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Britain and Canada look ahead as flame goes out

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Ollie Williams | 02:46 UK time, Monday, 1 March 2010

As a chicken emerged from the pit housing the broken leg of the Olympic cauldron, Vancouver organisers sent a clear message: the 2010 Winter Games have recovered from a faltering start to end on a successful, buoyant note.

The beginning of the closing ceremony saw the fourth strut of the indoor cauldron - which failed to activate as the Games opened, more than two weeks ago - finally lifted into place, in front of the world, with a sense of humour and self-deprecating style.

Closing ceremonies can, by their nature, become sad affairs. They look back at what has gone before, at events so fresh in the mind that it seems too soon for retrospectives. They look ahead to a future so distant, it feels barely relevant.

But what happens next is important for Canada, and for Great Britain - on and off the field of play.

cauldron595.jpgCanada began its closing ceremony by acknowledging a mistake from the opening ceremony

For most of Britain's winter sports athletes, the question is what their target now becomes.

Arguments surrounding funding body UK Sport's three-medal target, and more broadly how that funding is allocated, will rage on elsewhere. But the stated pledge of UK Sport is to invest purely in "athletes and sports who we believe have a genuine opportunity of winning medals".

Only one Briton took that opportunity in Vancouver: Amy Williams. The 27-year-old, who eclipsed skeleton team-mate Shelley Rudman's silver in Turin four years ago, is one of the liveliest and most striking members of the British team. Rudman carried the British flag at the opening ceremony; Williams had the honour at the close.

In October last year, I met her at the British skeleton team's training facility in Bath. To describe it as such makes it sound as though a full track exists, but you will find no breakneck chutes of ice - just a small hill with a metal tray on rails, attached to a bungee cord. I wrote in more detail about it at the time.

Williams bubbled with enthusiasm as we spoke. She is a character: loud, extroverted, immensely approachable and prepared to say what she thinks. She kept her profile low in the run-up to the Games, and maybe that helped her take gold. While Canada's Mellisa Hollingsworth broke under extraordinary pressure as the home favourite, and Rudman struggled to master the track, Williams kept her composure.

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Her challenge is to retain that composure as an Olympic gold medallist - no easy task, as BBC Sport's own previous Olympic winners have explained. When we spoke to her at the side of the Whistler track, moments after her victory, she struggled to grasp how fans at the sidelines knew her name: "I've no idea who they are," she said, staring at her name painted on their stomachs. "They know me, though." Get used to it.

But the British team has wider challenge in identifying reasons for the gap between UK Sport's expectations and the reality, and finding solutions once those reasons come to light.

The Winter Olympic team has four years to close that gap. London's Summer Olympic organisers, however, already face the intense, worldwide scrutiny which accompanies the Games.

They have lessons to draw from Vancouver. Things have gone wrong here - nobody should die competing in any sport and, while the weather cannot be tamed, it can be accommodated. But the Games recovered in a spirited, determined and optimistic fashion, and most of the operation visible to me has been difficult to fault.

The comedic light touch with which Vancouver put the failure of the Olympic cauldron to bed is instructive. Obstacles can be overcome, defeats can be followed by victories. London faces a big challenge to generate the same enthusiasm for the Games as witnessed here from Canadians, but, to reverse one of the British team's slogans, nothing is impossible.

And speaking of Vancouver, what happens next in Canada is a question that fascinates the host nation's media, many of whom were astonished by the outpouring of national pride that accompanied the Games.

Stephen Brunt, sportswriter for the country's Globe and Mail newspaper, summed it up as follows:

"Come Monday morning, come the weeks and months and years after that, who knows if there will even be a hint left behind of what has happened here beyond a short hangover? Whether all of those jerseys and flags and maple leaf hats will gather dust in some closet, like artifacts of a graduation, of a wedding, other signpost moments that are over, and gone."

As a visitor, it is hard to imagine Vancouver without the flags, cowbells and maple leaf regalia. But many Canadians insist they are not in keeping with the country's mindset. Some even worry it makes them "look American", or at least like the Canadian stereotype of their southern neighbours.

It feels as though most people here would love to keep this feeling going - prolong the sensation, hold on to each other having discovered that, actually, everybody feels that way.

Whether it can be sustained in the absence of an Olympic catalyst remains to be seen, though it certainly manifested itself at the closing ceremony. The entire arena rose in applause on several occasions, most notably when commemorating Nodar Kumaritashvili's death, and on chief organiser John Furlong's mention of earlier events in Canada Hockey Place.

