London Opening Ceremonies evoke memories of Vancouver/Whistler

As opening ceremonies go, this was the bomb.

The London2012 Summer Olympics cranked up the historical rear-view mirror to shine light on the events, people, places and things that have come to symbolize what it means to be British.

Viewers around the globe witnessed a re-creation of the bucolic British countryside inside the Olympic stadium, the Olympic rings forged in the blast furnaces of the Industrial Revolution, a homage to the National Health Service and a glimpse of Brit life in the new digital age of social media.

The Queen was there, James Bond and David Beckham. Harry Potter, the Sex Pistols and Mr. Bean also made appearances.

Danny Boyle, the 55 year-old Mancunian who designed the happy and glorious spectacle, says he was inspired by Blake, Milton and Isambard Kingdom Brunei.

Downplaying suggestions that the "Isle of Wonder" production has political underpinnings, Boyle says its about Brits finding their place in a new world.
Canada transformed

Just over two years ago, Vancouver/Whistler went through a similar learning experience.

Triathlete Simon Whitfield carries the flag for Team Canada as they enter the stadium during the openong ceremonies for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Except that in many respects, Canada has been trying to find its place in the world since confederation.

In retrospect, Vancouver/Whistler displayed a new kind of confidence or optimism emerging in this country. Call it self-belief.

Watching the London opening ceremonies reminded me of the pride I felt when Canada welcomed the world with its own introspective, theatrical take on what it means to Canadian.

Vancouver/Whistler was the anti-Beijing. It was not a statement about an arrival on the world stage. It was a homecoming.

The opening and closing ceremonies brought together kitsch, nostalgia, nationalism and Olympic ideology in a hodgepodge of Canadiana which was often amusing, real and spectacular.

Think Martin Short, giant beavers, frozen totem poles extending welcoming arms, a glittering floating polar bear, Niki Yanovsky singing I Believe and the malfunctioning ice-crystal Olympic cauldron.

Winter Olympics brought Canadians together

Strangely, the winter games managed to galvanize a country that has less in common than many people think.

Not in a warm and cuddly way, but in a way that seemed to say that although we Canadians are geographically dissimilar and seemingly have few shared interests, we are locked into the same patch of land according to the map so we're stuck with each other.

As if to say, lets get along, at least until the Olympics are over.

And it was two easy weeks for Canadians really.

Soporific television images of the Olympic flame arriving in Vancouver/Whistler after touring the country demanded little effort.

The green and blue Olympic banners and merchandise captured the sea-to-sky imaginarium envisioned by the slogan-loving VANOC organizing committee.

'We' won a record 14 gold medals so no-one could look down their nose at government or the Canadian Olympic Committee or whoever it is that is responsible for the lack of funding for amateur sport in this country.

Canada's Dan Boyle, Sidney Crosby and Chris Pronger (left-right) hold their gold medals after an overtime win during men's ice hockey gold medal final at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2010.
Sidney Crosby scored the game-winner to get the essential hockey gold, John Furlong balanced the Olympic books, there were no major mistakes, although the lack of snow and the death of a Lithuanian luger just prior to the games seemed to some a portentous warning.

Has Vancouver/Whistler made us feel better about ourselves?

As I insinuated, there are those who claim to have noticed an uptick in Canadian sense of self-worth.

And in a Wayne's World kind of way we finally are worthy. 

Admittedly, this is hard to corroborate, a bit like reading tea-leaves or making sense of the spiral atomic trails left by the Higgs boson after being bashed all day inside the Large Hadron Collider.

But every hoser knows what I'm talking about.

It is the absence of things that allow us to be taken seriously, to be seen as all grown up as a country.

Beavers are industrious but hardly the intellectuals of the animal world, Canadian hockey players are gritty not skilled, and the Queen is still on our money -- a reminder that while we"re not a colony anymore we aren't completely rid of the parents either.

Vancouver/Whistler managed to break free of the stultifying stereotypes, myths and misconceptions that gnaw at us here.

Yes the red-coated Mounties were there as they always are escorting the Olympic flag, and our aboriginal communities were called on to bless with smoke everything in sight.

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
An inflatable beaver
is rolled on the stage during the closing ceremony for the Vancouver 2010  Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia.
But these figures were cleverly made modern, they made us laugh, we poked fun at ourselves, and in doing so these quintessential Canadian symbols helped affirm a growing security about who we are as a country.

Admittedly the kind of confidence that it has helped create is not a product of the Olympics alone.

But perhaps the games focussed the lens on a more broader phenomenon.

D'you hear that? It's Canada slowly creeping up the Olympic ladder

Beyond this, the curious legacy of the Vancouver/Whistler Olympics has been momentum.

Well, according to the Canadian Olympic Committee it is.

The suggestion is that there has been some fiscal momentum, some financial momentum and some momentum in the sporting community too.

While not being entirely sure what that means, I think it's probably true.

Canada does feel like it's marching forward in the Olympic world, at least it does in the Winter Olympic world.  

Being Canadian means getting out there when its cold and freezing and not complaining about it.

We are a country of snow and ice for large parts of the year, and we love skiing, hockey, curling, snowboarding and skating in spite of the climate.

AP Photo/Christophe Ena
Rigoberto Uran of Colombia crosses the finish line to win the silver medal in the Men's Road Cycling race at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Saturday, July 28, 2012, in London.
Summer sports and the Summer Olympics are a different story.

Canada's success there has been modest, and will likely stay that way after the London games wrap in a couple of weeks.

I'm not exactly sure why this is the case, but I expect that too will change as Canada's aggressive immigration strategy brings in more citizens with greater ties to summer sports.

High expectations offer their own reward  

Judging by the $50 million it cost to stage the opening ceremonies at London2012, the Brits are expecting a big showing from their summer Olympians.

We will know in two weeks if the medals are there to match the ambition.

I don't think Canadians are really thinking about the medals we won as we look back on Vancouver/Whistler.

It's more about how we feel about the games and how they made us feel as a country.

Granted not everybody buys into Jacques Rogge's five-ring circus, and it is a circus, a kind of sporting endogamy, full of money, power and control, where politics, injustice and inequity prevail.

But even if you don't believe in the Olympic movement or the nationalistic flag-waving of nation-states this is what we've got and there probably won't be anything else certainly not anytime soon.

Two years from now in Sochi, the Brits will likely look back on their Olympic festival and wonder what London2012 meant.

But for the next two weeks at least, London gets to lay down the foundation for its future.

Looking back, I can say that the Vancouver/Whistler Winter Olympics are a happy memory, even if I dislike the Olympic fraternity that provides the stage for the world's greatest athletes.

Ian Jones



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