I was 11 years old when the Olympics came to town. In a way, the games taught me how to celebrate being Canadian. For two weeks, I danced through the streets with people from all over the world, celebrating wins and mourning losses. Together we laughed, sang, and ate Japadogs.
This ‘town’ I speak of is not Toronto. The mystical place I speak of lies beyond the boundaries of the GTA, across the plains, and over the mountains. If you travel west and keep going, you’ll find that nestled between the Rockies and the Pacific Ocean lies Vancouver, the land of great sushi, overpriced housing, and the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics.
What were the 2010 Winter Olympics? In numbers, it can be boiled down to the third time that Canada hosted the games and the first time Canada won gold at home. In fact, Canadians won a record-setting 14 gold medals, the most ever for any country at a single Winter Games. But numbers are easy to list; what’s harder to describe is how the games changed the culture of Vancouver and, more specifically, how they changed me.
At the risk of sounding too sappy or overly patriotic — a typical Canadian fear — I must confess that I had never felt such an overwhelming love for this country as I did during those 17 days when the world arrived at my doorstep. As soon as the Olympic cauldron was lit, it was as if the city woke up. It was about time for us Vancouver residents to show some metropolitan pride, and show it we did. Vancouverites turned out in a way that I had never seen before and have not seen since. How can I describe what it felt like to see all the streets fill up with red and white, to hear spontaneous bursts of the national anthem, to watch strangers literally embrace each other whenever our athletes won a medal?
But it wasn’t just our country that we were celebrating — people from all over the world came to our little corner of Canada. That was what made the games something truly memorable. Walking down the streets of Whistler, I watched as different flags and languages intermingled.. The differences between us made the similarities all the more extraordinary. People gave me high-fives on the street as they sang their national anthem, and I’m sure that I had never smiled at so many strangers in my life.
I wasn’t the only one affected by the games. The Olympics excited every person in the city — including my elementary school teachers, who decided math class was less important than the women’s hockey game or the figure skating final. Needless to say, I missed a lot of class during those two weeks, but I wasn’t complaining. The Olympics electrified the city, all the way from Robson Square to my tiny elementary school classroom.
Of course, downtown was really where the party never stopped. People were ziplining through the air, the side of one of the buildings had been turned into a giant Canadian flag, and every few metres there seemed to be a group of children playing street hockey. You don’t see a sight so Canadian every day.
There are still remnants of the games scattered around. I’ve skated on the rink where our speed skaters won multiple medals, and I’ve posed in front of the Olympic Rings in Whistler. The city hasn’t forgotten the games, and it’s hard to imagine that it ever will. Two weeks of wearing red and white, dancing in the streets, and crying with strangers will do that to a city. Even the International Olympic Committee President at the time, Jacques Rogge, was quoted as saying that he had never seen anything like it before. “The way Vancouver embraced these Games was extraordinary… This is really something unique.” Maybe he says that about all the games, but I personally believe that the Vancouver Games were truly something special.