With that in so many minds, the closing ceremony felt more like a back-up for the hockey final than anything else. Vancouver's real defining moment, the true crowning of the Games, came with Sidney Crosby's overtime winner to earn his country the men's ice hockey gold medal, putting arch-rivals the United States to the sword.

Maybe if Canada had lost the hockey, the closing ceremony would have helped the nation salvage its day. But every Canadian sat inside BC Place for the ceremony knew the actual party, ongoing for those outside in downtown Vancouver, would begin for them the moment the performances finished. Crosby supplied the Olympic moment, Canadians supplied the Olympic spirit. And that is all you need.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Ollie,

    As a Canadian living in South Africa I have relied on blogs and news posts to get details on the Vancouver games when not calling my folks to get the score. Of the hundreds of articles I've read yours stand atop the rest. Fantastic posts. You have managed to make me feel as proud as those Canadians on the ground in Vancouver that you have written about while I'm a world away.

    Regards,

    Jon LeDrew

  • Comment number 2.

    I was very disappointed that there were no pictures on TV or this site of Amy Williams carrying the flag at the closing ceremony. I didn't stay up to watch it thinking that it would be on BBC Breakfast this morning. As she was the only high spot for Britain in these games I thought it would be shown.

  • Comment number 3.

    Great blog, Ollie.

    As an avid fan of the Winter Games, probably since visiting Lillehammer in 1994, personally I think this might have been the best, certainly in my lifetime.

    Ski-cross helped, but the passion of the Canadian fans, the genuine excitement generated at almost all of the events, made me so disappointed I couldn't be there. I'm really pleased Canada won so many gold medals, especially the gold they all wanted, but I can't believe that Vancouver was only Canada's second Olympic Winter Games - the sooner it returns, (2022 perhaps?) the better!


    Well done Canada, I only hope London can match the spirit of Vancouver with the 2012 Summer Games.

  • Comment number 4.

    Well done Ollie, Congrats to you and the BBC network for providing such great and extensive coverage of the Olympics. As a Vancouverite following everything olympics here in the UK, its great to follow your tweets to get a sense of the atmoshphere at street level in Vancouver. Canadians are a proud bunch, and I hope you have enjoyed your time and got a chance to celebrate with the locals after crosby's goal.



  • Comment number 5.

    Good job with the Live Texts, Ollie, Anna, Rob,

    Time for some trivia:
    I don't think that you saw an Olympic Alpine skiing gold medal ceremony with the British National Anthem being played. I have, in the last fifty years. Where, and what were the circumstances?

  • Comment number 6.

    Liked the blogs over the last couple of weeks Ollie. Apart from last night, as a hockey player, coach and fan, my over-riding memory will be Bob Ballard stumbling his way through the game terminology; it's a Penalty-kill not a Power Play kill..... Sorry Bob!

    The BBC could create a huge legacy in this country from these games and all it takes is to start putting some of these sports on terrestial TV on a regular basis. Apart from Ski Sunday what do you get?? Elite League, SPHL, EPL, SNL all leagues in the UK that would flourish with a bit of wider exposure. Bobsleigh/luge/Skeleton, the now the domain of the military it needs a wider audience and a wider participation. We should be pushing hard in the sports we can do in the UK, hockey, short track & long track speed skating, curling, figure and Ice Dance but we don't because we fool ourselves that we're good.

    As an Olympic Partner the BBC must use it's role to help the sports flourish, that means seeing them on a regular basis.

  • Comment number 7.


    Hey.

    Isn't that you who a month ago wrote some bullish nonsense entitled "WHY GB SHOULD EXPECT THEIR BEST EVER WINTER OLYMPICS"?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/olliewilliams/2010/02/team_gb_facts_figures.shtml

    That the BOA target is quite conservative really?

    That "looking at the British squad in detail [imagine if you hadn't] we shouldn't be satisfied with the 3-medal target"?

    That British winter sports is coming leaps and bounds?

    That "Five medals in total, two of them gold is the personal target I believe the British team can reach"?

    Where have you been hiding recently?

    And how have yourself or those who hire you got the audacity to come out and opinionate on a serious matter ever again?

    You're all HYPE HYPE HYPE, perfect match for the athletes who are all TALK TALK TALK.



  • Comment number 8.

    kwiniaskagolfer - Does the name Hanni Wenzel mean anything to you?

  • Comment number 9.

    Yes, have to agree.

    The overall reporting of these games from the BCC, including blogs and tweets was far superior to anything from the gutter press, to which I now include the Times.

    Fairer, more complete yet still objective. Well done. Gold Medal.

    Now to the Trivia.

