Travel

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts

Canadian athletes at Sochi
  • Jan 31, 2014
  • 603 words
  • 3 minutes
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When Canada hosted the Olympics in 2010, the early days featured a hailstorm of mockery and derision from the international media over missteps both real and beyond our control. From the tragic death of a Georgian luger to iffy technology and balmy temperatures, Vancouver, it seemed, could get little right. But our athletes fought on, emerging the proud holders of the most gold medals ever won by a host country.

Even so, it’s a bit of a relief to have these athletic warriors mount the world stage in Sochi free from hosting duties and eager to concentrate on the task at hand, especially given the darker critiques afoot about Russia’s strongman president Vladimir Putin. More than halfway through these Winter Games, our athletes have displayed the best of the Olympic spirit, both on the playing field and off.

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On Feb. 8, Regina’s 20-year-old Mark McMorris rebounded from a couple of demoralizing falls in the qualifying runs to win Canada’s first medal at the 2014 Games, stomping his run despite riding with a fractured rib. Later that day, sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe took gold and silver for women’s moguls, making history as the first Canadian sisters ever to stand together on an Olympic podium. Older sister Maxime, also an Olympic moguls competitor, looked on proudly.

Teamwork paid off when the Canadian squad took silver for team figure skating, and Charles Hamelin’s reprisal of his 2010 post-victory kiss with longtime girlfriend and fellow skater Marianne St-Gelais after he’d finished first in the men’s short track 1500 m swelled hearts everywhere. Alex Bilodeau defended his gold in the men’s moguls, once again inspired by his beloved brother Frederic; his fiercest competitor, Canadian Mikael Kingsbury, took silver in the same event. The medals kept coming, with Dara Howell winning gold in women’s skiing slopestyle and Kim Lamarre grabbing bronze, and Dominique Maltais taking silver in women’s snowboard cross.

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One of the most heart-warming stories to come out of these Games was the decision by speed skater Gilmore Junio to give up his spot to teammate Denny Morrison in the 1000 m event. Morrison won silver and came back to take bronze in the 1500 m. Then there was Justin Wadsworth rushing out a replacement ski to a Russian cross-country skier whose ski had exploded during the men’s free sprint. Wadsworth, the head coach of the Canadian cross-country team, was at the event as a spectator (his team had been eliminated) but wanted the Russian to be able to cross the finish line with dignity.

Jan Hudec, described as “essentially bionic” because of the countless surgeries and reconstructions he’s undergone over his career, was flat on his back with a herniated disc in early January. Ravaged with back pain, Hudec fought his way to a bronze in the men’s super-G, ending a 20-year alpine drought for Canadians in one of the most prestigious categories in the Olympics. It’s hard not to think of Hudec’s medal as a symbol of something so much more.

Patrick Chan’s poignant post-competition tribute to the Canadian ice-skating team and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s trademark grace in the wake of an ice-dancing judging controversy that left them in second place can only leave Canadians feeling humbled at the innate courage and dignity these athletes regularly draw upon. Win or lose, these are men and women whose hard work and full hearts set a standard for us all.

Photo credits: Alex Bilodeau: © www.jrn.com; Dufour-Lapointes: © www.canada.com; Charles Hamelin: © ca.sports.yahoo.com.

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