Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Just a sappy Canada Day post...

Happy Canada Day. If you are in Quebec, stay hydrated during this beautiful moving day. And, to those of you in Newfoundland thanks again for the sacrifice of July 1, 1916.

We live in a wonderfully odd country that sadly doesn’t celebrate itself enough. Even in sports, something that lends itself to feelings of patriotism, we tend to be shy about expressing our love of this land. That’s unfortunate because there have been reasons to stand up and shout throughout the years.

Most of us will be familiar with the bigger moments—especially the ones that involve hockey pucks. And, although I enjoyed Jarome’s two goals in 2002 as much as the next guy and 21 years later I can still close my eyes and perfectly see Gretzky to Lemieux with Murphy providing the decoy, those aren’t the moments that have most inspired me throughout the years.

My three favourite Canadian sports moments:

3. Victor Davis loses gold (but gets silver)

Although he would win gold a couple days later at the Los Angeles Olympics, it was Davis’ silver medal in the 100m breaststroke that I remember more vividly. Davis was never the favourite in the 100m. Most considered it a warm-up to his better event, where he was the world record holder. Most, but not Davis. Likely one of the most intense athletes to ever represent Canada (he once threw a poolside chair with the Queen in attendance), Davis did not take kindly to losing. So, when he touched the wall in the 100m and looked up to see that he had swam a time faster than the existing world record, but had lost to gold medal he did something very un-Canadian. As the CBC commentators celebrated, Davis slammed his fists to the wall in disgust. He hadn’t won a silver; he had lost a gold. I was young when I watched it, but I knew that I liked something about Davis’ attitude. While the rest of Canada seemed content with just getting along, this guy wanted to be the best. I liked that. I really liked that and 24 years later I still really, really like that. I’ve never shaken the thought that had Davis not been taken from us by a drunk driver in 1989 that Canadian swimming would have never fallen as far as it did—Davis wouldn’t have accepted it.

2. Clara Hughes gets her gold

As an adult you don’t really have sporting heroes the same way you do when you’re a kid. But, I make an exception with Hughes, possibly the greatest Canadian amateur athlete in history. Yet, one that most everyday Canadians are unaware of. Heading into the second last day of the Turin Games, Hughes had already won a medal in her third Olympic Games. Four years earlier she had become the fourth female athlete in the world to win medals in both the summer and the winter Games. But, she had never stood on the top step. That changed 5000m later. As an adult you sometimes forget the pure joy of watching a sporting hero do something special. As I saw the No. 1 flash beside her name and her trademark grin appear, I leapt from the couch and pumping my fist in the air, scaring the cats—I remembered.

1. The sound of 200 screaming kids bring Canada home

I watched most of the 1996 Olympics at Camp Kirk, a wonderful little place that helps kids with learning disabilities. As the games and archery instructor, I would sneak into the main dining hall to watch as much of the action as possible and I would make sure that the kids at camp knew about every Canadian victory at the Games. Donovan Bailey had already made Atlanta a pretty nice little Games for Canada with his 100m gold, but the real joy of the Games came on the second to last day when the Canadian 4X100m relay team stuck it to the Americans. You may remember all the talk on U.S. television leading up to the final was about whether Carl Lewis would get a record breaking gold medal as part of the team. There was no mention of the possibility that the world champion Canadian team might have something to say about it. All of that talk made the 30-some seconds it took to knock them down all the more special. But, what I will always remember about that race was where I watched it. In the dining room of Camp Kirk with all 200ish campers gathered around the TV. When Bailey took the baton for the final leg and it was clear that Canada would win the kids let loose a scream that I swear could have been heard in Atlanta. It was beautiful. It was proud. And, it still gives me goosebumps thinking about it today.

Enjoy the day. And, if you wish, share your favourite Canadian sporting moments.


eyebleaf said...

you're right, Bailey and co. were simply phenomenal in 96 on the track. that was magical. i'll never forget seeing bailey raise his hand in victory before even crossing the finish line.

and i still remember all the members of that team:
bruny surin, glenroy gilbert, robert esmie, and donovan...

Mike said...

Hate to sound cliché but the ’02 Gold Medal Hockey stands out the most for me because of the environment that surrounded it. I was rammed into a sports bar in Waterloo with a few hundred fellow drunken students, as the game ended we all sang the national anthem then poured out onto the streets to wreak havoc on traffic for the rest of the night. But I think when a random car asked us to jump in and hang out with our flags that moment stands out the most for me, and makes me laugh in retrospect. The guy was a student, had his girlfriend in the front with him, and when we asked him, “Who are you?” his only response was, “Does it really matter, we’re Canadian!” In our drunken, euphoric state, this made perfect sense! – I did have a convo with my roommate while hanging out the sunroof a few minutes later though: “So…what the hell is going on right now!” We were dropped off safely back where we started after a good 45 mins in a car parade around the City.

Everything about the track wins in ’96 were amazing moments, and I’ve always enjoyed cheering for Canada on the water rowing, on the track speed skating, and in the pool swimming(note: while Tewksbury in ’92 clearly stands out most in the pool, Joanne Malar was the hometown girl - I went to school with her cousin - so anytime she raced was very exciting!). But none of these moments top the ridiculous fun of the Hockey win which was the most memorable moment of celebrated sports patriotism for me.

sager said...

-- When our team of Double-A and Triple-A guys beat the U.S. at baseball a couple years ago -- it still got second billing behind NHL trade deadline talk.

-- The Norwegian coach lending Beckie Scott a pole so she wouldn't have to drop out her Nordic race at the 2006 Olympics.

-- Everyone remembers the shootout that decided the hockey gold medal in Lillehammer ... I'll also remember watching the shootout vs. Germany in '92 on a TV set up in the hallway at school.

I figured it was the closest thing my generation would have to 1972. I just had to wait 10 years.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Perhaps somewhat sad, but mine are all from long before I was born: shows my bookish nature, I guess!

1. Canada - Russia, 1972: Hockey isn't even my favorite sport (that would be soccer), but I don't think there will ever be a series to top that one in any sport.

2. Canada's Olympic gold medal in soccer at the 1904 games: possibly the only time we'll ever be on top of the world in that sport.

3. Tommy Burns, heavyweight champion of the world.

Honourable mentions to the Crazy Canucks ski team, Canada's 1986 World Cup appearance and Lui Passaglia's 1994 last-second field goal to keep the Grey Cup in Canadian hands.

sager said...

Heck, where's Bobbie Rosenfeld, Tom Longboat and the Edmonton Varsity Grads on your list, Andrew?

Now, wasn't that 1904 soccer gold medal a little tainted, because it was the first Olympics in the U.S. and about 90% of the competitors were Americans?

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Those are all great athletes as well, Neate, but just in sports or competitions I don't care as much about, which is why they didn't make my cut. Hey, sure that soccer medal came in the U.S., and sure, only three teams competed (two American ones), but that's still the last time we can say we were on top of the world of soccer (even if it wasn't really representative of the world)!

sager said...

Hey, if we can call ourselves champions in the world of sports where our country accounts for about 60% of the world's players... all gloves are off.

Don't worry, it's totally arbitrary, that's why it's a list of favourites.