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Thursday, March 04, 2010

2010 Olympics shone a welcome spotlight on a new generation of “kick-ass” Canadians

Being 44 years old, I grew up in the ennui days of Canada. Tedious times marked by interminable constitutional wrangling, separatist referenda and a national inferiority complex that was at times nothing short of nauseating.

Long gone (or at least soon to be) were the Canadian heroes who took Vimy Ridge, or ferociously stormed the beaches of Normandy a generation later. Then there were the upstart engineers who built a fighter jet, the Avro Arrow, that would take the Americans 20 years to surpass in performance. But Diefenbaker killed that project and with it seemed to die the idea that Canada could be best at anything in the world.

Then came the FLQ and then the separatists, a long string of deficit budgets, Meech Lake and over time Canada seemed so much less than it had ever been before.

Sure there were flashes of inspiration such as the epic hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union, where we beat the best players the red army had to offer. But all too often there was a sense of discord and even of pettiness.

There was jealousy between the regions, a West that wanted in and a Quebec that wanted out. There was jealousy between generations, such as the bitterness of Gen Xers watching the best jobs being occupied by complacent baby boomers and Gen Yers who wonder how they might ever realize the dream of home ownership.

But then came the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Here we were a country that had hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary who had yet to win a single gold medal on home soil.

Sure the government and even some corporations had deigned to actually invest some millions of dollars in our athletes so that Canada might “own the podium.” Hardly had the games begun when the derision in the media began. Own the podium? How utterly ridiculous we’re Canadian, that’s absurd!

Fortunately there was a group that wasn’t listening and that was our athletes and all the fans who flocked to see them. Soon the unthinkable happened. Our athletes started winning, not just silver and bronze but gold. And what started as a trickle became a flood when Jon Montgomery, who won gold in the Skeleton, took a victory march in Whistler. He was handed a full pitcher of beer and in triumph downed a third of it before he got to the stands to greet the cheering crowds.

The Kick Ass Canadians had arrived on the world stage. Gone was the hand wringing and self doubt of an older generation, replaced by a new generation that wasn’t afraid to win and be the best in the world, not despite but because they are Canadian.

And win they did 14 Gold medals the most of any nation competing in this year’s winter Olympics. Suddenly it didn’t matter whether an athlete was from Quebec or Manitoba or Nova Scotia, what mattered was that they were Canadian. At every event in the audience was a sea of people waving Canadian flags and wearing Canada jackets, red and white was everywhere.

We cheered on our own but we also cheered on others such as Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, the self styled Snow Leopard skier from Ghana. We also mourned the shocking death of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and celebrated the bravery and determination of Canada’s Joannie Rochette who won bronze just days after her mother passed away.

As Canadians we went delirious with joy and patriotism as first our women and then our men’s hockey teams beat the Americans to win gold. While at the same time we laughed and cheered as Stephen Colbert gently mocked us while discretely singing the praises of Vancouver and our country.

The truth is that there have always been many Canadians who felt we were the best, but we held our views in check because of all the self-doubters. We felt that we were somehow being un-Canadian when we showed our patriotism. That time I hope has now finally passed.

These athletes who came from all regions of our country and all different ethnic backgrounds showed us that is okay to love our country and to be the best and to let the world know we feel that way as well. It is not gauche it is not unseemly it is in fact exhilarating.

And to the politicians in Ottawa who seemed so embarrassed that they had spent taxpayers money to help our athletes own the podium I simply say thank you. The success of our athletes has done far more to unite Canada than anything else you could have spent that money on.

Let us continue to support our athletes, not just those that may win Olympic gold but those who compete in our neighborhoods. Let us make sure that any girl or boy who wants to dance or play a competitive sport has the opportunity to do so.

As individuals and as a nation, let us no longer find refuge in mediocrity, let us instead be the kick ass Canadians we actually all are.

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