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All victories great and small

Posted: Tuesday, January 6, 2009 | 11:44 AM

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I was just thinking that when times are tough, the power of celebrating is something you should never take for granted. Maybe it’s the cleansing feeling you get when you see the good guys win - the promise that better times are just around the corner.

Such was the case as I watched the Canadians win a fifth consecutive world junior hockey championship in Ottawa. It somehow captured a spirit of optimism when my confidence was beginning to flag.

Earlier in the evening I had called my parents who live on the shores of Georgian Bay. In the background the TV was blaring and my father came on to extol the virtues of the kind of game Pat Quinn’s boys were playing. “Hard hitting but nothing mean,” he enthused. “I can’t believe how fast these guys can go - how much passion they bring to the table!”

It was enlightening to me because I can’t remember the last time my dad watched hockey much less felt compelled to analyze it. Then my mom grabbed the phone and began quoting from an article penned by Roy MacGregor about the juniors and their fans, which had appeared in The Globe and Mail that very day.

“That’s such beautiful writing,” she said with great emotion. “I’m going to clip this out for you and send it to Toronto.”

The conversation didn’t last long because they had to get back to the game, each of them not wanting to miss a second of the action or a single moment to savour.

As I ran off, the sweet sounds of my parent’s elation were left lingering in my ears and they brought a smile to my face.

In a distant place, Italy to be exact, another Canadian had scored a victory as the holiday season came to a close. It almost escaped anyone’s attention but in terms of its place in the grand scheme of things, it may have been equally as important.

A transplanted 28-year-old Russian-born cross-country skier by the name of Ivan Babikov roared across the trails to win the final stage of the Tour de Ski in Val di Fiemme on Sunday.

The win, over one of the most difficult courses on the World Cup circuit, has to be considered a breakthrough because it’s the first for a Canadian male at the highest level since Pierre Harvey turned the trick more than 20 years ago. Babikov, who raced for Russia at the last Olympics, received his Canadian citizenship just about a year ago and now lives with his wife and two-year-old son in the spectacular Rocky Mountain town of Canmore, Alta.

It would seem Babikov is a very bright light who chose Canada and who seems poised to make a difference at the upcoming home Olympics in Vancouver/Whistler next year.

“I follow racing in Europe online and when I saw Babikov win I just sat there stunned,” said my old friend Jack Sasseville.

Jack coached 13 years with the national cross-country team and has been our expert in the play-by-play booth at the last three Winter Olympics. Together we have traipsed across Europe and Asia following cross-country skiing only to watch so many Canadian men finish as also-rans in a sport where 42 medals will be at stake at the next Olympics.

“I believe Babikov’s win has the same significance as Beckie Scott’s medal at the Olympics in 2002 had. It’s the breakthrough,” Jack explained. “Oh my God! Canada has won a World Cup race!”

The celebration of Babikov’s success was perhaps less spectacular than it was over the hockey triumph in our nation’s capital but I thought how short sighted it would be to disregard its effect.

All victories in times of trouble are to be coveted. Not because they prove that Canadians are better than the rest or even because sport is a panacea for the ills that we face.

No, winning is to be treasured because it is a reflection of the simple truth. In Canada we come from a hearty place where winters are long, but also where our young people are resilient. In their successes, at home and in faraway places, we can see the promise of the future - that ours can be a nation full of diversity and potential.

In the end, we must take heart from all victories great and small to understand that in Canada we are contenders in a land that is sometimes hard to tame.

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