Analysis The 2018 Olympics were a big win for Canada
Pyeongchang will be remembered fondly, despite the misses in signature sports
By Vicki Hall, CBC Sports
Perhaps, for some, the men's hockey humiliation of losing to Germany — and the indignity of watching the U.S. hockey women win gold — is still too fresh.
Perhaps, others believe Canada should call a national inquiry to probe the shocking lack of medals in men's and women's curling.
But with the passage of time, the 2018 Winter Games will go down as a resounding victory for the Canadian Olympic team, regardless of the failure to convert in its so-called signature sports. The history books — or online databases — will forever show Canada as third in the medal count, behind only record-breaking Norway and Germany.
Canadian athletes collected 11 gold, eight silver and 10 bronze for a total of 29 podium performances, breaking the record of 26 set at the 2010 Winter Games. (Keep in mind: there were 16 more medal events on the docket in Pyeongchang than in Vancouver).
"This has been a phenomenal performance for Canada, obviously our best-ever by a significant margin," Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger told CBC Sports via phone from Pyeongchang. "It's given Canadians so many reasons to celebrate."
Indeed: this time around, Canada collectively stopped to watch athletes many had never even heard of before the opening ceremony. This time around, the headlines belonged to the likes of mogul skier Mikael Kingsbury (gold), ski cross racer Kelsey Serwa (gold), and speed skater Ted-Jan Bloemen (gold and silver).
"It is very surreal," Serwa said, "to be the best in the world at something you put your heart into."
In ice dance, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are not only the best in the world, they're the best of all-time. Are the darlings of these Games secretly dating? Are they not? Does anyone even truly care after such a breathtaking farewell performance? (Yes, yes, apparently they do).
Given the glaring absence of NHL players for the first time since 1994, these Winter Games were always going to be different. And maybe that's not a bad thing. Many of these young men and women have trained all their lives for one race, one game or one performance with gold on the line. Win or lose, many will never get another shot. It was their time to shine.
Here are 10 other takeaways from 16 days of magic, sprinkled with the inevitable misery that unfolded in Pyeongchang:
X Games invasion
The major motivation behind adding new extreme sports to the Olympic menu is to entice millennials into watching the five-ring circus. As it turns out, the likes of snowboard big air (2018), ski and snowboard slopestyle (2014), ski halfpipe (2014) and ski cross (2010) are popular across all demographics. They're thrilling. They're Instagram-worthy. They're fun.
In snowboard slopestyle, Regina's Mark McMorris authored a comeback worthy of inclusion in Chicken Soup for the Soul. After all, he nearly died last March after crashing into a tree while backcountry snowboarding near Whistler, B.C. Less than 11 months later — despite a laundry list of injuries including a ruptured spleen, fractured jaw and left arm, collapsed lung, pelvic fracture, and rib fractures — McMorris collected the second Olympic bronze of his career.
"I probably shouldn't even be here," he conceded. "I had some low times, but these high times make it worthwhile."
In ski halfpipe, Cassie Sharpe dominated the field en route to winning gold. In ski cross, Brady Leman seized gold in the men's race — after finishing a heartbreaking fourth in 2014 — while Serwa and Britt Phelan went one-two in the women's final.
Every Olympics features final glimpses of legends on the ultimate stage, and in Pyeongchang, we likely saw the last of Charles Hamelin and Marianne St-Gelais in short track speed skating. Neither one advanced to the final in their respective individual events, with Hamelin winning bronze in the men's 5,000-metre relay for the fifth Olympic medal of his career.
Exit Hamelin and St-Gelais. Enter Samuel Girard and Kim Boutin. At 21, Girard claimed gold in the men's 1,000 and bronze in the relay. Boutin won silver in the 1,000, and bronze in both the 500 and 1,500. No one likes to be bumped aside, but Hamelin and St-Gelais passed the proverbial torch with grace — cheering on their protégés like mad and celebrating their victories like they were their own. Because, in some ways, they were.
Sure, Canada failed to live up to massive expectations in curling and hockey, but the figure skaters stepped up with four medals. The roll started with gold in the team event, then bronze in pairs (Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford), gold in ice dance (Virtue and Moir) and then bronze in women's (Kaetlyn Osmond). In September 2014, Osmond broke her fibula in two places above the ankle. She toyed with retirement and found herself terrified to skate again. On her first day back at the West Edmonton Mall Ice Palace, she held onto the boards like a pre-schooler learning to skate for the first time. And four years later, just look at her now: she is an Olympic bronze medallist.
