Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Do You Believe?

I went to go hang out at my buddy Jay’s place on Black Lake last night and it really got me into the Olympic mood. Even though my torch run is just under two weeks away, it was getting to take my first outdoor skate last night that really got me thinking about winter sports. Jay bought his place a few years ago and we’ve gotten on him every year to build a rink on the lake. It’s already geared with a wood stove, and an wickedly hot sauna (that’s “sow-na” for any visitors to the Jakola house), and the fact that it’s situated just 10 minutes outside of the city’s beaten path makes for a great summer or winter hang-out. This year, he went out on the lake early to gauge the ice depth. 4 to 6 inches, so it was good to go. So he made his way out with his shovel, a life jacket, and a couple of screwdrivers just in case he miscalculated, and he scraped off a beauty 100 x 52 give or take rink. If he clears a few trees next year and adds a bobsled run, I’m pretty sure Team Finland will do their training there. So I made my way over with my skates, stick and a puck and we ripped around for an hour or so. There’s nothing like skating on a frozen lake in Northern Ontario. Going to the playground rink only comes a short second since it has boards that you can try to blast pucks through, but there’s just something truly Canadian about being in the middle of the great outdoors playing the greatest sport of all. And as I decided to give that rink a little work-in, and really tear around it a couple of times skating counter-clockwise around the nice wide rink he built, checking every foot of his creation for cracks as the lake still bellowed as it froze across the middle - it got me thinking of how fortunate we are to have this at our disposal, and if this was how many of our athletes got their starts. Especially our speed skaters. The ones favoured to possibly be Canada’s first gold medals on home ice.

As most people know by now, thanks in large part to CTV’s commercials, Canada got skunked in the gold medal category at both Montreal in 1976, and Calgary in 1988. Montreal represented the first and only time to that point that a host country hadn’t won a gold medal at its own Games. Then came Calgary.
I obviously have no recollection of the Winter Games of 1976 since I wasn’t born yet, but Calgary’s Winter Olympics were perhaps my biggest introduction to the Olympics overall. I remember bits and pieces of LA in ’84, but the Calgary Games came just weeks before I turned 11, and combined with the Summer Games later that same year in Seoul, it made for a big Olympic year in my books. We walked away with only five medals overall from Calgary. It might be more appropriate to say that we double-axled away with 3 of the 5, with the other 2 coming on the hill thanks to Karen Percy. Those two figure skating silvers have become integral pieces to Canadian Winter Olympic lore, as the much-hyped “Battle of the Brians” gave us the Canada vs US men’s finals of Orser vs Boitano, while Canada’s sweetheart, Elizabeth Manley scrapped her way toe-pick to toe-pick with Katerina Witt. Ooooooh Katerina Witt!
We’ve since had better fortune at the Winter Games, with Canada’s Winter Olympic medal count increasing almost five-fold from Calgary to the last one in Torino where we ended up with 24. Exactly half of those came from dominant performances on the speed skating ovals. I, like most others believe that this is our year. Canada will finally win a gold medal on home turf. And I’m guessing that it too comes from a speedskater as our first. If Charles Hamelin doesn’t take the middle podium on Day 2 or 4 in the Men’s short track, then the ladies will have the next chance to be Canada’s first as Kristina Groves and Christine Nesbitt should have shots at the Women’s 1000m and 1500m on days 7 and 9. And if all else comes up less than gold, day 17 better friggin’ see Sid and the boys as world-beaters in the men’s hockey final.

Sudbury could actually see a gold medalist should the women’s hockey team win it all, with Tessa Bonhomme named to the final roster yesterday. The Big Nickel could also be represented by Megan Duhamel in pairs figure skating, and by Devon Kershaw of MTV Cribs Canada fame, making his second Olympic appearance in Nordic skiing. Not too shabby for a city of 165 thousand and change. If all three make it to Vancouver, it will surely be a memorable one for Sudbury, at a time where the city could really use some great news.

Speaking of memorable Olympics, because of the whole torchbearer thing, this one’s already climbing the list. It’s going to be awesome to see just how great Vancouver is as a host and I know full well that they will be with some friends and former colleagues working and volunteering there. It’s also going to be memorable because of the overall crop of talent that our athletes have heading into our Games. I can’t get away from the concept of lists right now and maybe it’s the whole xmas list thing that’s gotten into my head but it’s got me thinking of my favourite Canadian Olympic moments in no particular order.

