Maybe hosting the Olympics produces a bump in interest and performance the next time around. That’s my theory, anyway, because four years after the Vancouver games Canada’s been having a rich Olympic experience in Sochi. As the Toronto Star put it: “Feel-good Olympic storylines turning Sochi into Canada’s Games“.
And we’re not just talking about gold, silver and bronze, although Canada’s medal haul has been excellent. What really had people misting up were some fine examples of heart and sportsmanship. Among many such moments favorites thus far include these: ski coach Justin Wadsworth and speed skaters Gilmore Junio and Denny Morrison.
Wadsworth – a three-time Olympian for the U.S. – is now the head coach for Canada’s Olympic cross-country skiers. With no Canadians left in the men’s sprint semi-finals on Tuesday, Wadsworth was among a group of coaches watching the race as Russian Anton Gafarov fell and broke a ski. Gafarov was determined to finish, struggling on and falling again. Spare in hand, Wadsworth sprinted to Gafarov’s side to replaced the shredded ski. (From the afore-mentioned Star article)
“It was like watching an animal stuck in a trap. You can’t just sit there and do nothing about it,” Wadsworth said later…..
“I wanted him to have dignity as he crossed the finish line.”
Adding to the warm-and-fuzzies is this coincidence, Wadsworth is married to former Canadian Olympian Beckie Scott. As recounted by the Globe and Mail:
This was not the first time a coach had helped a cross-country skier from another country. At the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Sara Renner and Beckie Scott were racing in the team sprint final when Renner broke a pole.
Watching from the sidelines, Norwegian coach Bjornar Hakensmoen gave Renner a new pole which allowed her not only to finish the race but to win a silver medal with Scott. The Norwegians came in fourth, meaning that Hakensmoen’s heroics may have cost his own team a medal.
Another example of selflessness that captured Canadian hearts this past week came in speed skating. Gilmore Junio gave up his qualifying spot in the men’s 1000 meter long track event for teammate Denny Morrison, who probably had the stronger chance of medaling. Morrison came through in a big way, winning a sliver with a time just slightly behind the gold medalist, Stefan Groothuis of the Netherlands.
The good karma awaiting Junio must be massive. Morrison says that may surface very soon.
“I’ve heard a rumour that Speed Skating Canada is pushing to have Gilmore Junio as the Canadian flag-bearer at the closing ceremonies,” he said. “Maybe that’s something we can get behind, because I think that would be really special. He does embody what it means to be a Canadian Olympian, I think.”
Patrick Chan won silver in men’s figure skating on Friday. (That may sound like more good news. But since Chan had been in strong contention for gold, some are counting that as a continuation of something called “the Canadian curse” in that event.)
On Saturday Denny Morrison took a bronze in the men’s 1500 long track.
Of course, the Winter Olympic medals of greatest cultural value to many Canadians would come in men’s and women’s ice hockey. But Canada is feeling pretty happy with a women’s victory over arch-rival U.S. by a score of 3-2 on Wednesday. Those two teams are widely expected to meet again and play for gold. There are high hopes to do well in men’s and women’s curling too, another sport much loved all across Canada.
Best of luck to all competitors and a heartfelt thanks to Olympians who know how to exemplify true sportsmanship – win, lose or withdraw.