It's been a decade of defining Canadian athletes and fans in a new way

Canada didn't come of age at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but it sure dropped its shy, even boring image. We were Canadian. We were winners. We were on top of the world. And we made damn sure everyone knew it.

We dropped our historic cloak of shyness and celebrated in style

(Canadian Press)

There used to be a time when we seemed to take great pride in not taking great pride in how we as a country performed on the field of sports. 

While our American friends would often look, at least to us, as boorish for their chants of "USA, USA" during everything from hockey to badminton, we would just quietly accept our occasional victories and more frequent defeats with some underwhelming gesture.

We, after all, were Canadian and over-the-top exhibitions of national pride with braggadocious behaviour was just not our thing. In fact there were times we behaved as if we should somehow feel guilty for winning on those times that we did.

But all that seemed to change in 2010. There was no warning that we were about to become even more bold than our neighbours in chanting our successes, parading the flag and idolizing athletes many of whom we'd never heard of until they stood on an Olympic podium with their necks draped in gold or silver or bronze.

Canada didn't come of age at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, but it sure dropped its shy, even boring image. We were Canadian. We were winners. We were on top of the world. And we made damn sure everyone knew it.

WATCH | A decade of gold for Canadian Olympians:

Canada's decade of memorable moments at the Olympics

3 years ago
Duration 7:28
It all began in Vancouver during the 2010 Games as the last 10 years have given Canadians countless memories on sports' biggest stage.

When I arrived in Vancouver in February that year I wasn't expecting much. We'd never won a gold medal in previous Games that we'd hosted (Montreal 1976, Calgary 1988) and quite frankly, despite the normal pre-Games hype, there wasn't a lot of confidence that things were going to be better.

And while I'd covered past Games dating back to Seoul in 1988, this was going to be different because CBC didn't have the broadcast rights to the Games. Non-rights holders aren't permitted to broadcast from inside Olympics venues, so that meant most of what I saw would be from off site, including where I would host The National each night. That left me feeling somewhat distant from the whole event, and perhaps less invested than I should have been. That was until we started winning and winning big. 

Past Games had a certain predictability to the way they were covered for Canada. Excitement at the beginning, followed a few days in by, questions like, "What is wrong with the Canadian team?", "Did poor performances mean poor athletes, poor training or poor funding?" There would always be a few nice surprises but generally things simply didn't go that well, and medal-count predictions often were not met. 

Scott Moir reacts after seeing scores for his and partner Tessa Virtue's gold medal-winning ice dance at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. (Getty Images)

But with the incredibly beautiful and stunning west coast backdrop in full view of the world, Vancouver delivered such a different story. Canada won more gold than any other country, 14 in all. Five more than that powerhouse from south of the border. Stick that in your "USA! USA!" Names like Bilodeau, Humphries and Moyse, Hamelin, McIvor, and of course, Virtue and Moir, became household names. But my favourite, was Russell, Manitoba's Jon Montgomery, who became the all-Canadian hero — guzzling a full pitcher of beer in front of the cameras in a post-event celebration no one who saw it will ever forget.

And team sport winners in curling, speed skating, snowboarding, and hockey — both women's and men's, which ended with Chris Cuthbert's career-defining play-by-play call of Sidney Crosby's "golden goal."

It was a heck of a ride, and Canadians dropped their historic cloak of shyness and celebrated in style. Street parades in the Olympic sites of Vancouver and Whistler, homecoming parades for athletes across the country, flag waving and big smiles and shout-outs for Canada everywhere you could find even a hint of a Canadian. 

WATCH | A decade of memorable Olympic moments:

Canada's decade of gold at the Olympics

3 years ago
Duration 1:22
This decade, there were five Olympic Games, and it all began in 2010 in Vancouver. There were 41 gold medals won in total. Here's all of them, in a one minute musical montage.

The fear of course, was this was going to be a one off. It wasn't. In fact those early Vancouver days of this decade were a signal to us that even better things were to come. That Canada would continue to tell the world, and perhaps even more importantly tell itself, not only did we have a proud sports history, but that we had more to show. 

In Olympic sport, the decade has shown that the names we call our own keep rolling out, gathering new glory:  Andre De Grasse, Penny Oleksiak, Rosie MacLennan, Mark McMorris just to name a few. 

Bianca Andreescu seems stunned after defeated Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final in September. (Getty Images)
In sports beyond the Olympics, just look at tennis. First it was Milos Raonic, Genie Bouchard and Daniel Nestor. Now they've been joined by Denis Shapovalov, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Vasek Pospisil and wait for it — the most celebrated of them all, the winner of the 2019 U.S. Open — Bianca Andreescu. 

There have never been so many Canadian flags dotting the standings of world tennis. Take a bow Canada. Yet another place where we have arrived and arrived big in tournaments around the world and on unused courts across the country. Young kids are picking up tennis rackets in Canada more than ever before.

And how about Canadian golfers? They are placing their sport on track to be another tennis. There are lots of men making the PGA leaderboards with some frequency, a major series of wins could be next. But no Canadian golfer, male or female, has ever had a run like Brooke Henderson, the pride of Smiths Falls, Ont. Nine LPGA victories in the past few years, known around the world, and always proudly and prominently displaying the maple leaf wherever she goes.     

Then there are those Canadians who are Canadian by location if not by nationality. While the decade didn't end well for the Toronto Blue Jays, they sure gave us reason to rally round the team, and the flag they wear, for a couple of years in the mid-teens. I was sitting in the stands a few rows up along the first base line when Jose Bautista hit that home run and tossed his bat the way no one had ever done before — I'm not sure I've ever witnessed a moment quite like that, and even though almost every Blue Jay that year wasn't a Canadian, it somehow felt like this was a Canadian victory too.

Canadian fans adopted L.A.-born Kawhi Leonard after the Raptors won the NBA Finals. (Getty Images)
And really, who can forget this past June? When the Toronto Raptors play-by-play caller, Matt Devlin, shouted out, "Canada, the NBA title is YOURS!" he was saying what we were all thinking. It too had been a heck of ride, and while Kawhi Leonard is as Canadian as a kangaroo, that didn't matter. When he'd kept the dream alive with that incredible, buzzer-beating, last-second, four-bounce shot from the corner to win Game Seven against Philadelphia in the second round, he could have become prime minister. He wouldn't even have needed to run in an election. From Toronto to Tuktoyaktuk, he had our vote. It was all his. And ours. 

As Canadians we may have grown up a lot in those two weeks back in February 2010, but we truly came of age in June 2019. We the North. The true north. The champions.

It's been a decade of defining us in a new way. We are Canadian with all that has always meant. But perhaps we've undersold ourselves and we are just starting to realize that. Bring on the 2020's — there's a new generation of sports heroes ready to keep showing us what's possible. 


Peter Mansbridge

Former Chief Correspondent CBC News

Peter Mansbridge is the former chief correspondent of CBC News and Distinguished Fellow, Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.


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