Opinion

Some remarkable Canadians at the Winter Olympic Games 0

By Sean Chase, Daily Observer

It was a moment 34 years in the making.

When Alexandre Bilodeau hurtled down slushy Cypress Mountain and launched himself over the top jump, ripping off a back flip with two twists and executing a perfect scoring back iron cross off the bottom, there was a feeling of inevitability.

We knew Vancouver 2010 would be different than Montreal 1976 or Calgary 1988 when our nation failed to reach the top of the podium. But few could have expected that it was to be the 22-year-old from Rosemere, Quebec, facing the defending Olympic men's moguls freestyle champion and undisputed favourite in Dale Begg-Smith, who would end the shut-out. But he did, edging the Australian with a 26.75-point score. Across the nation, we instantly leapt to our feet in spontaneous celebration. Canada had finally captured its first-ever gold medal on home soil.

History wasn't done with Canada. On Tuesday, 31-year-old snowboarder Maelle Ricker sailed down Cypress Mountain and crossed the finish line with time to spare to take the first gold by a Canadian woman. For the beaming Squamish, B.C. native, it was an especially sweet moment after feeling the bitterness of Turin four years ago when she crashed in the finals.

Now a look back at some past great winter Olympic moments:

Toronto Granite Club, Chamonix, France, 1924:In the inaugural winter Olympiad, our hockey squad finished their qualifying round with four wins and took gold (our only medal that year). Ernie Collett, Harold McMunn, Dunc Munro, Harry Watson, Hooley Smith, Jack Cameron, Cyril Slater, Beattie Ramsay and Jack Cameron were the first to bring us Olympic honour.

Alexander Hurd, Lake Placid, U.S.A., 1932:He was the first Canadian to bring home silver from a winter Olympics. The Montreal-born speed skater won silver in the men's 1,500-metre race and bronze in the 500 metre. He could have competed at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin but his employer would not pay for his travel expenses.

RCAF Flyers, St. Moritz, Switzerland, 1948:Formed by Squadron Leader Gardner "Harry" Watson, this team of players plucked from bases across Canada suffered a string of exhibition losses before heading to Europe. In fact, the Ottawa Citizen once said, "The decision to retain as Canada's Olympic entry a weak RCAF team which is tied for last place in the Ottawa Senior League will be greeted with dismay from across Canada."

Coached by Ottawa Senators legend George "Buck" Boucher, the Flyers outscored their Olympic opponents 66-5. In the gold medal final against the host Swiss contingent, the boys were pelted with snowballs from a hostile home crowd. The officiating was also bias towards the Swiss as was evident when Swiss defenceman Heinrich Boller received a paltry two-minute penalty for punching Flyer goalie Murray Dowey in the face. The RCAF Flyers wore gold around their blue tunics after landing a 3-0 victory.

Barbara Ann Scott, St. Moritz, Switzerland, 1948:"Canada's sweetheart" skated her historic-making program on a flawed ice surface, however, that wasn't her only obstacle. As the 18-year-old was executing a difficult loop-change-loop figure, a Swiss Air Force jet fighter loudly buzzed the arena. Her concentration was so intense that she barely flinched and finished unscathed. Barbara Ann Scott edged out Austria's Eva Pawlik and Britain's Jeanette Altwegg to become the first Canadian to win the coveted gold medal in Olympic figure skating.

The Edmonton Mercurys, Oslo, Norway, 1952:The last Canadian team to win gold for 50 years, this squad had been selected because they won the world championship title two years before. They entered the gold medal game two points up on the Americans. Despite playing to a tie, the Mercurys' 7-0-1 round-robin record and 15 points secured them the top spot (the U.S. ended with 13 points). In their first game against West Germany, the team wore black armbands in memory of King George VI.

Anne Heggtveit, Squaw Valley, U.S.A., 1960:The Ottawa-born alpine skier not only won Canada's first-ever gold medal in Olympic skiing but became the first non-European to win the International Ski Federation slalom. At Squaw Valley, Heggtveit achieved one of the largest winning margins ever recorded in women's Olympic or world slalom competition with 3.3 seconds over silver finalist Betsy Snite, of the U.S.A., and seven seconds over bronze finisher Barbi Henneberger, of unified Germany.

