When you get right down to it the Olympics are, as we have said before, about people. People from all corners of the world coming together, people discovering their limits and abilities, people overcoming obstacles to achieve goals. There have been examples of all of these in the first week of the 2010 Olympics.
Two of the best illustrations for Canadians have been gold medallists Alexandre Bilodeau and Maëlle Ricker. Bilodeau's story has by now become familiar to most. At an early age it was decided Alexandre would switch from hockey to skiing so that his brother, who has cerebral palsy, could participate with the rest of the family. That decision paid off years ago, as the brothers have continued to love and support one another. Alexandre's victory Sunday in the moguls competition, the first Olympic gold medal won by a Canadian athlete on Canadian soil, was just the final confirmation.
On Tuesday Ricker won the gold medal in women's snowboardcross. Her performance may be counted as the second gold medal won by a Canadian in these Olympics, or the first won by a Canadian woman competing in Canada, but it too was the culmination of years of perseverance. Maëlle means "ambitious" according to one etymological reference. The 31-year-old Squamish resident set her sights on an Olympic gold medal years ago. At one time it was going to be in track and field. Later it was going to be in soccer. Eventually she decided it would be in snowboarding.
The 2010 Olympics could have been Ricker's fourth Games, but one of the many knee injuries she has overcome kept her out of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake. Four years ago in Torino, she was fastest in qualifying for the snowboardcross and then proceeded to handily win every elimination round. In the final, however, she flew off a bump and was knocked unconscious. She had to be taken off the hill by helicopter.
There was some doubt whether she would even qualify for Tuesday's snowboardcross. She failed to meet the standard in her first run and the weather threatened to wipe out the second qualification run. But the fog cleared, the sun came out and Ricker took advantage of the opportunity.
Stories about gold medals understandably grab the headlines, but there are many other stories within these Games. The tragic death of Georgian luge athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili is one that cannot be forgotten.
In the nearly seven years of prepartion since the 2010 Olympics were awarded to Vancouver and Whistler, little had gone wrong. Olympic facilities were built on time and mostly on budget, there were no scandals, CEO John Furlong won praise for his guidance of the organizing committee from start to finish and even the torch relay met its purpose in helping to unify the country behind the 2010 Olympics. But that streak changed horribly Friday morning with Kumaritashvili's death.
There has been all kinds of finger pointing and opinions aired about the speed and safety of the Whistler Sliding Centre track. The luge federation's 24-hour investigation of the accident and subsequent decisions to alter the track have also come under scrutiny.
The story that needs to be remembered is Kumaritashvili's. There was no mention of the 21-year-old Georgian at Sunday's men's luge finals. The only sign that anything was different was the additional paneling now in place where Kumaritashvili went off track.
Some passage of time is needed before deciding how best to honour Kumaritashvili, but Whistler needs to remember him. The medals plaza will be rebuilt following the Olympics and there have been suggestions that the medal winners be remembered in a wall or some other element of the final design. Kumaritashvili should be remembered there too.
The medals plaza is the apogee for many of the stories of the 2010 Olympics. To see the presentation of medals first hand, as opposed to on television, is an opportunity to look into the eyes of an individual who has persevered, overcome many difficulties to focus their efforts on one moment. The medal winners aren't the only ones who do this, but seeing their success in achieving their goals can inspire all of us.
There will be many more moments, people and stories from the 2010 Olympics worth remembering. And there are people and stories we should never forget.
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