In a couple of hours, every Canadian will wait with baited breath for Jacques Rogge to say the words that mean so much to every Olympic host country.
They will gather inside BC Place, at home in front of their television sets or near movie screens set up in locations around the city, eager for the IOC president to declare the 2010 Winter Games to be the best Olympics of all time.
Well let me beat Mr. Rogge to the punch. These Winter Games have set the gold standard as the best Winter Games ever. At least they are the best of the four winter Games I’ve had the pleasure of covering.
I have a good friend who always says that a room is just a room, it’s what you do with it that counts. Well, the same can be said for a hockey rink, a speedskating oval or a state-of-the art media center. A building is just a building, no matter how many bells and whistles it has attached to it.
What put these Olympics over the top are the people of Vancouver, who have earned a gold medal for friendliness, passion and national pride.
Acres of trees were killed to print all the stories about how most Vancouver residents didn’t want the Games, thought they were too expensive, too inconvenient, etc. Well, those people must’ve taken a three-week vacation to Puerto Vallarta because they were seldom seen or heard from the time I landed on Feb. 8 until today.
Maybe I’ll pass them tomorrow morning at the Vancouver airport, which they are reporting will be the busiest day in the airport’s history since local residents found out there were two-for-one slot machine tokens in Las Vegas.
My time here has been nothing short of amazing, a word I usually reserve to describe a very special brand of bourbon. I probably run the risk of losing my journalistic green card for actually saying something nice about somebody, but it’s the truth.
Everyone that I met, from the bus driver who took me on a scenic tour of the city before finally dropping me off on our third pass by my hotel to the people who strip searched me at the main press centre after reading my comments about the lax security to the woman who triple checked my credential before allowing me to use the men’s room at the Hockey Canada Place, has been as nice as can be.
I can count on my thumbs the number of people who rubbed me the wrong way in Vancouver. I can’t even pull out of my driveway at home without doubling that number. The people have been great, and they are who made these Olympics so special for not only me but for others.
Most of the people I met during my three weeks here were genuinely interested in where I was from, and once they found out that I worked for USA Hockey wanted to know if I had any secrets for sneaking a puck past Ryan Miller. And they wanted a USA Hockey pin, in that order.
Even walking around the streets wearing USA Hockey gear and toting a USA Hockey computer bag, which I’m hoping to never sling over my shoulder again, people were great. Their idea of trash talking was to say, “Go Canada Go,” when they saw the crest on my jacket. Fair enough.
Even the few knuckleheads who did get out of line were shut down by their fellow countrymen.
Don’t get me wrong we wanted to beat Canada in hockey worse than most people want to see Simon Cowell say something nice. The feeling is mutual. But there is a respect that continues to grow as we continually meet in the finals of many major tournaments.
They got on the board first by taking gold in women’s hockey. We came within an eyelash of getting even with the men. We'll just have to let our sled hockey team, or sledge hockey for you Europeans, can settle the score.
Canadians love their hockey. You have to give them that. As Brian Burke said, it’s not a sport, it’s a cult, a religion. I get that. I’ve seen it first hand, and truly respect that.
But Canadians shouldn’t question the passion that many of us have for the game. We eat it, live it and breathe it, just like they do.
Sure, NBC may not want to interrupt the ice dancing compulsory dance competition to show the first U.S. vs. Canada game in its entirety, thus exiling it to MSNBC, but American hockey fans found it on their 300 channels of satellite television and tuned in with record numbers.
One word of warning though, Objects in Your Rearview Mirror May Be Closer Than They Appear. We are catching up at all levels of the game, in some ways passing you.
But I digress.
The city of Vancouver and the local organizers bent over backwards to create a fun family environment, and they definitely succeeded.
Sure, sometimes you waited longer to experience the Olympic spirit than it takes to get a McDonalds burger without pickles and onions. People waited in line for seven hours for a 30 second zip line ride across Robson Square, but the looks on the faces of those who completed the ride seemed to show that it was worth the wait. Or maybe they were just thrilled that they could finally use the restroom.
Like every Olympics, these Games had their share of ups and downs. If you spent too much time reading the local papers you would think the downs outweighed the ups by a three-to-one margin.
There was the tragic death of the Georgian luger, a faulty cauldron at the opening ceremony, issues with the fence surrounding the Olympic flame, too many empty seats at some venues, weather issues in the mountains and a lack of toilet paper in the men’s bathroom at the main press centre.
And while the Canadians didn’t own the podium the way they had hoped, they still eclipsed their previous best number of medals by a wide margin.
If I were a Canadian, I would be so proud of what my fellow countrymen were able to pull off these past 17 days in Vancouver. You showed the rest of the world that being a Canadian means more than dressing like Red Green, singing like Bryan Adams and drinking beer like the McKenzie brothers. Not that there's anything wrong with any of those things.
You have shown us all how to host the world’s biggest party and make everyone feel like welcomed guests.