Well, it’s over. After 16 days of competition, 29 medals for Canada and dozens of stories of triumph, heartbreak and fun (and only one DUI that we know of), the Pyeongchang Olympic Winter Games are over.
It was a good year for Canada. The number of total medals was a record, though when you take event inflation into account we did about as well as Sochi and Turin and a bit behind Vancouver.
There were great stories about medallists like Kim Boutin, Ted-Jan Bloemen, Alex Gough and of course Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. There were equally great stories about athletes who didn’t make the podium. And, thanks to the hard-working team at CBC Sports, we got to see as many of those stories as they could cram into their coverage.
I was glued to the Olympics, sacrificing sleep to wake up at 6am to watch competitions live. It was fun to be so caught up in it, cheering every victory and feeling for every defeat. The Olympics are big money, and for the athletes involved it’s their entire lives, but for the rest of us, it’s two weeks of entertainment before we go back to our regular day-to-day.
It might come as cold comfort to those who were expected to win and didn’t, but the Olympics are a crapshot. For most sports, the level of competition is so high that the margin for error is virtually nonexistent. And, frankly, if the results could be so well known in advance, there wouldn’t be much fun doing it in the first place.
So while not every Canadian could finish on the podium, or in the top 10, the more that achieve that level of greatness, the more chances the country has of finding success in unexpected places.
Anyway, based on my experience watching these games, here are some top (mostly Canadian) moments, in chronological order, that got me right in the feels.
Feb. 11: Andi Naude misses her shot
Four Canadians made the final of the women’s moguls event: Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe (older sister Maxime didn’t qualify for the Olympics), Audrey Robichaud and Andi Naude. The Dufour-Lapointe sisters are the more well-known because of their 1-2 finish in Sochi, but Naude was actually the top-ranked Canadian on the world cup circuit and widely expected to get a medal here.
The “final” is actually three separate runs, with the field being cut down from 20 to 12 to six. Chloe couldn’t crack the top 12 and was eliminated after the first round. Robichaud similarly was cut in the second. But Naude had the highest score in that run, which gave her the privilege of going last in the final final.
With the five other skiers having gone, Justine Dufour-Lapointe was in second place behind Perrine Lafont of France. All Naude had to do was replicate the 78.78 she got in the second run of the final, or the 79.60 she had in qualifying, and the gold medal was hers and we’d have another double-podium finish.
She began her run and made the first jump, but started losing control. By the 10-second mark of her run, she knew it was over, and she skid to the side of the hill and down to the finish without taking the second jump. She removed her goggles, looked into the camera and shrugged.
In an interview shortly thereafter with Radio-Canada’s Marie Malchelosse, Naude said she couldn’t explain what happened, except that she got too much air and couldn’t recover. She recited the boilerplate about how she was proud to represent her country and excited just to be there, as her eyes watered up. As they talk about growing as an athlete, tears begin streaming down her face and she just pretends like that’s not happening as she continues the interview.
“I couldn’t be more proud,” she said. Maybe she even meant it. But what she said in the minute and 18 seconds of that interview didn’t matter. Her face told the story. It was Canada’s first heartbreak of the Olympics, and it wouldn’t be our last.
Feb. 13: Kim Boutin picks up where Marianne St-Gelais left off
It’s the women’s 500-metre short track event. The specialty of Marianne St-Gelais, one half of Canada’s power couple of the 2010 Olympics. After a disappointing Sochi for herself and partner Charles Hamelin (she failed to reach the podium in her individual events and got only a silver in the relay), St-Gelais was supposed to get her redemption here.
And then she didn’t. In the first race of the day, the quarterfinal, there was a false start (under short track rules, the race gets one false start, and then any false start after that is a disqualification for the offender). On the second try, Dutch skater Yara van Kerkhof had the inside lane on St-Gelais at the first turn, and St-Gelais cut her off. Because it was before the apex of the first turn, the race was halted so it could be restarted a second time. After review, an official informs St-Gelais that she has been penalized. And just like that, she’s done. She skates off the ice with a look of this-is-bullcrap-but-I’m-not-gonna-make-a-scene.
In an interview after the race, St-Gelais said she didn’t agree with the call, but that’s short-track. It can be so unfair sometimes.
In the official rankings for the 500m, St-Gelais would officially be classified 16th.
This is where Kim Boutin comes in. Boutin, in her first Olympics, makes it to the final. She spends most of that race in second place behind Arianna Fontana of Italy, but on the final lap, everyone tries to make a move. Boutin gets pushed by Elise Christie of Great Britain (the world record holder, whose Olympics were also a big disappointment — her other two distances ended in penalties). Karma quickly gets to Christie, who falls and crashes into the padding.
Boutin falls to fourth, behind Fontana, Minjeong Choi of Korea and van Kerkhof, and that’s the order they cross the line.
But in short track, you have to wait for the judges. They reviewed the race, including a turn just before the last lap where Choi cuts in front of Boutin, a move very similar to what St-Gelais did in the quarterfinal. And just like the St-Gelais incident, it wasn’t an easy call.
In the end, the judges decided Choi impeded Boutin by making contact with her knee. She was penalized, van Kerkhof was upgraded to silver and Boutin got the bronze.
The first person to celebrate the feat with Boutin was Marianne St-Gelais, as excited for her teammate as if she’d won the medal herself. It was a scene that would repeat a couple of times over the next week.
On the podium later, Boutin was crying as she received her first Olympic medal. She would win two others and be named Canada’s flagbearer for the closing ceremonies. But she’s also why St-Gelais didn’t win a medal. More on that later.
Of course, the accomplishment was overshadowed a bit by Korean internet trolls who left comments on social media (notably Boutin’s Instagram page) blaming her for costing the Korean skater a medal. Some comments descended into death threats and the police and Canadian Olympic Committee got involved. By that point more sensible Koreans stepped forward to reassure Boutin and Canada that those comments don’t represent the will of the majority.
Four days later, in the 1500m, Choi won the gold medal, and Boutin the bronze. On the podium, the two made heart hands together. A reminder that, despite the competition, we’re all still friends.
For the me, the olympics left me cold – and not just because of the weather. It’s because the Olympics are no longer about athletes being great in and of themselves but rather in a never ending, more and more expensive process of eliminating hundredth of seconds from a performance through aerodynamic testing, improved materials, hi-tech and insanely expensive equipment, and the like.
Bobsleds? The number bandied about for the Jamaican team was somewhere around $50,000. You can imagine the piles of money put into development skis, snowboards, uniforms, googles, whatever. It’s not best athlete with a standard kit, but often the powerhouse countries who can afford the most high end equipment that win.
Few sports are immune to the problem, the Olympics just make it a little more obvious at times.
I didn’t even get into doping. The amount of money, time, and effort put into doping, anti-doping, anti-anti-doping, masking agents, sneaky (and cheaty) IV drips and whatnot… it’s all pretty disheartening.
I long since got over the Olympics, any national pride is always overwhelmed by the idea that our athletes might do better with more funding, or would be beaten soundly by better athletes if their countries would finance the whole deal. That seems to kill the idea of amateur sports.