The sun has set on London and the Games of the XXX Olympiad have officially come to a close. What a crazy 17 days it has been. I’m not sure if the people around me have noticed but I have two Old Navy “Canada” shirts that I’ve worn every day for the last 17 days. Maybe that sounds gross, but I thought it was necessary – I wanted that maple leaf on my chest everywhere I went.
Anybody who knows me knows that I love the Olympics. I followed the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver like a hawk. I caught (almost) every medal event live. I spent full 12-hour days sitting in front of the television. I never thought that I’d have the chance to follow the Olympics as closely again, but I came close with these games. I’ve had the unfortunate blessing of only working a total of 7.5 hours over the course of these Olympics. I’ve slept on my living room couch for the last 16 nights, falling asleep and waking up to live coverage of the games. Despite the challenging time difference, I still managed to see 10 of Canada’s 18 medal wins live. I would set my alarm for multiple different times throughout the night because I didn’t want to miss a single moment. Oh, and those moments – those amazing, thrilling, unpredictable, heartbreaking Olympic moments.
If you had to sum up Canada’s 2012 Olympic experience in one word, an argument could certainly be made for “heartbreaking”. How many Canadians’ hearts broke as Paula Findlay crossed the finish line of the Women’s Triathlon in tears, only to see her apologize profusely for not performing better? How many Canadians cried out in anger when the Canadian Woman’s Soccer Team was robbed off their semifinal win against the Americans by an unjust Norwegian referee? Our equestrian team met setback after setback as Hawley Bennet-Awad was injured on the first day of competition and Tiffany Foster was disqualified for what many believe were unjust reasons. Canadian Olympic favorites like Simon Whitfield, Alexandre Despatie, and Clara Hughes were unable to finish off their Olympic careers with medals, while other medal hopefuls like Dylan Armstrong, Mary Spencer, and Catherine Pendrell were unable to reach the podium. Most devastating of all was the Canadian Men’s Relay Team who won bronze for five minutes before having it stripped away in the most heartbreaking fashion. Who will forget the face of Oluseyi Smith, as he knelt on the track, openly weeping? The heartbreaks weren’t restricted to Canada however. Korean fencer Shin A-Lam sat on the platform weeping, unable to leave for 45 minutes, only to lose out on a medal because of a timing error. Think of all of the teams and athletes who faced difficult disqualifications and injuries. Think of all of the falls and the trips and the mistakes. Some of these athletes spend their entire lives building up to this one moment only to have it stolen from them by chance, circumstance, and misfortune.
Oh yes, heartbreak can certainly be seen as a throughline of the Olympic games, but don’t those moments make the triumphs all the more incredible? Canada saw its fair share of victories: Emilie Heymans became the first Canadian athlete to win a medal in four consecutive Olympic games; the Canadian Men’s Eight Rowing Team overcame their dismal performance in the heats to finish with a silver medal; Rosie McLennan surpassed Karen Cockburn to win Canada’s first and only gold medal on the trampoline; Brent Hayden won his first and only medal after participating in three Olympic games; Mark Oldershaw, a third-generation Olympian, became the first member of his family to win a medal in the Olympics; and who could forget the look on Diana Matheson’s face after she scored the winning goal in the Bronze Medal Soccer game to give Canada their first medal in a traditional team sport since 1936 and their first soccer medal ever? The great moments don’t stop there.
Michael Phelps became the winningest athlete in Olympic history. Oscar Pistorius became the first amputee athlete to appear in the Olympic games. Usain Bolt became the greatest sprinter of all time. History was made every single day. I could go on and on. There are too many moments to name. Every athlete who suffered through loss and hardship only to have their strength and determination rewarded, all of those tear-filled eyes as they stood atop the podium, basking in national pride. If I had to sum up the Olympics in word, that word would be “momentous”.
It’s these unforgettable moments that make the Olympics worth watching; worth getting invested in. In another of his excellent video essays, Stephen Brunt distills this idea better than I ever could:
Emotion. It’s inside each and every one of us. Sometimes we can’t explain it. Sometimes we can’t control it. It can come unexpectedly, instantaneously, or it could be something you have worked your entire life to feel. The Olympic games are inevitably cathartic, the highs and lows of the athletes mirrored by billions around the world. The events themselves are secondary. They fleetingly come into our lives every four years, but for that brief moment we do care, because pain is transcendent, joy is universal. It doesn’t matter if you understand the sport. We all understand what it means to feel. Emotion – it’s what keeps us coming back to the Olympic games. It’s not the action that moves us, but the reaction; not the motion, but the feeling.
Yes, it’s about the feelings. I’m not watching wrestling, gymnastics, or equestrian because I love the events. I’m watching them because of what they show us. The Olympics are not about sports, they’re about people. They’re about moments. They’re about emotions. They’re about love. They’re about passion. They’re about hope. They’re about courage. They’re about inspiration. They’re about hardships. They’re about overcoming. They’re about competition. They’re about companionship. They’re about friendship. They’re about family. They’re about patriotism. They’re about pride. They’re about belief. They’re about trust. They’re about determination. They’re about effort. They’re about dedication. They’re about triumph. They’re about loss. They’re about heartbreak. They’re about joy. They’re about coming together as neighbors, allies, and citizens of the world to celebrate what makes us human. The Olympics are a microcosm of everything we go through, the best and the worst of life boiled down into a 17-day sporting competition. This is what the Olympics are. This is why we continue to watch. This is why we continue to cheer. It’s not about the events, it’s about the humans behind them. It’s about us. It’s about life.
At the conclusion of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, I wrote that “the Olympics are unlike any other event on Earth. For 17 days, the world comes together to compete peacefully in sport. For 17 days, countries band together like never before. […] For 17 days, Western Canada stops hating Quebec. For 17 days, we are not British Columbians, Albertans, Ontarians, etc. For 17 days, 33 million people are united as Canadians. For 17 days, we get to share in the amazing stories of the many athletes who compete at the Olympic games. We share in their ups and their downs; their triumphs and their heartbreaks. For 17 days, we celebrate the passion, the strength, and the perseverance of the best our country has to offer. For 17 days, we laugh, we cry, we sing, we cheer, we dance, we scream, we party. For 17 days, we are filled to the brim with national pride. For 17 days, our hearts glow. We are inspired, not only by the stories of these athletes, but by the way our great nation rallies together as one. We are inspired by the strength and pride that rears its head during this great competition. We are inspired by the human spirit.” All of this still holds true.
Did Canada’s athletes perform to the very best of their abilities in these Olympics? Maybe not. That being said, if I could send a message to everyone who represented Canada over these last 17 days, it would be this: You have absolutely nothing to apologize for. You represented your nation with true grit, class, determination, dignity, and character. You showed us the human spirit at its finest and that’s better than a medal any day of the week. The United States, China, and Great Britain may have owned the podium, but Canada owned something much, much greater.
The motto for the London 2012 Summer Olympics was “Inspire a Generation”. I believe I speak for all Canadians when I say, “Consider me inspired”.