Nate Peterson: Closing the door on Vancouver
VANCOUVER, B.C. – The cabbie who drove me to the airport admitted his wife has picked up a bad habit in the last two weeks.
“She’s been watching about 12 hours of TV a day,” he said. “It’s gotten so bad I’ve almost had to pull her away at times to make sure she eats.”
She’s not alone. Vancouver has been hooked on these Olympics since Wayne Gretzky rode through the city streets to light the torch in the rain wearing red mittens. And now we’re all going to have to pull ourselves away.
The medals have all been handed out. The flame at the waterfront has been extinguished. The Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics are officially over.
Goodnight, Canada. Thanks, world, for coming.
It has certainly been an exciting, surprising two weeks.
Bode got more medals than Lindsey, and the U.S. owned the podium at Canada’s Games, but couldn’t, in the end, beat Canada at its own game. That thrilling overtime finish Sunday at Canada Hockey Place seemed to be the perfect conclusion to these Olympics, considering, from the start, nothing seemed to come easy for the host nation.
A pall cast itself over these Olympics before they even got under way when a young luger from Georgia, 21-year-old Nodar Kumaritashvili, died after a training accident on the afternoon before the opening ceremonies. Officials callously blamed the accident on driver error, then made modifications to the course anyway.
They couldn’t use the same excuse for the fourth tier of the flame cauldron that failed to rise during the opening ceremony. And the lousy weather? Blame Mother Nature.
Even with the rain, the fog, the warmest winter in 114 years, the canceled tickets, the postponed races, the slow ice at speedskating, Kumaritashvili’s untimely death, and the campaign to free the flame from behind a chain-link fence, Canadians were committed to not letting the bad news be the legacy of Vancouver 2010.
They celebrated every medal – even ice dancing gold – like it was their first ever and showed to the world a healthy national pride that was, as one columnist put it, downright un-Canadian for a country known for its humility and good humor.
It wasn’t hard to find the Olympic spirit wherever you were. An army of unpaid volunteers worked tirelessly around the clock, in rain and snow, to pull off alpine races at Whistler and snowboarding and freestyle competitions at slushy Cypress Mountain. Fans waited patiently in unfathomable lines – some of them with waits of five, six hours – just for the chance to buy a pair of $10 red mittens with the maple leaf on the palm or to ride a free zip line in Robson Square.
Even Bode Miller was happy to be here, skiing like a man possessed, and rewriting his legacy in the process by becoming the most decorated Olympic alpine skier in U.S. history.
“My favorite moment isn’t the press conference, it’s not the awards ceremony,” said Miller, in a candid moment with the press after winning his silver medal in super-G, his second of three medals at Whistler. “It’s just before I cross the finish line and I’m forced to make an assessment of who I am and what I am and how I’ve done. When I can look at that, and as I’m crossing the finish line and I’m really excited about it and proud of it, that’s the end of the celebration for me. It’s all kind of downhill from there.”
It’s all downhill for Vail’s Lindsey Vonn, too. After possibly dealing with more scrutiny than any other athlete heading into these Olympics, and nearly having her medal hopes wiped out by a shin injury, she delivered the gold-medal performance that was expected from her in a downhill run for the ages.
She couldn’t have been more clutch. After that, the pressure was off. She won one more medal, a bronze in the super-G, broke a pinkie in a nasty giant slalom crash, and had to quell a small spat in the press with teammate Julia Mancuso, of Squaw Valley, who turned in two inspiring medal performances of her own.
On Saturday, at a private party at a Vancouver restaurant, Vonn looked like a woman who needed a vacation, but a contented one at that. When it was announced that her home resort had named a run in her honor, the reaction was one of genuine surprise. She leaves Vancouver with her legacy secure, the greatest female skier in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, Mancuso leaves as arguably the biggest “big-race” skier, claiming two silvers four years after winning a gold in Turin, despite not landing on a single World Cup podium the last two winters.
It wasn’t just about the medals, though. One of the Olympics more inspiring moments was seeing Eagle-Vail’s Chris Del Bosco, racing for his father’s home country of Canada, attempt a daring pass in the skiercross final because he wasn’t content with bronze.
He crashed hard, and wound up with no medal, just bruises and fresh cuts on this face. He fought back tears and searched for words between long pauses while meeting with the press some two hours later.
As one Canadian columnist put it, in light of Canada’s disappointment of not living up to its campaign to win the most medals at these Olympics, “owning the podium” didn’t exactly mean an athlete had to stand on the podium. In Del Bosco’s case, the fight for gold was more inspiring than settling for something less.
There was also one final flourish from Aspen’s Chris Klug. Nearly 10 years after he received a life-saving liver transplant, eight years after winning a bronze in Salt Lake City, and four years after just missing the cut for the U.S. team, Klug, at 37, proved that he belonged in Vancouver, even after the U.S. team cut its funding for its alpine snowboarding program.
As the 16th and final qualifier in men’s snowboard parallel giant slalom, he beat the top qualifier, the day’s biggest upset, and finished seventh overall. He then thanked his large contingent of family and friends – nearly 100 members strong – for showing up in the muck and the rain to cheer him on.
There were, for sure, disappointments. Former World Cup racers and U.S. teammates Daron Rahlves and Casey Puckett, appearing in their fourth and fifth Olympics, respectively, failed to win the elusive medals that had kept them training and competing into their late 30s in the new sport of skiercross. Fresh off her gold medal in the Winter X Games superpipe, Aspen’s Gretchen Bleiler fell twice on her two runs in halfpipe in what was likely her last Olympic appearance. Aspen native Jeremy Abbott struggled in his debut on the world’s biggest stage.
But even in defeat, each of those athletes admitted they were proud of what they’d accomplished. Vancouver was the destination, but the journey itself was undoubtedly rewarding and unforgettable.
Now that journey is over. After Vancouver wakes up from its hockey triumph this morning, and shakes off its collective hangover, life will go back to normal in a place that can no longer be called No Fun City.
It was a hell of a party, for sure. But now it’s time for everyone to head home.
There’s only four years left before the Winter Games begin in Sochi, on the “Russian Riviera” of the Black Sea.
As Vonn said Saturday, she’ll likely take a week of vacation sometime soon. But no more than that. After that, it’s time to get back in the gym and get back to work.
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