Own the gold-ium: How long will 2010 carry on?

Neate Sager

Now the question is how to keep the spirit alive.

Canada had best possible outcome from Vancouver 2010, all coming together with a Sidney Crosby signature-moment climax. A friend called it crazy in a great way, only he didn't say crazy. What the moment stood for will be borne out in the years to come. It certainly supported any arguments that "Own The Podium" must be continued.

Crosby sniping the golden goal 7:40 into overtime could have happened without OTP. The celebration, though, was one piece of a puzzle that fell so wonderfully into place for our home and native land these past 17 days. It was the best of the hockey-obsessed Canada merging with the one which, as bobsleigh queen Helen Upperton said late last week, knows it has to diversify its athletic portfolio, win more medals.

After a Games that 99 percent of Canadians watched at some point, maybe there is a spur to emulate the U.S., whose 36 medals were the payoff of a long-term plan that began after the 1998 Nagano Olympics to upgrade on a skein of fourth- and fifth-place finishes. One would hope the success would get a few more of us (present company at the head of the line) up and active.

The last four, five days of the Games, one gold piled onto another, with a courageous Joannie Rochette bronze mixed in, whet the appetite for Sunday. The hockey finale, so long as Canada was in it, was going to draw the largest audience. That went without saying.

Perhaps what put it over the top was what came before. It maybe prompted a few more Canadians to take to the streets after the hockey win, made it not just a hockey victory but a Canadian victory. What made it different from 2002 was the long line of success stories at the 21st Olympiad.

It helped jam Dundas Square at the country's epicentre, downtown Toronto. Perhaps it gave some firefighters in Kingston, Ontario, the idea to decorate one of the trucks with flags and drive it down Princess Street, the city's main drag, sirens blaring.

One benefit of living in Canada is having options with how you identify yourself. Sometimes it makes it harder to emerge from those smaller and smaller boxes sometimes. The great outpouring was like the snow flying at Whistler, better late than never. People opted in eventually.

It also cut across all lines. Boomers who were privileged to see it can admit there's a moment to rival Paul Henderson's winning goal in 1972, reaching back to listening to that Summit Series on transistor radios to watching it today on 50-inch flat screens. Younger generations, Xers and millennials now have their own where-were-you moment, although given their preference for complexity, will probably try to say, no-no, Henderson was still bigger. But that's another post.

Now, as the country's far and away greatest sportswriter, Stephen Brunt, wondered on Saturday, what comes next? In a perfect world, what happened over the past few days would be bottled, with CTV selling, just kidding.

The country has always faced challenges with helping pay the price for athletic brilliance, be it pro, Olympic and amateur. At the higher levels, the attitude has always been either to you're on your own, or pick a sport which people will pay for the privilege of watching.

It is reasonable to think people liked the taste of gold. If a record 14 first-place medals didn't achieve it, what would? Perhaps this was the catalytic event for Canada to decide once and for all to go all-in on the Olympics. It could become to the Winter Games what Australia, another immigrant nation with a spread-out population, is at the Summer Games.

This is a prod, be it with a ski pole of Chris Pronger's hockey stick, to put our money where our mouths are, essentially.

As great as Feb. 28, 2010 will feel, even as all the bills come due for VANOC and various level of government, Canada has to face up to its corner-cutting.

We attempted to game the system a bit, and got egged for it by the international media. Our focus was on winning golds in the latter-day additions to the Games: freestyle skiing, snowboarding, short-track speedskating. Curling and hockey, and let's be honest here, should be a near-automatic four medals.

Owning the podium in Sochi would mean breaking the European and American hold on more traditional disciplines. The country had golds in two-woman bobsleigh and skeleton, both third-time events. It was shut out in luge, which was held at the same venue.

The alpine ski team failed to earn a medal, although it had promising results. It played out similarly with the men's cross-country team, which had its success stories, capped by Devon Kershaw's fifth-place finish in the men's 50-km race.

The Olympics are an unfair game, with the older disciplines having more medals up for grabs. The point is we can do better, spread that pleasure of sport around to more of the elite athletes and down to the grass roots. It can always be done better. If you don't keep moving, you get complacent, and Canada has paid the price for taking quality sportspeople for granted far too often.

Meantime, yes, what a feeling. This was what Canada has wanted and it got it this time. Now we have to decide whether we want it again, and again.