There is a new event happening in Vancouver right now, it’s called Load Out 2010. Posters and billboards are coming down, venues are disappearing and throngs of people are taking off en masse. In a few short days virtually all of the physical evidence that the Olympics were just here is gone. In order to prevent people from taking souvenirs that aren’t for sale, VANOC has hastily stripped away the Olympic veneer of white, blue and green from the face of Vancouver. What’s exposed underneath looks a lot like Vancouver used to look a few months ago. Everything looks so, well, normal.
I’m cleaning up too. Emptying my locker, cleaning my apartment, and packing things up. There are wilting bouquets of flowers on the table, empty suitcases waiting to be filled up and piles of laundry on the living room floor. There aren’t many traces of Olympic life left in here either.
Thankfully, in the place of all of those things, every one of us is left with something so much better than any placard, poster or pile of snow. It is not something you can take down and put in a box, or remove and discard; it is something you are allowed, and encouraged, to take with you, that is now a part of you for the rest of your life. Call it what you will; the Olympic Spirit; a profound sense of sustained joy; that goose-bumpy shivering thing you get when you think about it all; or the new-found Canadian identity, but it is there and that is the most wondrous Olympic gift of all.
Nervous beginnings led to Canadians fretting about a disastrous Games, and deservedly so, many things did go wrong. But in the end we will remember an historic national celebration that brought this country together in a way that exceeded everyone’s expectations. The Games were not a success because of all the successes; they were a success because they were wholeheartedly embraced by Canadians who celebrated every single performance, from wins to losses and everything in between.
I knew coming into this that I would experience every possible human emotion, but there was no way of knowing how those emotions would surface or just how profoundly they would affect me. In the past 17 days I have experienced great personal joy and sorrow. From winning a joyous and wonderful surprise bronze in the 3000m, to withstanding enormous internal and external pressure to win silver in the 1500m, to suffering the crushing and spirit-breaking disappointment of failing in the team pursuit; my heart has been on one helluva ride.
But I have experienced collective joy and sorrow as well. Together we lived through many unforgettable moments. From the shocking and devastating death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili, to leaping with joy as Sidney Crosby scored the OT winner, to fighting back tears as Joannie Rochette skated brilliantly in the face of great adversity, to witnessing a great wave of elation travel across this vast land leaving in its wake a glorious and magical Olympic legacy; all of our hearts have been on one helluva ride together.
Perhaps one of the most endearing memories I will take with me comes from a moment so bittersweet I still don’t know what to do with it. After failing to advance past the quarterfinals in the team pursuit, we resigned ourselves to racing in the C final to determine 5th and 6th place. Even though we were devastated by our failure, we decided as a team to skate hard anyway and do our best to earn that 5th place.
As we stepped onto the ice to warm up before the race we were cheered by the masses at the Richmond Olympic Oval as though we were racing for the gold medal. Everyone there knew that we had failed and that we were overwhelmingly disappointed, but through deafening cheers they let us know that they supported us anyway. They were cheers that said, ‘we love you, we thank you, and win or lose, we support you’. In our warm-up laps I fought back simultaneous tears of sorrow and joy – tears of sorrow for having lost, and tears of joy for the pride I felt in the Canadian spirit. In sport it is a given that the crowd cheers for you when you do well. In Canada it’s a given that they cheer for you even when you don’t. I will remember and appreciate that forever.
So now it is all over. Life has so quickly and remarkably gone back to normal. While walking around downtown Vancouver yesterday it was hard to imagine that just the day before all you could see was a sea of red and white, and all you could hear was O’Canada over and over again. Now there is just noisy traffic, people bustling to and fro, simply back to work wearing regular clothes. That massive outpouring of collective joy is gone, but thankfully not forgotten. In its place is the memory of 17 incredible days in Canadian history, where we discovered who we are and what we are all about – where we smiled and the whole world smiled with us.