Road To The Olympic Games


Canada enjoys red (and white) letter day

Canada's victory over Russia in men's hockey ensured that the country's four-medal day on Wednesday would be remembered as a red-letter one.

What a difference one hockey game can make.

Day 13 of the Vancouver Olympics was Canada's best yet. On Wednesday, Canadians hit the podium four times, winning a gold medal, two silvers and one bronze.

It matched the best single-day medal haul at the Olympics for Canada, set in Torino 2006 at a similar point in the Games (Day 12).

But you might not remember a lot about that winter day in 2006, because there was one not-so-subtle difference in Torino: Canada lost to Russia in men's hockey.

On Canada's best day at the 2006 Olympics, the men's hockey team fell 2-0 to Alex Ovechkin and the Russians in the quarter-finals, sending the team crashing out of the tournament without a medal.

It was incomprehensible. It was inconceivable. It was upsetting.

And it also sent a country into a spontaneous national day of mourning.

Exploits almost forgotten

Almost forgotten were the exploits of Cindy Klassen and Kristina Groves in the women's 1,500-metre speedskate at Turin. Klassen blew away the field to take gold, while Groves eked out silver.

Ditto for Chandra Crawford in the women's cross-country sprint, Canada's most surprising gold medallist at Turin, who stood at the top of the podium in her first Olympics. Same for the women's short-track speedskating relay team, which won silver.

The National Post ran an apt headline the next day: "Four medals and a funeral."

Flash forward to 2010. The same scenario faced Canadians this time around: A quarter-final matchup with the Russians, with many worrying that the 2006 result was about to repeat itself.

But not this time. In Vancouver, let's call it: "Four medals and a resurrection." And also call it more proof of how much hockey means to this country (as if you needed any).

Since Canada pummelled Russia in the quarter-final of these Olympics by a score of 7-3, reigniting hopes of men's hockey gold on home soil in a big way, it ensured that Day 13 of the Olympics will always be remembered as a red-letter day for Canadians.

Race to remember

It started on the speedskating trail at the Richmond Olympic Oval on Wednesday afternoon. The screaming crowd urged Clara Hughes on as the Canadian flag-bearer gave one last race to remember, picking up bronze in the 5,000 metres in the final Olympic skate of her career.

The 37-year-old Winnipeg-born Hughes tied Klassen for the Canadian record with six Olympic medals in her career.

"That was awesome," Hughes said. "That was the best I had, that was one of the best races I've ever done and it was the best race I've ever done at the Olympics."

After Hughes took bronze, you needed a quick trigger finger on the TV remote to catch the rest of the action.

Right around the time Canada was up 4-1 on the Russians in the first intermission, Canada 1 was flying down the bobsleigh track at Whistler.

The team of Kaillie Humphries of Calgary and Heather Moyse of Summerside, P.E.I., set a track record in their third of four runs, clocking in at 52.85 and building a 57-100ths lead on the Americans for first place.

Three sleds later, Canada 2, consisting of Helen Upperton of Calgary and Shelley-Ann Brown of Pickering, Ont., moved into the bronze-medal spot.

Medal upgraded

And while Canada was wrapping up its dominating 7-3 win in the third period, the women's short- track relay team was in a heated battle with the South Koreans, Chinese and Americans for a medal in the 3,000-metre final.

The team of Tania Vicent of Laval, Que., Montreal's Kalyna Roberge, Marianne St-Gelais of Saint-Félicien, Que., and Calgary's Jessica Gregg were bumped up to silver after the South Koreans were disqualified.

Right after the hockey game, if you switched to the bobsleigh track, you would've been just in time to see Upperton and Brown jump up to top spot after the Americans couldn't match their slick time in the fourth run.

And then you would've seen Humphries and Moyse fly to the gold medal, supplanting their teammates for top spot and ensuring two Canadian teams would get to hear the national anthem during the medal ceremony.

"It felt great coming up the outrun and having coaches put up the No. 1 finger and cheering," Humphries said. "It was a bit of relief. We did it!"

The day's final tally: One gold, two silver and one bronze.

All these victories were lifted into the stratosphere, thanks to Team Canada's decisive win over the Russians in hockey. It was the first time the Canadians had beaten their rivals in the last 50 years of Olympic play, and sent them into the medal round of the tournament.

No, Team Canada didn't even win a medal on Wednesday. But it didn't matter.

Beating Russia and giving the rest of the country hope for gold was enough to catapult Day 13 into the "Best Day Yet" category during the 2010 Olympics.

Which could be supplanted by Day 15. And then maybe again on Day 17, the final day of competition.