I've heard Oh Canada before just about every single sporting event I have been to and it never gets old. But those few times I get to hear it at the Olympic Games it just means so much more, like the athlete earned the right for it to be played so everyone in their country can hear it and everyone no matter what country they are from only gets to hear that anthem. I can only remember the Olympics back to 1994 in Lillehammer but each one has provided events that I will always remember, and reminds me of how fun it is to cheer for the maple leaf every two years, especially when its against an Olympic superpower such as Russia or the big bad USA. Here are my top 10 most memorable events that I witnessed first hand, and this is completely from a Canadian standpoint.
1: Men's hockey winning gold in 2002
Nothing compares to this in all my years of following sports, the prototypical "where were you when" sports moment for my generation. Following heartache in the shootout in 1994 and then when the pros blew it in Nagano, there wasn't too much confidence entering Salt Lake City. After a few mediocre games, Gretzky took the pressure off the players and ripped into the media providing an underdog feel for this team of all-stars. After beating Finland and Belarus it was time to take on the home team, the USA for gold. After falling behind 1-0 early, I knew it was too good to be true, but after 60 minutes it was 5-2 Canada and we drove the streets of Collingwood with the flag hanging out the windows.
2: Daniel Nestor and Sebastian Lareau winning gold in 2002 - Pairs tennis
They were ranked fourth, but I don't remember them being any kind of medal threat, let alone the gold medal winners. I knew of Nestor, but I hadn't heard of Lareau but it was fun hearing of them keep winning and once they made the gold medal match I made a point of staying up and watching the match (it began at midnight if I remember correctly). Nestor and Lareau were big underdogs in the final as it was widely assumed that the Woodies (Woodbridge and Woodforde) would take home the gold at their home games, and after winning the first set they were in good position to do so. But the Canadians fought back and took the fourth set in a tiebreak to clinch the first tennis medal in Canada's Olympic history.
3: Jamie Sale and David Pelletier winning silver/gold in 2002 - Pairs figure skating
I'm not a big figure skating guy, I hate how its the "premier sport" at the winter games and how some of the skaters seem larger than life. In 2002 though we had this amazing young couple, and like every other sport it sucked me in, for we were definite medal contenders in the pairs competition. The Russian pair of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze were the favourites and were ahead after the first skate, but when they slipped up slightly on the last skate, there was a window for the Canadians to take home the gold. They were perfect...but since the mob was involved, certain judges were paid off to put the Russians first and the Canadian pair was cheated of their gold. While Jamie sobbed on the podium I along with the rest of the people in the room were shocked and as the filthy details came out the pair received support from not only Canada, but from media outlets around the world. Eventually the two pairs stood side by side about a week later when the IOC decided to award a second and most-deservedly gold to the Canadians. Its interesting to note that if the Russians didn't slip up they probably would have won gold and nobody would question any of the judges motives, so thankfully Sale and Pelletier were flawless.
4: Daniel Igali winning gold in 2000 - 69kg freestyle wrestling
One of the best things in cheering for Canada is that when they win its usually like they are the underdog, and who doesn't like cheering for the underdog, especially when they end up winning. Anyways, I had never heard of Daniel Igali, but the CBC was showing his matches one by one as the quarters, semis and finals were all in the same day. In the semis Igali went up against a superior opponent from the States named Lincoln McIlravy, and once again the underdog came through. Igali went on to Arsen Gitinov from Russia in the finals and everyone in Canada fell in love with this man who moved here from Nigeria as a boy once he placed the flag at the centre of the ring and did circle around it in celebration.
5: Jody Holden and Conrad Leinemann winning a preliminary round match in 2000 - Beach Volleyball
This was kind of what epitomized how much I love the Olympics. It was just some random early match between two teams that weren't going to win a medal, but what made it extra special was that it was against a team from the States. If I remember correctly the Canadians were down 14 to 6 and were one point away from being eliminated in the first round. I remember thinking, its going to be tough but our guys can do it, and slowly but surely Holden and Leinemann came back to tie and eventually win the match 17-15. It was so much fun to just see them come back, especially against the Americans and I remember getting so into the match since if we lost one more point, we would be eliminated.
6: Jennifer Heil winning gold in 2006 - Moguls
In what was one of the first finals at the Torino games, Canada had their best chance at gold competing, and she did not disappoint. Heil put in a great performance as she was expected to do (something that rarely happens with Canadians) and took home the gold. This one was especially memorable since it was on the first day and I was so excited to watch that regardless of the hangover from the night before, I woke up at something like 7 or 8 am just to catch the mogul event. And although the rest of the day was tough, it was well worth it.
