MUSKOKA - It starts, every two years, with a drum roll of pseudo-controversies and unrealistic expectations. And then when the Olympic Games begin, the stories of individual feats take over, inspiring, breaking hearts and capturing the attention of viewers around the world.
The Games in London are once again a smorgasbord of such stories.
If you’re Canadian, triathlete Simon Whitfield’s crash during what is likely his last stab at Olympic stardom was pure disappointment. The Canadian women’s soccer team just missed a historic win against a powerful U.S. squad, losing 4-3 with a U.S. goal in the final minute of extra time. Canadian captain Christine Sinclair scored all three goals for Canada – and is quite possibly the best female soccer player in the world. Although they still contend for a bronze medal Thursday, a win would have been a screenplay-worthy upset, and prompted compliments from around the world – including tweets from the likes of actor Samuel L. Jackson: Lemme say though, those Canuck Ladies brought da noise! They came to WIN! Ehhh?!!”
Rising Canadian tennis star Milos Raonic’s marathon loss to the world’s top-five ranked tennis player drew equal respect. Raonic and his French opponent played the longest Olympic match ever. The 21-year-old Canadian with a bright tennis future ahead of him launched serves hitting 222 kilometers an hour, but lost 6-3, 3-6, 25-23 in just under four hours of playing time. And Rosie MacLennan’s surprising trampoline win, our first and only gold of 2012 as of Tuesday, introduced a Canadian most of us had never heard of before.
Then there are the myriad of un-Canadian, but equally intriguing or inspiring stories.
There’s the badminton fall-out – yes badminton – putting that sport in the global spotlight for all the wrong, and yet fairly entertaining reasons as eight teams did their best to lose on purpose in order to avoid playing tougher teams, and were promptly booted out of the Games, putting a Canadian team that hadn’t won a game into a quarter-final berth.
There’s Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt’s lock on the fastest man in the world title for a second Olympics, and a minor skirmish as a spectator tossed a Heineken bottle onto the track behind Bolt moments before the start of the men’s 100-metre race. A judoka competitor from the Netherlands sitting in the crowd easily took down the offender.
And there’s South African Oscar Pistorius, born without fibulas, who had both legs amputated below the knees as a toddler and ran the 400-metre on prosthetics – a world first not without its own controversy.
If you judge the Games, and our country’s performance, on the medal count, you’ll be disappointed. But as a nation of about 33 million people, competing against countries choosing athletes from populations of 200-million plus, we can’t expect to top the count. We can expect touching stories about Canadians, and others. We can expect heartache, humour, and exhilaration. That alone, makes the Olympics worth the wait.