Despite all the moaning back home over no traditional Canadian medals on the pebble, the sport received an incredible boost at these Olympics. People from all over the world — including Mr. T — fell in love with mixed doubles as the charismatic John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes swept up gold for Canada. And we can expect an explosion in curling participation in the U.S. after John Shuster's rink enacted its own version of the Miracle on Ice.
Technically, the Olympic athletes from Russia won gold in men's hockey and the American women seized their first Olympic title in 20 years. But the real winner in all this? Arguably NHL commissioner Gary Bettman as he watched the calibre of play take a hit on the men's side without his pros competing. The NHL will have incredible negotiating power heading into the 2022 Beijing Winter Games and this gives Bettman another bargaining chip in labour negotiations with his players.
Victory of a different kind
Speed skater Denny Morrison failed to win a medal in Pyeongchang, but he defied all odds merely by qualifying. In 2015, he nearly died in a horrendous motorcycle crash that broke his femur, punctured his lung, shredded his knee, bruised his kidneys and lungs and left him with a concussion. Then, a year later, he suffered a stroke at age 30. In Pyeongchang, he finished 13th in the 1,500.
"In the hospital bed on both occasions it was something that I eventually had to accept — that this has happened. And it's like the race today," Morrison told reporters in Pyeongchang. "It's not the result I wanted. It's not the position I want to be in. But this is something I have to accept that this has happened today."
In Pyeongchang, Team Canada certainly received its fair share of negative press. It started off when curling skip Rachel Homan made international headlines by removing a burned rock after a Danish sweeper nudged it with her broom. Technically, she had every right to do just that, but the reigning world champion raised eyebrows in curling circles for the alleged breach of protocol.
"I was thinking I'm pretty sure karma will hit you at one point," Denmark's Madeleine Dupont told the CBC's Devin Heroux after roaring back to beat Canada 9-8 in 11 ends.
Then came the brouhaha and subsequent apology from Canadian Jocelyne Larocque for refusing to wear her silver medal after losing the women's hockey final to the Americans. And on the final weekend, Korean police arrested Canadian ski cross racer Dave Duncan, his wife Maja and ski cross high performance director Willy Raine in connection with the theft of a Hummer. Police claim Raine was driving with a blood alcohol level more than three times the legal limit. In true Canadian fashion, Raine and the Duncans issued public apologies through the Canadian Olympic Committee on the same morning Boutin was named flag-bearer.
When 4th is like gold
Canada failed to win a medal in cross-country skiing, but we all got an extended opportunity to appreciate the best male cross-country skier to ever race for this country. Alex Harvey finished just six seconds off the podium in the epic 50-kilometre classic. Harvey, 29, is expected to retire before the 2022 Beijing Olympics to become a lawyer. He finished fourth Saturday behind two Russians.
"I do believe they're clean," said Harvey, a generational talent. "But in the back of my mind, of course, there's a bit of a doubt."
A wrong turned right
Four years ago, Alex Gough, Sam Edney, Tristan Walker and Justin Snith missed out on bronze in the luge relay by a devastating 10th of a second. Disoriented and depressed, they returned home to Canada wondering if a once-in-a-lifetime moment had passed them by. In December, the Canadian team received word of a sudden bump to bronze from fourth place at the Sochi Games. The upgrade came after the International Olympic Committee retroactively suspended Russian silver medallists Albert Demchenko and Tatiana Ivanova for doping.
But then came more heartbreak on Feb. 1, when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in favour of an appeal by the Russian athletes, thus dropping Canada back into fourth place. One of the lasting images of these Olympics is of Snith, tears streaming down his face, barely able to speak, as Canada claimed a shocking silver in team luge. They finally won a medal no one can take away from them. They had their Olympic moment.
Inspiring the next generation
The other day, Luge Canada received an email from a mom. She had taken her son out tobogganing, and he was pretending to be Sam Edney sliding down the hill at the Olympics.
"These athletes are already inspiring young Canadians to be active," Merklinger said. "And that's what is most important."