So. The Olympics. As a member of the media I went to almost one event per day for 16 days in a row, huddled into pens with other print reporters sent to cover the Games but who knew little about the sports or the athletes. Hours went by like this. Sometimes there were televisions so we could watch what was happening elsewhere on the course, but most of the big screens for the spectators were not in the line of sight for reporters.
After watching an event, we'd do our interviews and then rush back to media tents where we'd plug in our laptops and write. Televisions lined the walls of the media areas showing the other events taking place that day. Because of those televisions I'd argue that I probably saw more of the Games than most people.
The athleticism was nothing short of incredible, whether it was watching Shaun White land the first Double McTwist in a snowboard halfpipe competition even though he had already clinched the gold medal, or Devon Kershaw sprinting to the finish line of the men's 50 km race, only to finish a fraction of a second off the podium and fall in an exhausted pile next to other racers who had pushed the limit of human endurance.
The Canadians were nothing short of impressive, winning 14 gold medals - a record for any nation at a Winter Games. Alex Bilodeau promised that his gold medal in men's moguls - the first won on home soil by any Canadian in three Olympics - was only the first and he was right. Canada won 26 medals in total, ranking third behind the U.S. and Germany.
Canadians were also in the hunt for medals, with top 10 results in a number of sports - sometimes missing the podium by tenths or hundredths of a second, or a fraction of a point. The women's curling team made one mistake that cost them the gold in an otherwise perfect run.
If all you paid attention to was medals you might have come away from the Games disappointed, but there were some great and inspirational performances by Canadians and moments that took your breath away.
In this Year of Sports, rather than give a month-by-month review of events that took place, I thought it was better to list highlights for sports, athletes and events.
Canada at the Olympics
After a slow start and international scorn for the Own The Podium program, the Canadian team caught fire with 14 gold medals, seven silver medals and five bronze. Usually it's the opposite, with countries winning the most bronze, more silvers and a few gold, but the Canadian athletes came into these Games with an all-or-nothing approach - some won it all, and many got nothing after taking some big risks.
Our gold medal winners were Alex Bilodeau in men's moguls; Maëlle Ricker in women's snowboardcross; Ashleigh McIvor in women's ski cross; Jasey-Jay Anderson in men's alpine snowboarding; Jon Montgomery in men's skeleton; Christine Nesbitt in women's 1,000-metre speed skating; Charles Hamelin in men's 500-metre short track speed skating; Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse in women's bobsleigh; Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in ice dancing; Mathieu Giroux, Lucas Makowsky and Deny Morrison in men's team pursuit in speed skating; the men's short track speed skating 5,000-metre relay; the men's hockey team; the women's hockey team and the men's curling team.
Silver medal winners were Jennifer Heil in women's moguls; Mike Robertson in men's snowboardcross; Kristina Groves in women's 1,500-metre speed skating; Marianne St-Gelais in women's 500-metre short track speed skating; Helen Upperton and Shelley-Ann Brown in women's bobsleigh; the women's curling team and the women's 3,000-metre relay in short track speed skating.
The bronze medals went to Clara Hughes in the women's 5,000-metre speed skating, Kristina Groves in women's 3,000-metre speed skating, Francois-Louis Tremblay in men's 500-metre short track speed skating, Joannie Rochette in women's figure skating, and the men's four-man bobsleigh team - Lyndon Rush, Chris Le Bihan, David Bissett and Lascelles Brown.
There's not enough space to list all the athletes that came close, but some memorable athletes include Devon Kershaw in the men's cross-country marathon, Chris DelBosco's crash in men's ski cross to finish fourth, Chloe Dufour-Lapointe's fifth place finish in women's moguls, Vincent Marquis and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau placing fourth and fifth in men's moguls, Davey Barr's sixth place finish in men's ski cross (filling in for other injured athletes), Kelsey Serwa's win in the small final in women's ski cross, Kyle Nissen's fifth place finish in men's aerials, Erik Guay's fifth place finish in men's downhill and men's super G (just 0.03 seconds off the podium in super G), Britt Janyk's sixth place in the women's downhill, Robert Fagan winning the small final and placing fifth in men's snowboardcross, Justin Lamoureux's seventh place finish in men's halfpipe, and Mercedes Nicoll's sixth place result in women's halfpipe.
