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Vancouver Games End on High Note for Canada: a Hockey Gold

March 1, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Canada celebrated the close of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver with its most-prized victory: a gold medal in men's hockey, thanks to Sidney Crosby's overtime goal to defeat the U.S. Gwen Ifill speaks with Canadian journalist Ian Hanomansing about the significance of the games for the host country.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: And finally tonight: Oh, Canada. The maple leaf has its moment on the world stage.

The Vancouver Olympics, which began with the tragic death of a Georgian athlete, ended last night in jubilation for its host nation. An enthusiastic crowd of 60,000, most of them clad in patriotic Canadian gear, packed the B.C. Place Stadium for the Games’ extravagant closing ceremony.

Just hours earlier, the Canadian men’s hockey team had capped a week of competitive buildup by defeating the upstart U.S. team in sudden death overtime. The 3-2 win gave the Canadians bragging rights on home turf in its most popular sport and also set a new Winter Olympics record of 14 gold medals won.

Among the gold medal firsts for Canada, Alexandre Bilodeau in men’s moguls, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in ice dancing. Canada finished third in the overall medal count, behind the U.S. and Germany. But last night’s celebration, which began inside the stadium, continued on the streets outside.

Now for more about how the Olympics resonated in Canada, we turn to Ian Hanomansing, a national reporter for the CBC, Canada’s public broadcaster, and co-anchor of the CBC’s “Vancouver Evening News.”

Ian, just a short time ago, we heard that there was some ambivalence in Vancouver before the Games started. It sounds like that all went away.

IAN HANOMANSING, CBC: Yes, there is no question that, had we done this interview three weeks ago, I would have told you that there were a lot of people in Vancouver, maybe even a majority, who wondered whether the Games should be here at all, were they too expensive, was there any point to hosting them.

But that all washed away. We had these huge crowds gathering downtown, hundreds — well, more than 100,000 people a night. And it became pretty clear people were voting with their feet. They embraced the Games in a big way.

GWEN IFILL: Ian, what changed? When did the shift happen?

IAN HANOMANSING: Nobody knows for sure. You know, the first weekend of the Games, it was as gloomy, the mood, I think, as the weather was.

We had, of course, the death of the Georgian luger. That happened in Whistler, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive away from here, but very much part of the Olympics. We had some protests, including some demonstrators smashing one of the department store windows downtown, and still that ambivalence that I talked about carrying over.

But I guess it was probably the — the gold medal you mentioned by Alex Bilodeau, the first, unbelievably, Canadian to win in an Olympics in — on home soil. We had gone through the Montreal and Calgary Olympics with no Canadian winning a gold medal. Alex Bilodeau finally broke that drought.

There were a few other notable medals that first weekend. And then I think people just enjoyed being in an Olympic city. Sports aside, corporate sponsorship aside, debate about cost aside, people just wanted to come down and — and find out what they could see. And there were pavilions that they could visit. There were attractions like a zip line strung across a couple of city blocks.

We learned one thing about Vancouver. People don’t mind lining up here at all. They were lining up seven, eight hours, for example, for the zip line and not complaining at all.

GWEN IFILL: We have heard a lot about how hockey-mad Canada is and how Canadians are. So, knowing that, how big a deal was yesterday’s win, especially beating the U.S.?

IAN HANOMANSING: Well, I don’t know that there’s a sporting event in the United States, even with the Super Bowl, even if you were to have a game seven in the World Series, even with Michael Phelps’ incredible performance in Beijing, I doubt there is a single sporting event in the United States that matches what hockey generally is like in Canada.

And then you have the best players in the world playing in the Olympics, Canada in the gold medal game, especially against an archrival like Russia or, in this case, the United States, and you have virtually everybody in the country watching their television sets for at least part of that game, Canadian pride very much on the line.

And I think, if you had asked Canadians at the beginning of the Games, how would you measure success, they would have said a gold in the men’s hockey game.

However, an interesting thing happened on the road to that hockey game. Canada started winning gold medals in a way that this country doesn’t usually. And we heard in that setup piece the fact that this is the first time Canada has actually led all countries in gold medals at a Games, in this case, a Winter Games, setting the all-time record.

And wouldn’t you know, when Sidney Crosby, the superstar hockey player, scored the winning goal yesterday in that game against the United States, that didn’t just mean gold for the men’s hockey team. It also set the record, the 14th gold for Canada.

So, I think, in a way, it drew a line from that performance to a bunch of other gold medal performances that, by themselves, might not have been as impressive for everybody, but certainly was over the last two weeks.

GWEN IFILL: Last night, in the closing ceremonies, Ian, we saw a lot of famous Canadians, like Catherine O’Hara, the actress, say, Canada is known — is previously known as a lot of frozen tundra with polite people.

Has that changed? Were people concerned about that image?

IAN HANOMANSING: Well, people were definitely concerned about that image.

As you probably know, we measure ourselves very often by how you in the United States judge us, or, perhaps more importantly, how we think you in the United States judge us. Here, we had other countries watching as well. The British press savaged Canada in the first few days of these Games. And people here were quite hurt by that and quite angry.

So, yes, there was a strong feeling right from the beginning, from 2003, when Vancouver got the bid, that there is this perception out there throughout the world of Canada as being wintry and kind and gentle — and not necessarily inaccurate, and not necessarily bad things, but I know a lot of people here wanted to expand that a little bit beyond the stereotype.

But the closing ceremony said, you know what, that’s the stereotype. Let’s have fun with it. We can’t fight it all the time. And, on this day, a day of triumph for Canada, yesterday, in this country, it was a good day to show that — that we can make and take a joke.

GWEN IFILL: And, briefly, do you know whether you can make and take money off of this, these Olympics? Is anybody talking about that yet?

IAN HANOMANSING: Oh, well, they were talking about it a lot earlier, not so much during the Games.

I was thinking, it’s kind of like not wanting to discuss how much the wedding costs while you are still at the reception, and much less the honeymoon.

IAN HANOMANSING: And we’re at that point now.

But we have a provincial budget being announced tomorrow here in British Columbia, a federal budget on Thursday. I think both of those will be cold water for us, after what has been 15, 16 days of celebration. So, yes, money will be very much part of the future debate here.

GWEN IFILL: As it always is.

Ian Hanomansing of the CBC, thanks so much for helping us out.

IAN HANOMANSING: You are very welcome.