This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
For a while there, it looked like the Vancouver Olympic Games were shaping up as disastrous.
Hours before the opening ceremonies, the death of a young Georgian luger cast a dispiriting pall over what was supposed to be a joyous celebration. Then a technical glitch involving the Olympic flame became the source of jokes and doubts that the city had its act together.
Events had to be postponed in the first week due to unusually warm weather creating havoc on the slopes. And press reports out of Canada detailed anguish that the country’s $118 million “Own the Podium” program was fizzling. The capper was the U.S. men’s hockey team upset victory over Canada in an early round-robin matchup – setting the scene for Sunday’s gold-medal game.
But somehow, they turned it around – even coming back and winning that hockey gold, arguably the only one Canada absolutely had to have. Now those who know about such things are calling the Vancouver Olympics one of the most enjoyable Winter Games ever.
For those of us watching the games from a few hours south, that’s welcome news. We wanted very much for our neighbors to put on a good show and give everyone a positive look at the part of the world and its natural beauty. NBC may be getting some deserved criticism for some of its decisions during the games, but it did a good job of spotlighting the region’s spectacular natural attractions.
Much of the credit for the turnaround in the games must go to the Canadians’ indomitability, hospitality and national pride. They weren’t about to let these games fail – El Niño be damned. The city and its thousands of volunteers are earning praise from visitors and media who are comparing their experience very favorably to games past – and they’ve set the bar high for Russia, which is hosting the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The Canadian athletes pulled it together, too. Although they didn’t win the most total medals – the United States surprisingly had that honor with a record 37 – Canada struck gold most often with 14 to the U.S.’s eight.
For Americans, the games were full of amazing moments. Federal Way speed skater Apolo Ohno became the most medaled U.S. Winter Olympian in what is probably his last games. Bill Demong and Johnny Spillane won four medals – the first for the U.S. in Nordic combined. The four-man bobsled team – piloted by Steve Holcomb, a man who thought blindness would end his career before experimental surgery – won the first gold in the event for a U.S. team in 62 years. And Evan Lysacek became the first American man to win figure-skating gold since 1988 – and he was so good he didn’t even need a quad.
Much of the credit for the Americans’ strong showing goes to the increased investment by the U.S. Olympic Committee in better coaches, training facilities and equipment. Although many athletes still have to have “day jobs,” they’ve received subsidies and incentives that have kept them competing longer than they otherwise might have.
Whatever the USOC has been doing needs to continue to nurture the next generation of athletes who will ascend the podium at Sochi.