Olympic Autopsy

65258063The biggest party in the world shut down a little after 2am Monday morning, as the last revellers in Vancouver staggered out of the downtown core, leaving the wake of their destruction for the hardest-working city clean-up crew ever.

The Olympics are gone.*

17 days of madness, medals, and mountains have come to a close, and the emotional fall-out is like nothing I could’ve prepared for.

The last seven years of our lives here in Vancouver have been dominated by the controversy and catharsis of a city trying to get ready for an epic event that’d bring millions into our town for the celebrations.

Seven years! Planning, fighting, dreaming, waiting. They came, they saw, they used their Visa cards.

All done now. All over but the fallout and numbers.

Looking at headlines since, it’s clear the world got impressed with our desire to have a good time while the Games were in town.

But it sure as hell didn’t start out that way.

The city was collectively destroyed at the horror of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death hours before the opening ceremonies could even start… before, even, the torch relay reached its conclusion after the longest relay in Olympic history.

Then we really got cooking with some riot action.

That wasn’t all that was cooking — how about the record low snowfall at North Vancouver’s Cypress mountain, juxtaposed against the blooming cherry blossoms and shorts-wearing cityfolk? Arguably the warmest winter ever had pretty bad timing, leaving the whole province prepared for international embarrassment when news emerged that our “snow” ramps were being built out of… hay? Yeah. Cows, farms, that kinda hay.

After the riots on day two and the increasingly-warm weather forecasted, I think we all got a little scared that things were going sideways.

But then Alex Bilodeau won gold.

The first-ever gold won on home soil, after a wait of 34 years and two other Olympics. The talk of the “curse” had lingered as the Games opened with the ridiculous mantra for our athletes to “Own the Podium”, but Alex Bilodeau crushed the moguls.

At the end, in his jubilation, he hugged his big brother Frederic, (click for photo gallery) who lives with cerebral palsy. And the world was touched, just like all of us Canucks were. What a perfect first-ever gold-medal winner to exemplify our country — a guy, who, we like to think is like our country: accepting, loving, jubilant, and plain fuckin’ awesome.

The Games began to change, then, even as news began to leak from London, with the Guardian saying that we were on the path to be the worst Games ever. A model of everything not to do, they said.

Oh, yeah? Well, the simmering excitement that had blocks and blocks filled with people downtown became more packed, more fevered. Everywhere you looked, Canadians were wearing red. Worst Games ever? We’ll show ’em!

And with the “quiet” Canadian determination, we pushed on.

Boy, did we.

I’m not sure the world realizes how “small” Canada really is. Do you? Let’s have a crash course.

We’re the second-largest country in the world, but we have about 10% of the population of America. We’re socialist, but that socialism has to fund a massive network of roads and infrastructure stretching through to three oceans, so we’re like that middle-income family who’s always getting by, but we never have flashy clothes or cool shit.

We’re dwarfed by Americans. You’re on our radios, TVs, newspapers, internet. Everywhere, every minute. Even the Canadians we love to brag about wind up living down in America, because that’s where the money is. Jim Carrey, Michael J. Fox, and a zillion others… all expatriates.

Well, this country made ’em. There’s something in the water here, some newfangled mineral called “awesome”.

We’ve always been a punchline. We put up with it, but we’re tired of it. Yes, it’s a part of us, but the joke’s been getting old.

You’ve heard the joke, right? Something about a Mountie who walks into a bar with a jug of maple syrup under one arm and a beaver under the other, after parking his moose next to the dogsled in the 24-hour night, across from the Eskimo and his igloo by the salmon-smoking hut.

Have I covered all the stereotypes yet? Oh, and we drink beer and are funny. Sorry. Forgot to apologize for no reason, so: Sorry, eh?

That’s what the world thought. We know it.

And when our Games started getting slammed as the worst-ever, with nothing to lose, we busted loose and decided it was our party, and no one was gonna say different.

That’s when it became the Funcouver 2010 Winter Olympics, dude. Break out the beer.

The thing that separated the Vancouver Games from pretty much every other Olympics I’ve ever gotten to watch is, the parties in the streets. And I’ve heard from pundits and TV personalities who say they’ve been to 10 – 13 Olympics, and no city has ever celebrated the Games to the extent of Vancouver.

A lot of opponents will tell you the Olympic Games are a party for the rich, that The Average Guy gets left out of the experience.

On the one hand, I do think so. This is true. I even ranted about it last week. I’ve never felt so broke as when I watched friends who could afford to drink to the tune of $15-20 an hour, when I’m usually budgeting $40 or less for a night out. I’ve been pretty crushed financially by these Games, but that’s because I made the wrong decisions about where to hang out.

I had my “Olympic Tent Experience” when I stupidly went to the German Fan Fest Pavillion aka Germany House, which other people I know who’ve been to many “Houses” said was among the best. I fucking hated it. Why? I’m drinking $9 beers out of plastic cups, poured from bad-pressure kegs, surrounded by port-a-johns, in a tent built on a parking lot, so I can sit at 60-foot long picnic tables all crushed together, with too few TVs for watching the Olympic sports on. SERIOUSLY? And, after 6, a $20 cover? Haha, yeah, okay.

