With glowing hearts…extinguished

Living in a country where all signs point to hockey, it may come as a surprise to many Canadians that the winter Olympics’ marquee event has traditionally been women’s figure skating. You also might not know that as Canadians were “transformed” by the experience of hosting the 2010 winter games, we have, in our transformation, accrued nearly every quality that we have secretly loathed in our southern neighbours. In all the costs we’ve manage to acquire in hosting these games, dare I say that our adoption of behaviours that we have long stereotyped as American has cost us our most darling capital — our pristine reputation. But let’s not throw out the baby with the proverbial bathwater, maybe we can find the silver lining in this, eh?

Quebec is hardly three years out of the red from the 1976 Montreal Olympics and Vancouver is set for some phenomenal debt-servicing itself. While the final numbers have not yet been disclosed, the interest generated by these figures pales in comparison with the interest generated around the new Canadian spirit of sport. It’s with some trepidation that I move forward with this argument, but as a precautionary tale — just in case Toronto succeeds in its own bid for future Olympics — it’s one that merits some attention.

Canadians have often defined themselves as everything that Americans are not. We have historically seen ourselves as the polite, welcoming, open-minded and more patriotically-reserved domain of North America. Being all of these things has given us an immaculate reputation and a propensity for humanitarianism. In fact, the recent past has found Canada asking itself if, after years of being defined as non-American, we are ready to accept a new possibility. Are. We. Canadian?

Enter the 2010 Olympics. Canada was thrust into the spotlight and our “new patriot love” (to quote one news source) found its wings on the backs of Olympic performances and the showcasing of beautiful Vancouver. But what does this new patriot love look like? It is the fair face of street parties, public beer drinking, cheering to the point of distraction at Olympic events and booing fellow countries during competition. Do we need to take the good with the bad? We can extract that the positives of these (arguably expected) Olympic behaviours have resulted in the expression of great pride, support and admiration for our fellow Canadian athletes, but what about our fellow Canadians?

Only a few days into the aftermath of Vancouver 2010, the city is encountering the characteristic post-games slump of returning to everyday life. Vancouver residents are noting that while hardly three days ago the sky trains were packed full of hundreds of new best friends, it’s business and seating territorialism as usual. If Canada has been transformed, is this new identity one that we can only seem to muster up when we have a whole world there to impress or was there a genuine (albeit largely substance-influenced) sense of community that emerged because of and in-between memorable sporting moments?

While city staff works to dismantle the Olympic pavilions, I have to wonder, will our transformed Olympic spirit be next?

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