Sunday, February 26, 2006

2006 Turin Winter Olympics
Final thoughts

The nostalgia is running high in the Olympics section in tomorrow's Globe and Mail, so I thought I'd finish things off with a few thoughts of my own.

Sweden takes home the gold
Hey, for obvious reasons, I'll start with hockey. With Team Canada never really getting on track and the obvious issues with the Games being in Italy — most of the hockey games were on in the early afternoon — the buzz around this year's men's hockey tournament never built to the heights of Nagano or Salt Lake City.

It's unfortunate more people weren't plugged in for the games, as the tournament ended up being full of surprises and quite a few good hockey games. The gold-medal final between rivals Sweden and Finland was probably the best of those I saw, if only for the intensity both teams and their fans brought to the games.

Speaking from a journalist's perspective, it's great covering a sport in which any player from these two countries is competing. From what I've seen and learned (mainly through hockey), the Swedes and Finns are both home to wonderful peoples and aren't altogether that different from Canadians with respect to their humility. (In fact, at the World Junior Championships in B.C. earlier this year, I enjoyed talking to the Swedish kids more than any other country's youngsters.)

One enduring image from today's final was a Finnish man weeping in the stands following his country's loss. I don't know what his ties were to the team, but there's something quite powerful in seeing such a love for the game — regardless of the countries involved. On the ice, this was evident, too, as elder statesmen for the Finns such as Teemu Selanne and Teppo Numminen were disconsolate after the loss, even though the silver medal was Finland's highest-ever Olympic finish.

Looking through the Swedes roster, it's actually a great thing the team did win at these Games, as much of the elite-level talent on the team's roster was likely playing in their last Olympics. Recent NHL entry-draft history speaks to how the well of Swedish talent has considerably thinned since the Mats Sundin, Peter Forsberg and Markus Naslund era, and we may be now witnessing the pinnacle of Swedish hockey for the next few decades. I never get tired of seeing classy players like Nicklas Lidstrom and Sundin win big.

Memories of Turin (now in Zesty Italian flavour)
I've got two quick ones here.

On the field:
The Canadian men's curling win. More than any hockey game I watched the past two weeks, I enjoyed the gold-medal curling match between Canada and Finland. The four kids from Newfoundland — not a province with a grand Olympic history, by any means — paired with a curling legend in Russ Howard were the feel-good story of the Games for Canadians. Young skip Brad Gushue breaking down in tears in an interview afterwards made it all the more powerful. (Gushue's mother is currently battling a similar cancer to the one my mother faced for eight years, so I can sympathize with the range of emotions he must be feeling.)

Off the field: It'd be pretty hard not to be moved by the sight of Vancouver's mayor, Sam Sullivan, a quadriplegic, waving the Olympic flag in today's closing ceremonies. I'm a British Columbia kid, so finally seeing these Games on the horizon is pretty exciting.

Canada rocks the medal table
I really don't think there's been an Olympics where Canadian athletes performed as well as they did here in Turin. The 24 medals won were seven better than Canada's previous best at the Winter Olympics, and there were many, many more 4th and 5th place finishes. Canada's goal is to finish atop the podium in Vancouver, something that now looks like a definite possiblity.

One amazing tidbit from Canada's success was the fact that nearly 30 per cent of the athletes in Turin were from Alberta — part of the legacy of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. (For international readers, Alberta's population makes up less than 10 per cent of the country's.)

Will we see a similar legacy 20 years after 2010 in Vancouver? UPDATE USA Today has an interesting runthrough of how Canada has caught up to the U.S. in these Olympics.

Good job, Bob
For all of the grief that CBC's Bob Cole gets, he's still one of the better hockey play-by-play men in the world (even if he doesn't always get players' names right). He's also one of the last of his generation, and as The Globe and Mail's Bill Houston notes in his column, this will be his last Olympics.

Olympic television coverage in Canada will no longer be handled by the CBC after 2008 in Beijing, as CTV has picked up the rights tab for the 2010 and 2012 Games. It's really too bad, too, as the CBC's Olympic coverage was, once again, nearly flawless — aside from a few over-played advertisements.

Final thoughts
There's been a ton of bellyaching about these Olympics: How they're superfluous, full of useless events, lacking in diversity and merely a venue for multi-millionaires to strut their stuff.

Being as plugged into the Turin Games as I had to be this time around, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the Games and would rank them right up there with the best I've seen.


At 11:24 a.m., February 27, 2006, Blogger alyosha mcbain said...

Henrik! Henrik!

At 1:53 a.m., February 28, 2006, Blogger Djlethal01 said...

being in buffalo I can atest CBC>NBC in olympic coverage. But all the canada ads like the ones thanking supporters of the canadian olympians were really corny.

At 2:01 p.m., February 28, 2006, Anonymous squawky said...

I was disappointed not to see lots of NHL commercials pointing out the stars you can see in Olympics, regardless of what country they were playing for...instead we bellyache about the early exits of the North American teams.

And the NBC coverage was weak, but we should be used to it by now -- same problems every Olympics.


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