It was an exciting weekend for Canadian sports fans, with the start of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and the very first gold medal for Canada won here at home. In case you weren't glued to CTV all weekend, here is what you missed:
Day 1, Opening Ceremonies:
The unfortunate death of a young luger from Georgia put a bit of a shadow on the games before they officially began. Nodar Kumaritashvili flew off his sled and crashed into a steel pole on the course in a training run on Friday morning. He was honored in the opening ceremonies with a moment of silence and through the somber entrance of his Georgian teammates who wore black armbands and scarves in his honor.
Overall I was impressed with the opening ceremonies, which had the unlucky task of following the billion-dollar ceremonies put on by Beijing in 2008. Obviously, Canada didn't have the money to compete with something like that, but they did a great job with what they did have. Highlights of the ceremony included the parade of nations (a chance for all athletes to have a moment of glory, especially those single competitors from small and/or tropical nations who may not make the podium), and parts of the cultural display which involved some pretty cool video displays, uniquely Canadian musical talents and a slam poetry performance. K.D. Lang's performance of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was the only musical performance that wasn't obviously lip-synched and showcased her amazing voice.
The biggest disappointment of the ceremony was the failure of one element of the Olympic cauldron to rise from beneath the stage. It was downplayed by other reports on the ceremonies, but I found it really took away from the experience. It set a "Canada screws up" tone for these games in which CTV repeatedly asks us to "believe" that we can win. The torch inside B.C. Place was lit simultaneously by Rick Hansen, Nancy Greene, Catriona Le May Doan, Steve Nash and Wayne Gretzky (well, it was supposed to be, but Le May Doan didn't get to light it because her part of the cauldron was stuck in the floor). After that, Gretzky took the torch on a ride in the back of a truck to an outdoor cauldron that will burn throughout the games. The excitement on the streets was fun to watch, with fans running alongside the small motorcade bursting with Olympic pride. Gretzky, on the other hand, just looked like he was waiting for this whole ordeal to be over with. Maybe it was the pouring rain, but he sure looked uncomfortable while riding on that truck and rather unenthused as he lit the cauldron.
The second day of the games and the first day of competition for the athletes brought some disappointment for Canadians expecting a gold medal win from either Jennifer Heil in women's Freestyle Skiing, Charles Hamelin in Short-track Speed Skating (Mens 1500 meters) or from Manuel Osborne-Paradis in Mens Downhill Skiing. Osborne-Paradis's event was postponed due to bad weather, Hamelin failed to qualify for the final in his event (beaten in the second-to-last lap by the U.S.A's Apollo Anton Ohno and his soulpatch), and Heil had a great run which earned her the silver medal, but which wasn't enough to beat Hannah Kearney of the U.S.A.'s fast run down the hill where she landed some huge jumps. Given our track record, we simply can't be disappointed by any medal won by a Canadian athlete.
After solid speed skating results for the Canadian women in the afternoon, a young man named Alexandre Bilodeau pulled off an upset in Men's Freestyle Skiing to become the first Canadian to win a gold medal on home soil. Another medal for Canada came from the Canadian women's speed skating team with Kristina Groves earning a bronze medal in the 3000 meter long-track event (behind Martina Sablikova of the Czech Republic and Stephanie Beckert of Germany who took gold and silver, respectively). Groves' Canadian teammates, Clara Hughes and Cindy Klassen also had strong showings in the event, with Hughes coming in 5th and Klasson finishing up in 14th.
Congratulations to Heil, Groves and Bilodeau for being the first Canadian athletes to medal in the games, and to all the athletes who have worked so hard and are now showing us their best in British Columbia. So far, it has been a fun few days and there is still a lot more to come.
It is a different experience having CTV broadcast these games, and I can't say I am terribly impressed with them so far. The field reporters seem inexperienced and some of them have been tough to understand because of their nerves. Also not needed are the E-Talk reporters giving us updates on what celebrities might show up at the Molson Canadian Hockey House. We really don't care, CTV. The Olympics have built-in drama and excitement in the events- there are heroes, villains, Davids and Goliaths and so much more. This is why people watch the games, for the drama of sport. CTV would do well to remember that in their coverage of them.