    Was it when Nancy Greene won gold for Canada? I have a feeling that they only made Oh Canada their 'Official' national anthem in 1980. So possible the British Anthem was played. Other than that, it would have to have been in error ;-)

  • Comment number 10.

    it seems unless you are a member of the forces there will be no chance of you in the olympics unless a grant is forethcoming

  • Comment number 11.

    Re: Trivia Question, was it the 1960 Women's Slamon at Squaw Valley? A Canadian won it, and I think God Save the Queen was still used as their anthem at the time, correct ?

  • Comment number 12.

    Trivia: Carlos Small Calves,
    You have a wonderful name, and a great memory! Twice!!
    Not sure about your legs though.
    But you beat Hodgetts, Thompson and Williams. Good one, eh?

  • Comment number 13.

    "O Canada" was adopted as the National Anthem of Canada in 1967. In 1960 they would have all risen for "God Save the Queen".

  • Comment number 14.

    All trivial pursuiters going for Anne Heggtveit's slalom effort in 1960 should note that was in February. It is now March.
    Carlos's Calves are getting bigger by the day.
    Hanni Wenzel in Lake Placid in 1980 is the correct answer. In the absence of a Liechtenstein national anthem, she (or her national delegation) elected to have God Save Our Queen blared out.
    Quite took me by surprise, I can tell you! Felt very proud.

  • Comment number 15.

    Re: 7 (nibs)

    Amen.

  • Comment number 16.

    Nancy Greene won the women's downhill in France at Grenoble in 1968. She is now a recently appointed Conservative Senator.


    On the subject of "O Canada".

    It did not become the National Anthem in 1980. They merely passed legislation changing the words, and making the new words the "Official" version. It was actually quite controversial.

    Doesn't bother me in the least.
    I still sing the old words, which I learned in school as a child - before 1967.

    Here is some background:

    O Canada was written by Calixa Lavallee in 1880 or so, and was a French Canadian nationalist hymm written for the St. Jean Baptiste day celebrations.

    At the time our anthem was the royal anthem. It (i.e., God Save the Queen, then and now) is still an official anthem in this country, although it is not usually played unless the Queen is visiting.

    When I was a child, we used to sing "the Queen" and "O Canada" on alternate days. (Of course, we also used to recite the Lord's Prayer, but that seem to have gone out of fashion, and is now probably against the law in public schools.)

    For many years "The Maple Leaf Forever" was more popular among English speakers than "O Canada", but its lyrics are now considered quite offensive to our francophone compatriots. It pretty much died out after WWII. Bit of a shame, because it is a great old tune. A while ago the CBC sponsored a contest for new lyrics. Don't know what came of that.

    Over time "The Queen" came to be more and more a symbol of colonial status, and particularly following the Fulton Favreau Commission (i.e., on bi-lingualism and bi-culturalism) it became less frequently heard. So in the mid 1960's "O Canada" was given official status on a par with "The Queen". But it had been the national anthem long before that.

    At the time when Pierre Trudeau was trying to repatriate the Constitution there was also a push to change the words of "O Canada". It seems that people didn't like the repetition of the words "We stand on guard" - a little too warlike from some people's tastes. Odd, given that Canadian independence was paid for in the two wars in western Europe...

    Part of the trade-off for getting rid of one "We stand on guard" was that the right wingers manged to put God into it as in "God keep our land". This was an even sillier idea, given that we were also about to adopt the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I would expect that within 20 years the "God keep our land" is going to be held to be unconstitutional. The majority of Canadians probably already consider it anachronistic, but harmless. That was 1980.

    Changing the words of the national anthem all smacks of Squeeler changing the words of "The beasts and fields of England" in Animal Farm, so it's hard to have much respect for any part of the whole silly exercise.

    Here are the real words, the way I learned them as a child, and still sing them:

    O Canada,
    Our home and native land.
    True patriot love,
    In all thy cons command.
    With glowing hearts we see thee rise,
    the true North, strong and free.
    And stand on guard, O Canada,
    we stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada,
    glorious and free,
    We stand on guard.
    We stand on guard for thee.

    O Canada we stand on guard for thee.


    Here is the government of Canada website:
    http://www.pch.gc.ca/pgm/ceem-cced/symbl/anthem-eng.cfm

  • Comment number 17.

    Typo (or Freudian slip?)

    It should read:

    "In all thy sons command"

  • Comment number 18.

    Well written as usual Ollie. You go deeper and more in-depth than most bloggers (sorry, writers). Loved reading your coverage of the Games. Keep it up!

  • Comment number 19.

    Hi all. Thanks for the comments and, moreover, thanks for reading during the Winter Games. All your thoughts were - and are - much appreciated. I'm just back off the plane. Do stick with me for coverage of all Olympic sports as we press on towards London 2012.

