Monday, March 01, 2010

The Olympic Hangover Begins

With the dust settling from the 2010 games, I can see from here that the enormous Canada flag has been taken down from Athlete's Village, Abbott Street appears as though it may be hours away from being open to through traffic, and I suspect that at least in Vancouver - if not nation wide - there has been a record level of absenteeism this morning; there is little doubt that Canada brought it's Eh! game to Vancouver over the past two and a half weeks.

There was much political anxiety leading up to the games; protesters variously got their message out, looked like fools, caused despicable violence and for the most part shortly sat down and shut up.  The "Olympic Tent Village" (Heard of it?  Yeah, it didn't get much attention after their first night.) is visible from the window where I sit and write this.  Last night the police were well in evidence around them.  I bet the protestors will tell you the police were holding them back...  I suspect the police were in fact making sure somone was there to protect them.  Had the protesters even tried to raise their voice anywhere near Robson and Granville last night they probably would have been torn limb from limb - if the ecstatic crowd could have been convinced to look.

We should never forget the luge tragedy that preceeded the opening ceremonies, but neither that tragedy, nor the death of a VANOC bus driver, nor the loss of Joannie Rochette's mother should dampen the overall sense of Canadian victory that has been sparked by the 2010 games.  As it stands, they have all made up part of the greater narrative that has concluded gloriously.

Premature declarations from Blighty that the Vancouver games were the "worst games ever"; scoffing from competing countries about Canada's "jingoistic arrogance" and "pathetic, ineffectiveness" (most loudly from Americans); and grumpy Russians, unhappy that things weren't going their way, only served to spur Canada onwards defiantly.

John Furlong's clunky French could not deflate the power of his words.  I haven't personally had much to say for his ability to speak publically.  His opening ceremonies speech was dull and cliched, but he could not have said it better last night when he defined our golden bookends: "Alexandre, your first Gold Medal gave us all permission to feel like and behave like champions. Our last one will be remembered for generations."  The narrative of Bilodeau's medal winning performance was fantastic on the day - our first gold medal on Canadian soil.  How naive we were.  Before the dust had settled we would have heard our anthem played more times than any country in these or any winter games, and that last gold medal... "Henderson Scores!" is no longer the call behind the greatest goal in our country's history.

From my apartment in Gastown, these games were a success.  Listening to my firends who were working on the inside, they were a success.  Walking down Granville Street last night before and after the closing ceremonies - there is little doubt that the people who came to Vancouver and those who merely "came downtown" thought it was a success.

People came to Canada during these games and we brought Canada to the world.

We opened the games by showing the world the Canada that truly is.  The one that lives behind the cliches.  We kicked a lot of sporting ass during the games - I shant belabour that point more than I already have elsewhere.  By any report I have seen, we were excellent hosts.  And when all was said and done, we winked.  From bringing out Catriona LeMay Doane to (finally) light her pillar of the olympic cauldron, to the over-the-top march of Canadian iconography with the cliche's literally inflated to absurd proportions we demonstrated one of the greatest of Canadian cliches - we don't really take ourselves that seriously.

Yeah, I cringe at the oatmealy uninterestingness of Nickleback; Avril Lavigne is only a little ahead of the curve for her category of teener-pop; and K-OS is not my kind of music at all... but honestly, I have to recognize that Spirit of the West, Rush and The Hip would have been seen as 'old hat.'  Neil Young did a fine job of filling the rock dinosaur hole.  Indeed, I've never much liked Neil Young, but he was perfect last night.

The numbers will follow.  No doubt there will be reports about how the grotesque over-spending is going to take years to recover from.  It may be true.  But I don't think there can be any doubt that these games have been far more successful than could have been expected.  We may even look back in future years at the recession that made the lead up to these games so financially painful and declare that in the long run, the success of the games gave us a leg-up in the slow climb out.  I am no economist.  This could go either way, but had you asked me before the games, I would have not have been able to tell you with a straight face that a positive outcome was financially possible.

Vancouver, Whistler and Richmond respectively will get the direct legacy of the Athlete's Village, the Sliding Centre, the Olympic Centre and the Oval; as well as the various other indirect items that were piggy-backed onto the games - the Canada Line, the new Sea-to-Sky highway, the Vancouver Convention Centre.  It's going to be a long time before our taxes catch up with those.  But, I doubt Vancouver (and by extension, Canadian) tourism could possibly have benefited more, both immediately or in the long term. 

Canadian sport will never be the same.  If you'll forgive the allusion, Calgary was a shot in the arm, but Vancouver will be a full-on massive steroid program.  Children who were inspired by Calgary Games athletes competed here and won.  In the years to come we will see the effects of this Olympics on our youth. 

Canadian spirit has shifted too.  I don't know that there is any price that can be put upon a feeling of pride in your country.  May we maintain a sense of humility as we move forward, but the patriotism displayed on the streets of Vancouver since February 12th feels very very good.  That may be why Neil Young was so perfect last night.  "Long May You Run."


mattneale said...

Well said, well said.

I will mention though, Richmond will not get the Oval. It's being turned into a community center. If you want to skate an oval you'll still have to go to Calgary.

The great thing about Canada is that I couldn't give a flying rats ass about what Americans think of our giant floating beavers.

Canada seems to be a bit of a private party at times, and i'm okay with that. People who want to know are welcome to participate. Those who don't, can buy our hydro and sit back in their chair.

We poke fun at ourselves, we love our flaws and we clearly love our triumphs.

I agree about the music. Not my choice but there is a larger audience to consider.

I'm going to work's 12:30pm.

Jedi School Drop Out said...

It's true the Oval itself is being morphed - but the facility itself is going to remain. I was simply using short-hand. Similarly, I'm not sure that the financial up-line for Athlete's Village actually goes back to the city - and we've already long since lost the social housing that was to be a part of it.

On a tangent... I've been trying to think if there was any other cliche that didn't appear on stage Sunday night. I finally figured it out.... Healthcare!