Most inspirational moments of the Games
Number one has to be mogul skier Alex Bilodeau's family and his close relationship with his brother Frederic, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a teenager. It was that diagnosis that prompted the Bilodeau family to start skiing, an activity they could all do together, and for Alex to switch sports from hockey to freestyle skiing.
Number two has to be Joannie Rochette's bronze medal in figure skating. Her mother had died the week before the 2010 Games. She skated in her mother's honour to deafening applause.
Number three was the infamous kiss. After winning the men's 500-metre short track gold, Hamelin rushed to the boards where he kissed girlfriend and fellow racer Mairanne St-Gelais.
Number four was the performance of the world's lugers, bobsledders and skeleton athletes following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili in a training run on the eve of the Games. Athletes held nothing back, trusting the course and their own skills on the fastest track in the world.
Number five was Jasey-Jay Anderson coming from behind in his last run to win gold in the men's parallel giant slalom race. It was Anderson's fourth Olympic appearance but his first medal, and capped a great career as a racer and spokesman for the sport.
Number six was the poise of Whistler's skiers in the intense media spotlight. They didn't win any medals, but they didn't make any excuses or lay any blame either - they accepted the added pressure and performed well overall.
Number seven was Devon Kershaw's gut-busting performance in the men's 50-km marathon, sticking with the leaders until the final sprint to the finish when he fell back slightly to place fifth, just 0.6 seconds off the podium.
Number eight was Sidney Crosby in men's hockey. Although he got into a bit of a scoring slump and was under a huge amount of pressure he never stopped trying, played some good defence and hung in to score the winning goal for Team Canada in their overtime battle against the U.S.
Number nine was the performance of Pemberton's Kristi Richards in women's moguls. The 2007 world champion, she went off course in the middle section and crashed. Instead of skiing off course upset, she rallied the crowd and treated everybody to a huge twisting backflip off the bottom air.
Number 10 was a Paralympic moment, although arguably every moment of the Para Games was inspirational. Lauren Woolstencroft won all five women's alpine skiing events, the first Paralympian to accomplish that feat.
Erik Guay's golden globe
In the final week of the World Cup season Quebec's Erik Guay reached the podium three times, jumping to the top of the World Cup rankings for super G. With the win, Guay became the first male Canadian skier to lift a crystal globe since Steve Podborski won the World Cup downhill title in 1982.
Maëlle Ricker's golden globe
Whistler's Maëlle Ricker had a great World Cup season on the snowboardcross circuit, winning the overall title with three gold medals, a silver medal and two bronze medals. But because there are always more alpine races, it's tough for athletes competing in other snowboard disciplines to win the overall snowboarding title.
So Ricker entered a halfpipe competition, a discipline she used to compete in but ignored for the past four seasons to focus on snowboardcross. She managed a solid ninth place finish, worth 290 points, which moved her to the top of the listings with 5,290 points. Racer Doris Guenther could still have taken the title with a win, but imploded on her last race to place third in the rankings. Nicolien Sauerbreij of The Netherlands moved up to second with 5,200 points.
Some alpine skiing highlights
Whistler's Manuel Osborne-Paradis had a great World Cup season with three medals - a gold in super G at Lake Louise, a gold in downhill at Val Gardena and a silver medal at Wengen.
Whistler's Mike Janyk didn't win a World Cup medal in slalom, but placed fifth three times and his worst finish - besides a DNF - was 14th. He also won a pro slalom event staged in Russia at the start of the season.
The Whistler Mountain Ski Club had another stellar season with racers ranking among the best in the province and then skiing for Canada at the annual Whistler Cup international juvenile race. The K2s to race for Team Canada were Blake Ramsden and Emma King, with King earning a silver medal in super G at the national K2 championships. King went on to win the women's super-G at the Whistler Cup. The top WMSC K1 skier was Mikayla Martin, who earned silver medals at the Whistler Cup in the Kombi race and giant slalom.