    Nibs - I've been "hiding" on daily live text commentaries and near-daily blogs throughout the entire month of February. That is to say, not hiding. You're correct: prior to the Games, I wrote a piece saying the British team had it within themselves to aim for five medals.

    I still think they had it within themselves. If you're looking to apportion blame for that prediction, you might say it's one part me for believing the hype, and one part the team for failing to deliver. A world champion bobsleigh team, a world number two skeleton slider and a men's curling team ranked second in the world, for example, did not earn medals. Nobody below those rankings raised their game sufficiently, which is what athletes hope for at the Games.

    I think you make a slight error in as much as the blog did not say the British team WILL win five medals. In the piece, I argued that the team were capable of five medals - and the reasoning behind that is outlined in the article. I stand by that. You've done nothing to prove the team did not stand a strong chance of earning five medals; you've simply pointed out they didn't. I had noticed.

  • Comment number 20.

    Re: 19

    "...you might say it's one part me for believing the hype..."

    Ollie, Aren't you, the journalist, the guy who's supposed to go out and know the facts so that people like us who read your blogs don't fall for the hype?

    The reason why this is so annoying is that the same thing happens in almost every blog and article on the BBC: football, rugby, cricket, tennis and many others; "journalists" keep writing about things they have very little knowledge about and hype things to the extent that the expectations have nothing to do with reality, and when all predictions fail, gool ol' 20-20 hindsight is there to the rescue.

  • Comment number 21.

    As a by-the-by The Maple Leaf Forever is played in full dress red serge uniformed brass band at the Royal Canadian Mounted Police graduation ceremonies in Regina. So far nobody has managed to re-write history by succeeding in many attempts to remove word "royal" from our mounties' official name.

    However the original chorus of this patriotic song which was: "God Save the Queen and Heaven Bless...the Maple Leaf Forever!" has been changed by some (some of us still recognize the original) to "Within my heart, above my home...The Maple Leaf forever!" which is what we heard at the closing ceremonies. From what I can see this was never deemed important enough to go through Parliament for "official" change.

    (As correctly stated earlier the amended lyrics are the result of a contest to remove the original colonial implication. I just looked up the details and the contest was won by a Romanian mathematician).

    Thank you Ollie for some brilliant reporting. I hope we'll be hearing lots more from you leading up to and during your "turn" in two years' time.

  • Comment number 22.

    As a Canadian I have read many of the negative comments about our games in your press-most have at least some merit.
    But I believed our biggest faux pas of all has gone unnoticed.

    That has to do with the colour scheme of our uniforms.There may be exceptions but usually countries use the colours of their flag for their uniforms.Traditionally ,therefore, Canada has used red and white.

    In these games Canada has incorperated black into the colour scheme in a big way.I can think of only one country who has ever used these colours of red,white and black for their flag.

    I think you get my point.Although unintended, to say that I find this to be extremely distasteful would be an understatement.

  • Comment number 23.

    Hi Ollie and team,

    Thanks for the great online coverage. I only hope it will be as thorough for 2014 (a faint hope due to the recent 'consultation' I'm sure)

    One main comment, others have alluded to similar re merchandisng - in January 2008, two years before the Games, I bought a Vancouver 2010 lapel pin in Whistler, which I have worn with pride ever since. Where are the London 2012 equivalents? Surely the merchandising wagon should be rolling by now, with funding going towards the events and the athletes. I believe London 2012 have made a big mistake with their logo, but there is still time to rebrand it all. Vancouver 2010 had a great logo - not only is the Inukshuk at local landmark, but it has meaning, a story behind it, and looks nice. What have we got - a messy logo based on graffitti tagging, that unsurprisingly no-one wants to display. I just think we are missing an opportunity here.

    Loved every minute of Vancouver 2012 by the way, just would prefer a little more indepth coverage, and more choice of viewing rather than curling on two channels. But overall, a good effort. And I am defnitely behind more funding for winter sports. I don't understand why there are so many detractors out there. Perhaps some of these spoilt footballers could donate a % of their salaries!

  • Comment number 24.

    Waldovski - I don't think I believed the hype. I'm saying "nibs" might think that if he or she is keen to apportion blame for my five-medal target suggestion, but they shouldn't forget the team's under-performance either.

    I think I know more than most journalists about the British winter sports team. As you say, so I should, it's my job. The British team had three medal prospects ranked top three in the world, which reasonably equates to three medals if they maintain their progress at the Games. There were a couple of less likely shots that I thought had a chance - Jon Eley being one in short track, the women's curling team being another. They, particularly the latter, didn't perform as well as they know they can.

