Mikaël Kingsbury won the gold he has spent his entire life believing he was destined for on Monday night.
Afterward, he spoke about the achievement in existential terms.
“When you cross [the finish line], all the stress, the pressure, thinking about these Games for the past four years since Sochi, everything went by,” he said.
The men’s moguls final should have been a Canadian Olympic epic – the sort of moment we all talk about in 20 years, such as Ben Johnson or Donovan Bailey.
It had all the narrative ingredients – a sport the country feels it has a national claim on; a once-in-a-generation favourite who’d stumbled in his last attempt; a sidekick who’d suffered the disappointment of a fourth-place finish last time around.
“You have one competition. It lasts 20 seconds. And it happens once every four years,” Marc-Antoine Gagnon, the backup man, said later. He sounded like he was recording a movie trailer.
It ended up in the most dramatic way possible – the savant pulling it out at the very end despite looking shaky; his cursed Sancho Panza coming fourth – again.
The two polarities – agony and ecstasy – were on full display. As was a gold medal, which gets everybody everywhere hyped up.
Then why did it feel a little … flat?
Monday’s Canadian Olympic theme was redemption for the nearly rans. Figure skater Patrick Chan finally got his gold (albeit in a team event) in the morning; Kingsbury broke through in the day’s last event. In between, there was a snowboarding silver.
Remember back to Vancouver, when Kingsbury’s predecessor, Alexandre Bilodeau, won gold in the moguls. That was a national eureka moment. It felt enormous. As the first gold Olympic victory on home soil, it continues to resonate. A generation from now, you may still remember where you were when you saw it. I still remember newspaper articles written about it.
By contrast, Kingsbury’s win here felt like a coronation and, dare one say it, a little blasé.
This is the downside to Canada morphing into an Olympic powerhouse – no one triumph feels quite as special any more. They’re all of a piece. One person completes their metamorphosis, and then it’s on to the next. This must be how it feels in the United States, where no one person is bigger than the national juggernaut.
Canada finished Monday with seven medals after just three days of official competition. We’ve already got another one in the bag for Tuesday night, when the mixed curling final goes off.
Eight medals is more than the country won in every Winter Games held before 1994.
As of this writing, and depending on how you count, Canada was second or fourth on the medal table. In this space, we use the widely accepted WBS medal-ranking system (What’s Best for the Story). So, second.
That’s up there with big swingers like Germany and Norway, a little ahead of the U.S. and absolutely crushing the (seemingly half-interested) Russians. Canada got what it wanted – a seat at the adult table. However, there are some drawbacks to growing up.
After Monday, you could name the gold-medal winners. The silvers were already getting a little hazy. You know Mark McMorris won a bronze because he’s a big deal, but you may have already forgotten the name of the guy who came second in the same race (Max Parrot).
In a week, when the count begins to near 20, it’ll be a blur of medalists.
A week after the Olympics ends, you’ll remember the yet-to-be-determined sweetheart of the Games. In six months, you’ll recall if Canada won or lost the hockey tournament. By the time the next Winter Olympics rolls around, you’ll know that CBC’s Scott Russell hosts the thing. That’s it.
Back when Canada was terrible, it wasn’t like this. Every elite athlete we produced was etched into the national consciousness. Our biggest Olympic star was broadcaster Brian Williams. He was Canada’s only reliable performer at a Games.
Though he was a remote public figure in this part of the country, to this day, every Anglo kid of a certain age knows Gaeten Boucher. Because if you grew up in the eighties, you could be forgiven for thinking he was the only member of the Canadian Olympic team.
Could that happen again in the Own the Podium era? Absolutely not. Boucher would be Quebec’s guy, and probably not its No. 1. However individually brilliant, he’d be one of a crowd.
Now each region gets its own hero. Each discipline is throwing up podium appearances (we’re already at four, and the bulk of events haven’t spun up yet). Hockey continues to dominate proceedings. All of us can pick our own Canadian Olympic flavour. There’s plenty to choose from.
That’s a good thing. The whole point of putting a team onto the field of play is in the hopes that they don’t just do their best, but are the best.
But something about reaching our collective goal is a little bittersweet.
The Canadian Winter Olympic team doesn’t have recognizable faces any more. It’s a machine. And as a result, even the winners aren’t quite as special to us. They’re cogs in it.