The 26th Appleton Rum Peak to Valley race was delayed to the end of March because of the Olympics and Paralympics, but still managed to completely sell out. The top team this year was Barry the Rooster (Tom Prochazka, Kent Wills, Steve Fleckenstein and Liz Thompson) with an average age over 50 years young. They completed the five-plus kilometre giant slalom course in a thigh-burning combined time of 22:58.36.
Snowboarders still having fun
The big Whistler snowboard story of the year was Maëlle Ricker's gold medal, snowboardcross title, overall snowboard title, fourth consecutive Mt. Baker Legendary Banked Slalom title, World Cup wins and national title. But there were other local snowboard stories to report.
Like Mercedes Nicoll, who made the women's snowboard final in the Olympics and placed sixth. She also won two World Cup medals last year and had a lot of solid results in pro events.
On the men's side, Squamish rider Justin Lamoureux had a solid season, placing seventh in the Olympics and earning a silver and bronze in World Cup competitions.
Local riders also had a fun year, as always. One of the highlights was the annual Showcase Showdown, which took place on a modified slopestyle course this year. Molly Milligan was the top female and Jesmond Dubeau the top male.
The World Ski and Snowboard Festival
There was a lot to take in during the annual Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival this year, and while culture is a growing part of the festival there's still a healthy focus on action sports.
The World Skiing Invitational was a superpipe event, with America riders sweeping the podium on the men's side. Walter Wood, Joss Christensen and Taylor Seaton placed first through third. The top Canadian was Noah Bowman, fourth. Calgary's Megan Gunning placed second on the women's side, between American Jen Hudak and Mirjam Jaeger of Switzerland.
The other big event was the third annual Orage Masters event, which was moved to the base of Whistler Mountain this year. In the end the K2 team won, which featured local skier Sean Pettit, as well as Anna Segal, Matt Margetts and Sean Jordan.
The snowboarding side was all about the Grenade Games, returning to Whistler for a second year. There were events almost every day for six days, ranging from a fun scavenger hunt to a dual slalom to the closing slopestyle competition. Travis Williams won the dual moguls competition while Annie Boulanger was the top female and sixth overall. Jordan Phillips won the halfpipe contest, followed by Kyle Thomas and Justin Lamoureux. The grand finale was the Grande Final, an invite-only slopestyle competition. Dave Fortin won the title with a gutsy backflip off the long log ride, followed by Andrew Burns and Zach Stone.
The 2011 Telus World Ski and Snowboard Festival is April 15 to 24.
The Winter X Games
Next to the Winter Olympics, the Winter X Games in Aspen are probably the biggest winter sporting events in the world. Canadians had an amazing showing in 2010. Kaya Turski won the slopestyle event, while local girl Sarah Burke came up just short of the first 1260 landed in a competition by a female competitor. Megan Gunning was second in the ski superpipe competition.
Canadian skiers also won five out of six medals in ski cross, with the Canadian men - Chris DelBosco, Dave Duncan and Brady Leman - sweeping the podium and then Ashleigh McIvor and Kelsey Serwa placing second and third for the women. Justin Dorey and Mike Riddle were first and fourth in men's superpipe while T.J. Schiller was second in slopstyle.
The Hell of a Series
This year the Ore Crusher, Test of Metal, GearJammer and two new events - the North Shore Bike Fest and Just Another Bike Race - padded out the Squamish Triple Crown of events with five epic races.