Vic and John Emery, Douglas Anakin and Peter Kirby, Innsbruck, Austria, 1964:The first Canadian bobsled team, these underdogs knocked off the heavily favoured Austrians and Italians to win gold. Although Olympic newcomers, they set a track record on their first run. However, their rear axle was damaged, which almost resulted in a disqualification. It was Eugenio Monti, the Italian driver and Vic Emery's mentor, who came to their aid and repaired the sled. Driven by Vic Emery, they completed the 14-curve course in 1:04.01 on its final run.

Nancy Greene, Grenoble, France, 1968: Finishing the 1960 Olympiad in 22nd place, she climbed back into contention winning three straight victories in the 1967 World Cup. An aggressive slalom skier, the 24-year-old turned in a fantastic run of one minute, 51.97 seconds to win gold by a margin of 2.64 seconds, one of the widest in the competitive skiing history. She later captured silver in the slalom.

Karen Magnussen, Sapporo, Japan, 1972: Canada has only won one medal on three occasions and this was one of them. She thrilled a worldwide audience with breathtaking double axels and split leaps to earn a silver in women's figure skating behind Austrian Beatrix Schuba and thus prevented a Canadian shutout. Magnussen won gold at the 1973 World Championships and, like Barbara Ann Scott, became one of the greatest figure skaters of her era.

Gaetan Boucher, Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, 1984: Finished behind American Eric Heiden to win silver in the 1,000-metre men's speed skate at Lake Placid, New York in 1980. This remarkable 25-year-old set the Canadian record for most medals won in a single Olympics at Sarajevo. With his small stature and special technique, Boucher was admired for his determination. Eleven months before the Olympics, Boucher broke his left ankle after crashing into the boards during a training run. In Sarajevo, he took the bronze in the 500-metre event. Then he won the 1,000-metre beating Sergei Khlebnikov of the Soviet Union by 83- 100ths of a second. Boucher also edged out Khlebnikov in the 1,500-metre to win his second straight gold medal.

Marc Gagnon, Lillehammer, Norway, 1994: One of the four most decorated Canadian athletes in the Olympics, the Chicoutimi, Quebec speed skater won his first medal here, a bronze, in the short track. He would follow it with a gold in the 5000-metre relay at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics and two gold and a bronze at Salt Lake City.

Catriona Le May Doan, Salt Lake City, U.S.A., 2002: One of our most prolific Olympians, the 31-year-old Saskatoon native became the first and only Canadian to individually defend her gold medal. At the 1998 Nagano Winter Games, she won gold in the 500-metre speed skate and then added a bronze in the 1,000-metre event. At Salt Lake City, she was our flag bearer and did us proud. She set a world record when she skated the 500-metre track in 37.30 seconds to take gold, a feat that earned her the title "fastest woman on ice." During her career she would break 13 world records. Le May Doan was later a member of the Vancouver 2010 board of directors.

Canadian women's hockey team, Salt Lake City, U.S.A., 2002: After not allowing a goal in the preliminary round, this amateur girls team trailed Sweden in the semi-final 3-2 before scoring five unanswered goals to advance. In the final, Jayna Hefford scored with one second left in the second period to give the Canadians a 3-1 lead over the U.S. It would hold up as the game winner as they secured Canada's first women's hockey gold. Hayley Wickenheiser was named tournament MVP. The same year, the Canadian men's team, now staffed with NHL players, won their first gold in 50 years. The women's team successfully defended their gold at Torino four years later.

Cindy Klassen, Turin, Italy, 2006: In our best Olympiad yet, the spunky Winnipeg-native became the first Canadian to win five medals in a single Olympics. The speed skater took gold in the 1500-metre women's long track, silvers in the 1000-metre long track and team pursuit, and bronzes in the 3000- metre and 5000-metre long tracks. She also won a bronze at Salt Lake City, making her the first Canadian to win six Olympic medals.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer reporter


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