I went to one tent, then realized that pretty much none of them are really worth the 1-2 hour lineups or excessive prices.

Instead, I did what others did, and checked out the Olympics in packed bars or on the street, just walking everywhere. With more than 100,000 people partying on the streets inside a few square blocks every night, with live street performances everywhere, street vendors, and massive public art installations, it was a pretty easy thing to enjoy.

But our Olympic committee decided to make culture and public performance a priority. This isn’t business as usual for the IOC, you know. “The Cultural Olympiad” brought people together in the streets, the theatres, and everywhere else they could gather, for more than 600 performances over the span of the Games.

“The People” took over the city. The cops stood by and watched, night after night after night. Arrests were lower than on your typical New Year’s Eve — even though some reports list Vancouver as being the “most drunken” Olympics ever. The most-reported injury in this city’s police department after hosting the world’s biggest drunken party for more than two weeks? Sore hands from high-fives.

Vancouver had the most democratic of-the-people, by-the-people Olympics ever, if the initial reports are true. We drank in the streets, partied till wee hours every night, and everyone had access to Olympicky things.

And then there were the Games.

Sure, a lot of us were priced out of purchasing tickets. But we had four TV stations (and live streaming from each) simultaneously covering Olympic events. We could watch anything at any time, almost never with broadcast delays.

I’ve never been so overly-stimulated for so long in my life. I watched the Olympics every chance I could, like most people I know. If I wasn’t out there partying because of ’em, I was at home absorbing ’em.

What wasn’t there to absorb?

Aside from Alex Bilodeau, from a strictly-Canadian point-of-view, there was the amazing Clara Hughes, the only multi-medallist in both Winter & Summer Olympics ever, placing for bronze in her last skate ever, being lauded as one of the greatest Olympians the world has ever seen.

There were Scott & Tessa, skating into everyone’s heart with their flawless routines and show of costuming restraint in figure skating.

No one can forget the incredible Jon Montgomery who made winning look like THE FUNNEST THING EVER, who celebrated like every Canadian wishes they could after a victory — gulping down a pitcher of beer while wandering through the town square and basking in the glow of others thinking you fuckin’ rock.

There was seeing both of our men & women’s bobsled teams winning with black athletes on them, and First Nations included at all levels of the Olympic experience. Diverse games, just like our country.

But how about Joannie Rochette, who captivated the whole world when she skated through her grief after losing her beloved mom suddenly in the night a couple days before her first skate? Quiet and strong, like we think we are as a country. And then she won.

Oh. And hockey. So that happened.

In more than 50 years, the First Nation of Hockey had won Olympic gold only once and Canada had not once beaten Russia in Olympic hockey. Last week, both those realities were changed. We whipped Russia, devastated them. We stole the gold from America. This Miracle on Ice? 100% Canadian. We ARE hockey once again, saved by Sidney Crosby in overtime.

Canadians realized that our heroes don’t just compete for us, they represent us. They’re the kind of people we all want to be, and deep down inside, we think we have a little of ’em in us, too.

Because we’re Canadians. There’s something about this country — our strength and our graciousness, our determination and ability to confront odds. It’s what we do. We do it quietly, most of the time, but we do it.

And for 17 days, we got to prove to the world that we’re more than just the stereotypes.

We’re the people you want to party with.

We’re people to look up to and want to live like.

We’re intelligent and articulate but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

We’re — like Shane Koyczan said on Opening Night — an example of an experiment going right.

We are Canadians.

So, with the Olympics done and gone, my heart’s a little broken. I’ve never been so proud to be Canadian. I’ve never been so proud to see my compatriots realize all that we have as a nation. I’ve never been so happy to see my city inundated with the tourists who usually piss me off.

I’ve just never.

And now, odds are good I never will again. Not like that. Not “epic”-like.

But I can hope.

I can hope that the patriotism and unity we all found in the last three weeks, that slowly built up over the most amazing Olympic torch relay the world’s ever seen as it crossed Canada from coast to coast to coast, on dogsled and tractors and longboat and canoe… I can hope that that patriotism lasts, that it builds into something more, something we always measure ourselves against.

We’ve always known we were Canadians. But, for the first time, I think we’re really starting to understand what that really means.

We’re a country that’s better together than we are as the sum of our parts. We believe in equal opportunity, we think everyone needs a hand sometimes, and we believe in a system that provides it (*most of the time).

It’s my hope that Sunday’s closing of the Olympics weren’t just the end of something, but the start of a newly-defined nation that believes it deserves its place on the world stage, and who finally appreciate the magnitude of what “Canadian” means.

I believe Vancouver has just played a pivotal role in the nation-building of this new Canada, and I’m so proud of that.

For a little while, though, I think I’m going to be sad. Because we had that. That happened.

Wasn’t that a party, indeed.

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*I’m excited the Paralympics are coming, too. I know the national response won’t be the same, the feeling won’t be the same, the nation-building won’t be the same, and you can judge me for saying so, but it’s true. Still, I’m excited to see the kinds of competition and odds-defeating that Paralympians are capable of. “Special” Olympics, for sure, and they’ve achieved every bit as much, if not more, as the athletes we’ve come to love of late.