What a truly amazing Olympic Games it has been!
What a truly amazing Olympic Games it has been! The suggestion by some that the Games have been somewhat of a letdown is ridiculous. Starting with a classic opening ceremony and continuing with outstanding athletics, highlighted by incredible stories of triumph and tragedy, the past two weeks have been anything but a disappointment.
The Games got off to a wonderful start with an elegant opening ceremony that was a perfect balance of modern technology and traditional Japanese culture. The lighting of the Olympic flame by figure skater Midori Ito was memorable for its elegant simplicity. The superbly orchestrated rendition of Beethoven's Ode to Joy from choirs across the continents was a marvel of technology. This mix of old and new reflected the Games themselves, an exciting blend of new sports and old sports, of new faces and old faces, and of new tradition and old tradition.
Setting the atmosphere was speed-skating, a sport relatively unchanged for decades. In Nagano, technology, for the first time, became a factor with the use of the "KLAP" skate. The "KLAP" skate allows the skate's blade to maintain contact with the ice for a fraction of time longer than a traditional skate. The effects of the "KLAP" skate became clear in the very first event, the men's 5000 metres, with Dutchman Gianni Romme shattering the world record by a stunning six seconds. Romme would later go on to break the 10,000-metre mark by an even more astounding 15 seconds. Olympic and world records fell in virtually every event that took place at the world-class facility called the M-Wave.
Women's hockey was introduced as an Olympic sport for the first time in Nagano. It provided much excitement, ending in a tremendous final, with the United States defeating Canada. The level of competition clearly showed that women's hockey is at the Games to stay. The Nagano Games were also the first to include players from the National Hockey League who proved that they, too, should be fixtures at future Olympics.
It made a lasting impression due to one particular Canadian, Ross Rebagliati, the snowboarder from Whistler, B.C., whose Olympic saga will not soon be forgotten. When snowboarding was announced as an official medal sport, many traditionalists were dismayed. On the second day of competition, the first ever Olympic snowboarding giant slalom was held, with Canada's Rebagliati coming out on top. It was our first medal of the Games and a tremendous source of pride. The series of events that followed, with the medal being stripped in a split decision, only to be returned 24 hours later, was reflective of the hasty judgement of the sport itself. What was genuinely admirable was the way Rebagliati handled himself through the whole affair. His stoic nature and his frank replies left even the most cynical newspaper columnists unable to criticize the classy 26-year-old who had dedicated his victory to a friend killed in an avalanche.
From a Canadian standpoint, the Nagano Games were a huge success. Going into them there was incredible excitement, reflected by the CBC's choice to run 16 hours of television coverage a day. The Canadian athletes delivered, winning 15 medals, the highest Canadian total in history. Most of these medals came from relative unknowns. Many of the big-name athletes who expected to win gold did not; however, the smaller-name athletes, such as bobsledder Pierre Leuders, succeeded at the pinnacle of their sports.
Throughout the Nagano Games, there were many of the classic stories that make the Olympics what they are. There were the tragic defeats. The two Canadian hockey teams, which went with high expectations but were denied "gold". Figure skater Elvis Stojko, who overcame injury and sickness, put on a heroic performance but had to settle for a silver medal. There were the stories of personal triumph, such as the luge competitor from Sarajevo, who four years previously had been fighting for his survival. Finally, there were the thrilling victories that define Olympic competition.
The 1998 Winter Olympics certainly weren't perfect. The weather at the alpine events was less than cooperative, and the judging at the ice dance competition had no semblance of legitimacy. However, the positives severely outweighed the misgivings. To say that the Games were a letdown is incorrect. The Nagano Games provided two weeks of compelling athleticism, and was a fitting end to the Olympic Games for this millenium.