I’m borrowing that line from the Billy Joel song, because I think it’s an appropriate title for this post. I wrote a similar piece for the blog I edit for my writers’ group, the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC). Sorry, you have to be a member to read that article. Visit the website to learn all of the great benefits of membership. The media may have started the fire that began as hype about the Olympic games, but we helped it grow into the biggest national party, and exhibition of national pride that this country has seen in some time.
From the time it was announced that CTV won the broadcast rights for the games, they started the commercials advertising that the “Olympic Games are coming to CTV.” They also started a series of vignettes that introduced us to the athletes. Rather than waiting until the games began, the network was making sure we knew who these hard-working dedicated men and women were. That was brilliant. While it was great to get to know the athletes, it also put a lot of pressure on them. The Canadian Olympic Committee called their program “Own The Podium”, which put even more pressure on these athletes, and their coaches. They came through in spades, but at first the media didn’t think so. Sports writers and broadcasters focused on the disappointing performances, the settling for silver or bronze rather than focusing on just competing at the Olympic level, placing higher than ever before, and winning a medal (of any colour). “They” became “we.” It wasn’t the athletes who won or lost, it was us—all of us. We couldn’t support their personal best efforts if that didn’t result in a medal. Then that slowly turned around. Was I saying “about time?” Should we all be proud of these athletes, just for making it to the Olympics? Hell yes, as my friend and PWAC colleague Lisa MacColl wrote in her brilliant piece about “Own The Podium.”
You didn’t need to be a figure skating fan to appreciate the brilliant performances of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the courageous skate of Joannie Rochette, the artistry and strength of Patrick Chan. You did have to be a fan to know that there were other Canadian skaters competing. All of the focus was on them, the ones who were “expected to medal.” That was also the case with other sports, and many athletes we really didn’t hear much about at all. Pretty soon though, we were cheering for everyone at the games. Canadians started cheering all of the athletes and coaches, regardless of the finish. Our national anthem, the flag, and the red-and-white colours were heard and seen everywhere. A fire of national pride was slowly starting to burn out of control. People took to the streets, and let it out. We were proud to be Canadians, and we became loud. On cars, houses, and clothing, we let it be known whose games these were. They were no longer the Vancouver/Whistler games, they were the Canadian Olympics. The media picked up on it, and they started featuring it. They didn’t create this story, but they knew they had to cover it, and now they need to figure out a way to continue covering it. There has been, and will continue to be coverage of the hockey games, especially the men’s hockey games. Whether it was all warranted is a debate for another time. I’m not a big fan, but I was cheering along with everyone else during that final game. I’m so glad that it was Sidney Crosby, who had enormous pressure on his young shoulders who came through with the winning goal. He helped fan the flame of national pride.
The Olympic flames have been extinguished, but that fire of pride in our country, and these athletes, will burn for quite some time. We have the Paralympic Games this month, and we can once again cheer all of the athletes, who we know are giving it their all. I’m not sure how much media coverage there will be, or if there will be the street parties of the Olympics, but I hope there will be enough that the athletes know we care—we’re watching, we’re cheering, and we’re proud. Am I ready to party again? Hell yes.
The Closing Ceremonies poked fun at Canadian stereotypes. Some of it was funny, some of it wasn’t, part of it (the dancers and showgirls in Mountie uniforms) was insulting. That’s not what I’ll remember about the games though. I’ll remember the emotions—the highs, the lows, and all of the cheering Canadians everywhere. When there are international events in Canada in coming years, we won’t need the media to start the firestorm of national pride and support. It will still be glowing from the 2010 games, and won’t take long to grow into a raging blaze.