Canadians foiled the onslaught of the Americans until, with just 24 seconds left, we tied the game.
There was little decorum in the normally placid press room that afternoon. You could hear the screams of fans as you walked down the hall. And every single television in the cavernous convention center was tuned in to that single channel.
In the end, the winning goal caught us, too, by surprise. There was a moment of stunned silence, as we heard a road from the Canadian Olympic office just down the hall. It was over Canada had won.
My sadness was short lived after a call home to my wife, Carole. She had been watching live – probably the first time she’s seen hockey. She quickly said, “It’s their sport, it’s their country, it’s their Olympics. It’s OK for them to win.”
She was right!
Canada won 14 gold medals in these Games, but they needed only one. This one. Hockey. Their sport. OK, maybe curling, too. But this was the one that united a nation. This was the payback for seven years of hard work to welcome the world. This was the one that every Canadian man, woman and child would hang their pride on for the rest of their lives.
This was my seventh Olympic Winter Games. We were proud of our country’s own 2002 Olympics. We reveled in the wintersports culture of Lillehammer in 1994. But I’ve never seen a Games like this where the people celebrated sport as the Canadians and were so anxious to introduce the world to their culture. I’ve never been a part of an Olympics that was just plain fun from start to finish.
When we walked from BC Place to Yaletown and on to the Waterfront after Closing Ceremony, we saw firsthand how much this meant to Canada. Six or seven hours after the Game, thousands and thousands of Canadians still filled the street. Cars were jammed, horns blaring and the maple leaf flying out of every window. There was no way that anyone was showing up for work across Canada on Monday morning.
For America, beating Canada in the gold medal hockey game would have been one of the biggest headlines of the Games. But by Tuesday, life would have moved on. In Canada, it inspired a nation – a country that welcomed the world, had its best Olympics in history and won the gold medal in ice hockey.
“Alexandre (Bilodeau, moguls gold), your first gold medal gave us all permission to feel like and behave like champions,” said VANOC CEO John Furlong at the Closing Ceremony. “Our last one will be remembered for generations.”
All you could do Sunday evening was to feel happy for Canada and to share its pride in a job well done.
It was their “Miracle on Ice.”