Two of my most memorable moments for the Summer Games came from the track, though our rowers have provided for some awesome performances. But 1988’s 100m final will always stick in my head not because Ben got caught (or because Carl didn’t) but because it was so dominating. I remember the lead-up to the much anticipated Olympics with it being a US vs Canada battle as Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson exchanged victories in races prior to the Games. We all threw around our “predictions” of what the new world record time would be in Seoul and sure enough, at some point I guessed 9.79. The world never saw someone on drugs or no drugs move that fast until the past couple of years where Usain Bolt has taken over as the fastest human alive. Ben powered out of the blocks and had enough lead time to raise his hand in victory to shove it up the US’s rear end. For a few moments, it was that s,s,s,s,sweet.
Atlanta in 1996 was also incredible as Donovan Bailey pulled out of nowhere to smoke the rest of the pack for a new Olympic and World record, but it was the 4x100m relay that did it for me. Featuring sorta-Sudbury’s own Robert Esmie who was at the same highschool as I was, with “Blast-off relay” shaved into his head for the finals, the relay team started out with exactly that. Esmie took off like a shot from the blocks and with a clean hand-off to Glenroy Gilbert, raised his hand in the air sure of what was about to happen. Gilbert ran a strong 2nd leg to pass to Bruny Surin, probably Canada’s most consistent sprinter of all-time who powered though the 3rd leg and just barely handed it off cleanly to Donovan Bailey to take it home for gold. A pretty awesome race all around.

From the Winter Games, both of my favourite moments off the top of my head came from Salt Lake City in 2002. I remember watching Becky Scott’s incredible x-country ski race as she stayed with the lead pack for a chance at medaling. The hard-fought sprint to the finish to place 3rd was amazing enough, and after the 1st and 2nd place finishers were found to have used performance enhancing drugs, her gold medal shouldn’t be looked at as anything other than incredible.
And of course, the men’s hockey final of Canada vs USA, on US turf was absolutely incredible. We had gone and got our faces painted prior to the game, sporting red and white Canada jerseys and the flag as a cape and went to East Side Mario’s to watch it with the crowd on their big screens in the bar area. There was a draw for a framed Team Canada jersey and when a buddy pulled the winning name, I was on the other side of the restaurant talking to some people. All of a sudden I heard everyone yelling at me so I made my way over and Jax was holding my ticket in the air. The jersey’s been on my wall ever since. The game itself was pretty awesome with guys like Fleury throwing his body at the point to block a shot, and Sakic taking his game to that higher level he’s been known to, to put the game away at 5-2. During a recent interview, Wayne Gretzky was asked the exact point that he knew that the team he had selected in ’02 was going to win the elusive gold medal. He said that before the game, Yzerman was on the trainer’s table with ice on his knee, getting worked on, when he asked the trainer if Stevie Y would be okay to go. The trainer’s response was along the lines of “If this was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, I still wouldn’t let him go out”. Stevie did of course and that’s when Gretzky said he knew that they would do whatever it took to take home gold. Legendary.

My ultimate moment, most recently was from Beijing, where I found myself watching the men’s triathlon somewhere around 2am EST. Simon Whitfield had put on a performance for the ages in Sydney by catching the leader in the last 400m or so with an incredible kick to take Canada’s first gold of the Games. But it was his race in Beijing 8 years later that still blows my mind. Whitfield didn’t seem to be within medal contention in the latter portion of the race, falling to the second pack, but with that kick he’d become famous for in Sydney, he left the pack to catch and pass the leader as they rounded the last corner to the final stretch. Disappointment soon turned to elation as it looked as though he’d pull off the most unbelievable feat of capturing a 2nd triathlon gold. I was literally on top of my couch, standing like Tom Cruise on Oprah screaming at my t.v. I in the middle of the night, fist pumping in the air trying to cheer him on from the other side of the world, along with a large proportion of our country I’d imagine. With a 2-man sprint to the finish, he was just barely passed by the German racer in the last 20 metres or so and would finish with the most impressive silver medal I’ve ever seen this country win.
I definitely believe. I think we’ll be believing right until the end of February where a couple of our gold medal favourites will have emerged as triumphant, and where some unlikely heroes will have gotten us standing on furniture.


  1. Do I ever believe! Great writing Joey. There is nothing like skating on the frozen pond. You might be doing some of that in Wawa. Gold is ours in Vancouver.... I can feel it ... I believe!

  2. Best post Joey,

    I agree with you on all fronts.

    I still remember canada hockey team winning gold. I know now how it would feel if the bills won the super bowl. I don't think that will ever happen, but for now I'll always have that gold metal in my memory.

    Simon in the last olympics was amazing though. I was the same as you. I was sooo excited for him

    Keep the post going. I'm glad i took the time today to sit and enjoy your journey.

    Love ya buddy,
    and i am very proud of you

  3. Thanks guys. Glad you're enjoying this with me...means alot. Normy, not sure your Bills will be providing any gold medal level excitement for a bit (like my Raiders)!
    Looking forward to following Team Canada in all sports come February.