There are too many locals competing in individual events to name them all, but some of the more impressive Whistler riders included Matt Ryan (fourth in Bike Fest, sixth in Test of Metal and third in GearJammer) and Matt Bodkin (seventh in Ore Crusher, ninth in Bike Fest) in Elite; Mahon Lamont (fifth in Test, seventh in GearJammer in Male 14 to 20 while racing kids five and six years older; Michael Robinson (first in all five events) in Male 30 to 34; Sylvie Allen (first in Bike Fest and GearJammer) in Female 35 to 39; Trevor Hopkins (12th in Ore Crusher, second in Bike Fest, first in GearJammer and first in JABR) in Male 35 to 39; Cathy Zeglinski (first in Ore Crusher, first in GearJammer and first in JABR) in Female 45 to 49; Tony Routley (first in Ore Crusher, second in Bike Fest, second in Test, second in GearJammer and first in JABR) in Male 50 to 54; Dave Johnston (second in Ore Crusher, fourth in Bike Fest, sixth in Test, fourth in GearJammer and second in JABR) in Male 50 to 54; Mike Hawes (second in Ore Crusher, third in Bike Fest, seventh in Test, second in JABR) in Male 60 to 69; and Gary Baker (first in Ore Crusher, first Bike Fest, first in Test, first in GearJammer and first in JABR).
Pemberton hosts bike epic
A group of enterprising Pemberton riders worked together to stage an epic mountain bike race in Spud Valley called the NimbyFifty, hosted on May 29 in ideal conditions. Colin Kerr was the top male in that race, followed by Carter Hovey and Neal Kindree. World Cup racer Catharine Pendrel was the top female, followed by Wendy Simms and Megan Rose.
The second annual NimbyFifty is set for May 28, 2011.
Four Queens comes down to a sprint
This year local race organizer Tony Horn hosted the follow-up to the 2009 Four Jacks race, a four-event competition that includes the Thursday WORCA Toonie Ride, a top-to-bottom rip through the mountain bike park on Friday evening, a pair of technical races on Saturday - a super-D on PHD and a tour through the No Flow Zone, followed by an epic ride in Pemberton on Sunday. The kicker is that you're only allowed one bike and one set of tires for all four days of competition, and points are awarded for placing to reward overall skill rather than just speed. This year's event literally came down to the last day of racing, with Dylan Wolsky taking the men's win after Kevin Phelps skunked the leader Chris Johnson on the final climb in Pemberton - a second place finish would have given Johnson the win. Then Sylvie Allen and Joanna Harrington came into the last day tied for first place, with Harrington going on to win the race.
B.C. Bike Race gets bigger and better
The 2010 B.C. Bike Race sold out early this year, finishing in Whistler after seven days of racing on Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast and Squamish.
Only a handful of Whistler athletes took part this year. Cathy Zeglinski and Brandi Heisterman finished second among the female teams, while Sarah O'Byrne was 11th in solo women, and Penny Cameron fifth in Masters Women.
This 2011 race runs from July 2 to July 9, and spots are still available at www.bcbikerace.com.
The Return of Xterra
It's been 10 years since Whistler hosted an Xterra off-road triathlon, but the event returned this year for the Canadian Xterra Championships - a qualifier for the world championship in Hawaii. Josiah Middaugh of Colorado won the men's event, and Melanie McQuaid of Nanaimo was first among women. Adam Ward was the top local athlete, 18th overall. Greg Sandkuhl and Caroline Lamont were first in their respective categories. Tristan Underhill was the top junior. J.P. Boulais was second overall in the sport distance.
GranFondo a huge success
2010 marked the beginning of something big for Whistler, the RBC GranFondo road ride from Vancouver to Whistler, 120 km up the refurbished Sea to Sky Highway.
The competition sold out all 5,000 spots well in advance, and in 2011 is expanding to 6,500 riders. In another two years as many as 10,000 could be making the trip, which could be one of the most popular GranFondo events in North America.
Local road riders did take part in the event, with Trevor Hopkins placing 60th overall, followed closely by Josh Stott and Otto Kamstra, all riding with Team Whistler. Other results that need mentioning include Brandi Heisterman, who finished within six seconds of the top female racers in the elite group; Marla Zucht was first in Female 30 to 39; Mike Boehm placed fourth in the big 30 to 39 category; Claire Daniels was third in Female 19 to 29; Gary Baker was third in Male 70 to 79. Also worth noting is Phil Chew's time of 4:40:45, given that Chew is an above-the-knee amputee and still placed in the top half of the field. John Ryan, a paraplegic who once hand-cycled across Canada to raise money for spinal cord research, also did the race in just under eight-and-a-half hours, averaging 14 km/h on the hilly course.
