Road To The Olympic Games

Unsung Olympic heroes

Curling's Mike Adam and Norway's cross-country coach Bjornar Hakensmoen are among the unsung heroes of the Torino Games.

They are the offensive linemen in football – those who protect the quarterback, open holes for the running back, do most of the dirty work, but whose names fall short of the headlines.

They are the equipment managers in hockey – those who sharpen skates, wash socks, throw gloves into the dryer between periods and scurry down the bench to grab a stick for a player rushing to the bench.

They are the unsung heroes – those who never get credit in the heat of competition or the medal at the end of a race. But in some way, they have played an important role in the outcome.

The Torino Olympics had its fair share of unsung heroes.

There was Bjornar Hakensmoen, the Norwegian cross-country coach who handed Canadian Sara Renner a ski pole after the latter's snapped during the sprint relay. Renner later stood on the podium as a silver medallist.

Mark Messer, the icemaker at Calgary's Olympic Oval hired by Turin organizers, snuck into the Oval Lingotto and buried a gold maple leaf pin beneath the ice surface. Canadians went on to win eight medals in long-track speed skating.

The following is a closer look into their stories and others:

Timely hand from a friendly rival

Canada's sprint relay team of Sara Renner and Beckie Scott was in good stead in its gold medal cross-country race when Renner's ski pole snapped, causing her to lose ground on several competitors.

Bjornar Hakensmoen, in his last Games as a coach for Norway, handed her a pole. The two did not know each other.

"I was just standing there, and this skier had broken her pole," Hakensmoen said. "So I gave her one. That is the whole story." Not quite.

Although the pole was several inches bigger than she was accustomed to, Renner made up the deficit, passing every skier but one for a silver medal.

Norway finished fourth. Hakensmoen said it didn't matter, because a victory over rivals who suffer misfortune rings hollow.

Thankful Canadians offered everything from flowers to maple syrup to hotel stays. Renner showed her appreciation by sending Hakensmoen a bottle of wine for his vintage Olympic act.

Related: Canadians applaud Norwegian for Olympic pole pass

Related: Canada wins team sprint silver

Giving others a "Right to Play"

Champion speed skaters give every last bit they have on the ice in pursuit of their goal. But at least two gold-medal skaters in Italy realized there are greater goals in life, and gave accordingly.

American skater Joey Cheek started the trend by donating his bonuses from winning two medals – $40,000 US in total – to Right to Play, the organization run by former Olympic speed-skating champion Johann Olav Koss that improves the plight of children in impoverished, war-torn areas.

Corporations and individuals in the U.S. were inspired by the selfless act, and contributions since his announcement are well into six figures.

Cheek stayed true to form during the competition, rising above the fray during the protracted friction between teammates Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick.

Following her gold-medal win, Winnipeg's Clara Hughes announced she would donate $10,000 Cdn, despite the fact there was no forthcoming bonus for her victory.

Related: Clara Hughes's finest hour

Related: Not your average Joe

Who needs a loonie, when you have ...

Rival nations are soon going to have to employ 24-hour security to protect against the surreptitious planting of Canadian Olympic lucky charms.

Mark Messer, the icemaker at Calgary's Olympic Oval hired by the Turin organizing committee for his ice expertise, snuck into the Oval Lingotto to bury a gold maple leaf pin beneath the surface.

Canadians won eight medals in long-track speed skating, and the leaf was dug up and presented to Clara Hughes after she skated to gold in the women's 5,000-metre race.

The act followed in the tradition of the "lucky loonie" buried beneath centre ice for Canada's hockey teams at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Related: Lucky leaf paces Canadian skaters

Great Scott to Olympics' highest stage

Beckie Scott's last Olympic competition was a bittersweet affair. She won silver with good friend Sara Renner in the team sprint, finished off the podium in her individual events, and saw the torch passed on Canada's women's cross-country ski team to surprise gold medallist Chandra Crawford, the 22-year-old winner of the 1.1-kilometre sprint.

But her efforts off the course were duly recognized. Already part of the World Anti-Doping Association's athletic committee in the wake of the doping scandal that disqualified two competitors and earned her the gold medal in the 2002 Games, she was one of two people selected from a pool of 15 athletes to be on the Athletes' Commission, a committee that meets annually and works as a link between athletes and the International Olympic Committee.

Future athletes will come to know what Canadians already do: she's a tireless champion.

Related: Scott, Koivu elected to IOC athletes' board

Dionne's miraculous comeback

To many observers, competing in freestyle aerials seems life-threatening under the best of circumstances.

Deidra Dionne has endured the worst of circumstances the past year but exemplifies the best of the Olympic spirit.

A bronze medallist from the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, Dionne crashed head-first in training in September, tearing the ligaments in her neck, rupturing a disc and straining her spinal chord. She narrowly missed suffering paralysis.

Just three-and-a-half months later, Dionne was cleared to resume training. She qualified for the Olympics in January.

Dionne was bitterly disappointed with her performance in Turin, as she failed to make the finals in the women's aerials.

But official Olympic results were unnecessary in assessing how successful her comeback was.

Related: The fall and rise of Deidra Dionne

Newfoundland's unsung hero

In 1925, New York Yankee Wally Pipp gave way to a young Lou Gehrig at first base, with one legend born and another career effectively over.

Imagine if Pipp wasn't injured and an already-legendary Gehrig was waiting in the wings. It might be a situation akin to that of Newfoundland curler Mike Adam, who was the ultimate team player in ceding his spot as second to two-time world champion Russ Howard.

Adam and skip Brad Gushue had played together for several years, winning a Canadian junior championship. Gushue recruited the vastly experienced Howard as an advising fifth for his young rink last year, but when they struggled near the Olympic trials, Howard stepped in as second.

Immediate success followed, and in a display that was the exact opposite of the U.S. speed skating team's internecine squabbles, Adam stepped aside.

Adam was able to see some preliminary-round action in Italy, earned a gold medal every bit as deserved as his teammates, and unlike Wally Pipp, figures to have a future ahead of him.

Related: Brad Gushue: Newfoundland's favourite son

Related: Gushue takes Howard's steady hand

Related: Gushue wins curling gold

From the bottom to the podium

From small things big things one day come, the song goes.

Yao Bin took up figure skating when the prospects for that sport in China were bleak, to say the least. Bin and partner Luan Bo were the first to represent the country at the world championships and the Olympics, finishing dead last on each occasion in the early 1980s.

Those setbacks didn't deter the pair from giving up the sport, with each coaching young Chinese skaters. Showing the same persistence as their predecessors, Bin's pupils Zhang Dan and Zhang Hao survived a terrible fall by Dan to win silver in pairs figure skating.

Russians won the event, as they have in every Olympics since 1964, but the Chinese duos finished 2-3-4.

In just over two decades, thanks in large part to the 47-year-old Bin, Chinese pairs have gone from laughingstocks to gold-medal contenders.

Related: Chinese pairs skaters fall back, spring forward

Related: Russians win pairs gold, resilient Chinese get standing ovation

If looks could kill

Maurizio Margaglio survived a woman's scorn.

At the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Italian ice dancer fell in the long program. Partner Barbara Fusar Poli was disconsolate afterwards, but the pair received a bronze medal.

Four years later, in their Olympic swan song in their home country, Margaglio lost his balance in the short program while attempting to lift Fusar Poli, sending both sprawling to the ice.

When the music stopped, the two stood facing each at centre ice for what seemed an eternity. Fusar Poli's eyes bore holes through Margaglio, her partner of 12 years.

They were out of contention, but one night later when their long program was done, the pair passionately kissed and made up.

Related: Russians take ice dance, Belbin wins silver