7: Jean-Luc Brassard winning gold in 1994 - Moguls
I don't remember much from these games other than the golds won by Brassard and Myriam Bedard in the biathlon, but I do remember the move the Brassard broke out on the jumps in between the mogul tracks. I think it's called a kossack, but what he did while he was in the air was do the splits and make his skis parallel to each other. I remember thinking how cool Brassard was because it was this new 'cool' sport as I was always an avid skier. Even in gym class in junior school I would try to re-enact the trick while jumping off the balance beam.
8: Marc Gagnon wins two golds in two hours in 2002 - Short Track Speed Skating
It was the second last day of competitions in the Salt Lake City Games and Canada had not even come close to a respectable medal haul, but that would change after this night. In what was his last Olympics Gagnon went out as the most decorated Winter Olympian in Canada's history (he was passed in 2006 by Cindy Klassen) by winning gold in the 500m and the 5000m relay event along with Jonathan Guilmette, Francois-Louis Tremblay, and Mathieu Turcotte. Not only did Canada win the two golds, but Gagnon was joined on the podium by silver medal winner Jonathan Guilmette in the 500m. With all the talk of the South Koreans and Apollo Anton Ohno, it was nice to have a few Canadians take the spotlight in one of the most exciting events at the Games.
9: Lori-Ann Muenzer winning gold in 2006 - Woman's sprint, cycling
Muenzer seemed to me like another of the dozens of Canadian athletes I've seen over the years who had little to no expectations from the public going into the Games, those athletes who might provide a little excitement before the medals get handed out, but are long shots to end up on the podium. As Muenzer (who was 38 during these games, and appeared much older in comparison to her opponents) kept winning her races I was just hoping that she could get to the finals and guarantee a medal. I remember her biggest obstacle coming in the semis when she took on Anna Mears from Australia and lost the first race in a best of three set when Mears posted the best time of the day. By seeing Canadian Olympians falter on a regular basis I was just hoping this wouldn't be a repeat, and I was delighted when Muenzer pulled out everything she had and won the next two races to advance to the final where she eventually beat Russian Tamilla Abassova to win one of the most unexpected medals for Canada at the 2004 Games.
10: Woman's hockey winning gold in 2002
This is so low only because I missed the majority of the game and only saw the final seconds as well as all the post-game stuff. A major theme here is the Canadians beating the Americans, especially when we are not expected to win, and this gold medal game was no exception. The Americans and Canadians were by far the two best teams in every Olympics and World Championships, but the Canadians were always one-upped when it came to the gold medal game. This time around the Canadian team put in such an inspired effort and were led by a great performance by Sami Jo Small (I might be wrong with that one). This win was highlighted by Hayley Wickenheiser when during a post-game interview she said the team was fired up by hearing that the American team put the Canadian flag on the ground in their locker room and it was taken as a sign of disrespect. Whether or not this was true, it still helped our team win gold, and helped the lore of the Lucky Loonie.
I've probably forgot some, but ones that do receive mentioning are ones that are not related to golds, silvers, or bronzes, such as the Norwegian cross-country coach giving a replacement pole to one of the Canadian skiers in the team sprint when her pole broke helping Canada win a silver, great sportsmanship. There was also a day late in the Athens Games when Canada was playing in the baseball semis and they were losing a number of runs. In the bottom of the ninth they started pushing for a comeback but their last out was on what looked like a sure thing home run, which would have tied the game. Instead we went to the bronze medal game and lost. During this game was the final race in the woman's 100m hurdles, which featured Canada's best medal hopeful, Perdita Felicien. Unfortunately at the first hurdle she tripped up and fell and everyone in Canada's heart sank. Canada's basketball team in 2000 deserves a mention as that put Steve Nash on the map and featured another heartbreaking loss in the quarters to France. Two medals that I remember that didn't make the list were the two bronzes won in the first trampoline events by Karen Cockburn and Mathieu Turgeon.
These are my favourites, I would love to hear other people's favourite Olympic moments that they watched live, and I would love to hear some stories from countries other than Canada and the States if there is anyone here from elsewhere in the world.
NB: I was at a cottage during most of the 1996 games, so therefore I didn't see Bailey's WR in the 100m or the 4X100m relay, but they would definitely be tops if I saw them.
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