More information on the 2011 edition, taking place Sept. 10, is at www.rbcgranfondowhistler.com
Will Routley wins Nationals
Whistler has produced national champions in cross-country and downhill mountain biking, and even a world champion in freeriding in Brandon Semenuk. But it was road rider Will Routley who stole the show this year with a win at the road nationals, taking on top tier Canadian riders and established teams to win the title.
It was a breakthrough year for Routley in other ways as well, including the "most aggressive" jersey he won on a stage of the Amgen Tour of California - easily North America's biggest road event - plus solid results throughout a long season of racing. He even represented Canada at the Commonwealth Games.
Routley is moving up next season after being named to the SpiderTech team, which recently earned its UCI Pro Continental accreditation that will allow the group to compete in the top events in the world - even the Tour de France if they are extended an invitation.
Crankworx bigger than ever
The 2010 edition of Crankworx was easily the resort's biggest yet with new events and massive crowds for all nine days of the festival. It ranks with the Sea Otter Classic as one of the biggest events in the world.
There are too many results to include in a single article, so I'll just include the Pro winners in each event. In the Dual Slalom it was Gee Atherton and Micayla Gatto. In the Garbanzo DH it was Chris Kovarik and Anne Chausson. In the Ken Quon it was Colin Kerr and Brandi Heisterman. In the Canadian Open Enduro it was Remy Absalon and Anne Chausson. In the Air Downhill it was Brian Lopes and Anne Chausson. In the VW Best Trick it was Greg Watts on the first feature and Darren Berrecloth on the second. In the Ultimate Pumptrack Challenge it was Mitch Ropelato and Jill Kintner. In the Giant Slalom it was Michal Prokop and Emmeline Ragot. In the Monster Energy Slopestyle it was Cam Zink, followed by Mike Montgomery and Casey Groves. In Trialsworx it was Mill Bay's John Webster, who also placed seventh in the World Championships this year. In the Canadian Open DH it was Gee Atherton and Emmeline Ragot. Complete results are available online at www.crankworx.com. The 2011 event is scheduled for July 16 to 24.
As usual, Whistler and Sea to Sky were represented in Ironman Canada. The top Whistler athlete was Stephen Wheeler in 11:47:03, breaking the 12-hour mark in his first Ironman appearance. Other local finishers were John Blok, Fero Piliar, Gillian Woodward, Peter Henderson, Audri Gilson, Kathy Wolfe and Derek Gagne.
Something every week?
Last season, in addition to hosting the Olympics, Whistler hosted six Kokanee Valley Race Series events, three King of the Hill rail jams, four Park Rider Sessions contests, two Ski and Snowboard Cross presented by Powerade competitions, the Whistler Valley Trail Run, a 5 Peaks race, the biggest Terry Fox Run to date, a run for the Whistler Food Bank, youth and beginner triathlons, 20 WORCA Toonie Rides, one-off bike events like the West Side Wheel Up, Cheakamus Challenge and a B.C. Cup (also the Ken Quon Memorial), nine local downhill events, a Fluidride Cup downhill race, and more. With Squamish and Pemberton there was something on every week during the summer, and almost every week during the winter. There are some gaps in the spring and fall, but locals find ways to stay active.
Now that the Games are over, Whistler has substantial legacies, including a permanent gym for high performance athletes, a new full-time facility for Whistler Gymnastics, some 70-km of cross-country trails, ski jumps and biathlon in the Whistler Olympic Park and the Whistler Sliding Centre. Funding all of these legacies is going to be a challenge but the opportunities for local sports and recreation have increased hugely.
One sad note was the decommissioning of the alpine skiing venue, removing net posts and other infrastructure, which means the Dave Murray Downhill and Franz's Run will never be used for World Cup alpine racing again. Still, the mountains inherited a great legacy snowmaking system for Whistler Mountain that will improve conditions and lengthen the time that the ski out is open.