    But I specifically didn't say I thought GB would win five medals, just that they should aim for it. Aiming for three when you already have three top-three ranked competitors is aiming for the status quo, when I believe you should aim to outdo yourself. Does that make sense?

  • Comment number 25.

    I don't think the British medal count in Vancouver should have any reflection on 2012 when you consider that Canada only go 3 golds in Beijing. I'm still not convinced that playing up the Britishness is the right thing for London for a number of reasons that have been extensively blogged about but most of all because it just seems a bit crass.

  • Comment number 26.

    Life imitates art, again:

    As if on cue, the Government of Canada has announced that it wants to change the words of the national anthem, once more.

    The previous amendment tried to balance "our home and native land" [descimnation against immigrants] by replacing "We stand on guard, O Canada" with "From far and wide, O Canada"

    Now they want to replace "In all our sons command" [too sexist] with the 1908 words "In all thou dost command".

    Yep, that's what we elected them for: lyrics by Parliamentary committee.

    What a farce.

  • Comment number 27.

    I will only speak for myself as a Canadian who has experienced the last 50 years of Canadian life. I am quite secure in my identity as a 5th generation Canadian. I have little affinity to the "old country" as my heritage includes ethnicities such as German, Irish, French, English, Scottish, and Metis. However, saying this, I loved my three visits to the U.K. and France.

    My ideas of being Canadian were formed early during Expo '67 and then again during the '72 Summit Series. My family are firm (ice) hockey fans. To me, the '72 moment wasn't so much us against the evil Soviets but more about WE. Our country first despaired (as it sometimes does when success doesn't come quickly - like the last O's when we waited more than a week before a medal) but, as I said, that series was about WE - and eventually we woke up from despair to see what a foundational moment it was for WE (every school in the country either closed or showed the game on live tv - many businesses did as well - from coast to coast to coast).

    These WE moments came to our parents and grandparents during the First and Second World War.

    These games were another WE moment. That's what I see in the eyes of my grandchildren. It's the fullness of the Canadian WE. That despite our regional issues, our comflicts with our Anglo and Francophone selves (my children speak both languages) these Olympics were a WE moment. That's what they will take with them into adulthood and into the next moment that will see this country come together for something bigger than regional differences.

    I'm happy that they have a '67/'72 moment to appreciate and learn from, just as my generation did, just as my parents and grandparents did (and I'm glad, for the sake of humanity, that it wasn't related to war for my grandchilden). Believe it or not, it's these WE moments, I think, that have allowed us to survive a most turbulant latter 20th century. It's these WE moments that build a nation.

    My hope is that the UK will have a WE moment of their own at the 2012 Olympics.

  • Comment number 28.

    The medal table at www.vancouver2010.com has Great Britain in 24th (last) place, an honour shared with Estonia and Kazakhstan. Is this a real representation of our Winter Olympics effort? Does the table paint a true picture, considering it has Canada in third place (26 medals) behind the USA (37 medals) and Germany (30 medals), when Canada has won 14 golds to the USA’s 9?

    We at Greatest Sporting Nation (www.greatestsportingnation.com) believe that medal tables at Olympics Games and World championships etc do not give a true indication of the nations performances in those events, for 3 main reasons:
    a) lack of consistency in calculating rankings using medals won: just see above.
    b) medal tables only record the top 3 finishes. Considerable sporting achievements, such as reaching the quarterfinal of a knock out event, or coming in fourth, receive no recognition.
    c) some sports are more heavily represented in medals tables than others. At the Vancouver Olympics there were two Ice Hockey golds – for the men’s and women’s team competitions. By contrast there were 10 Biathlon golds, 12 for Cross Country Skiing and 12 for Speed Skating. Countries which focus on individual sports are at a great advantage compared to those which focus on team sports.

    Greatest Sporting Nation has developed an objective system to measure how nations perform in all sports. Applied to the Winter Olympics, it charts the first eight places and not just the top three, and it compensates for the differences in team vs individual sports, and for popular vs less popular sports, by applying a unique weighting system to the ranking calculations.
    It shows for example how Great Britain scored points in 5 different disciplines (Skeleton, Short Track, Curling, Figure Skating and Snowboarding, see http://www.greatestsportingnation.com/Country/great-britain%29 and, while achieving excellence only through Amy Williams in Skeleton, it ranked 24th out of 31 point-scoring nations and performed respectably in Short Track and Curling (the Aussies still do beat us though…).

    Medal tables are fine if you want to know who won the medals but if you want to know how nations truly performed at the Vancouver Olympics, go to www.greatestsportingnation.com. or contact us at
    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

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