For the past 10 days I was a Canadian spectator at the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games.
It is a rare experience being a Canadian in Sochi. Looking around the stadiums the overwhelming majority of spectators are Russian, with only a sprinkling of spectators from Europe, Asia and the Americas. It’s a big change from the sea of red and white decorated fans at the Winter Games in Vancouver. Whereas in 2010 the stands were filled with your average spectators, here if someone dons a maple leaf, they are almost certainly deeply involved in the Games as athletes, coaches or supportive families. In many ways, this led to an added sense of camaraderie with total strangers whose only connection may be a passion for sports and a Canadian passport.
With this shared connection, it has been easy to approach fellow Canadians to hear their stories and their motivations for coming to Sochi. I managed to meet almost as many devoted Olympic parents as I have athletes. We are all indebted to them for their support. One mother told me that she spent the equivalent of a new car for her family of three to travel to Sochi and cheer on her daughter. This dedication by encouraging families is only surpassed by the drive of the athletes themselves.
If you’re watching the games on a screen back home, you might not realize just how mind-blowingly skilled these athletes truly are. It’s not every day that you see 30 ski jumpers in a row fly upwards of 300 feet through the air. Whether it’s the grace of an ice dancer, the speed of an alpine skier, or the audaciousness of a Slopestyle rider stomping the final landing, watching the competitions live, you cannot help but be amazed.
Benefiting from the lessons learned in Vancouver 2010, I came prepared with multiple articles of red and white maple-leaf-covered clothes, pins and a large Canadian flag. I felt it was my duty to cheer on the athletes as much as possible so that my shouts of encouragement could drive our athletes to dig deep and truly give their all. If the athletes gearing up at the top of the mountain could hear my cheers of “GO CANADA!” from the stands below, then I was doing my part.
The crazy thing is, it worked. I had the great fortune to witness Canadians earn six Olympic medals. After watching Denny Morrision win a Silver in Speed Skating 1000m, I tweeted out “@Denny_Morrison I was front row at the turn waving the Canadian flag and cheering “PUSH DENNY, PUSH! GO CANADA!” I know you heard me.” And he wrote back, “I sure did! Appreciating all of the support!” Never have the athletes been so accessible and linked to their fans. For me, this aspect of athletes and fans connecting has been a fascinating part of the games.
As Canadians we have a lot to be proud of and that reputation is spreading. Beyond the Olympians who medal-and deserve our full praise-there are stories of sportsmanship and camaraderie that speak to the Canadian ethos. Whether it’s Canadian cross country ski coach Justin Wadsworth lending a spare ski to a Russian competitor who had broken his own, or the selfless act of Gilmore Junio giving up his spot in 1000M speed skating to teammate Denny Morrison, these Canadian stories embody the Olympic spirit.
And while we spectators may cheer loud and proud for our country, we never want our win to be at the expense of another athlete. Riding the gondola down from the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park after Dara Howell and Kim Lamarre landed gold and bronze respectively, Russian fans were congratulating me as if I had just competed. As much as we all want our team to succeed, there is a huge amount of respect and admiration for the winning Olympians regardless of the flag they wave.
This is perhaps the most astounding thing about the Games. The Olympics serve as a world stage where athletes can compete regardless of background or beliefs and be celebrated for their accomplishments. In the stands, politics melt away for the sheer love of sport.
Team Canada has done so well in these games, with some important events still to come. Congratulations to all the athletes! Your training and hard work is paying off. Play safe, go hard and bring it home!
#BringItHome #WeAreWinter GO CANADA!