Against greatest of odds, Olympics again proved themselves a healing antidote

The Olympics are about watching the culmination of years of hard work and practice play out in real time, with the world watching. They can produce moments of tremendous joy and unimaginable pain. But they are all special, that's why we watch.

For 16 days we celebrate the achievements of others, and there's value in that

Members of the Canadian women’s soccer team watch the flag raise after being presented with their gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

The Olympics always come with a lot of baggage, and the Tokyo Olympics had more than usual.

There were the regular controversies that have become Olympics rites of passage — the inevitable cost overruns, the weather — too hot, too cold. In this case it was too hot.

But there was obviously more at play here. These Games, as the insisted upon branding of Tokyo 2020 kept reminding us, were supposed to happen last summer before being derailed by the global pandemic.

More than a year later, the spectre of undertaking a sporting event where thousands of people from every corner of the world would converge on Japan still seemed daunting. 

It had many people rightfully asking, why are we doing this?

And then the Games began. 

A major justification for pushing forward these Games was they would be a needed lift after such a bleak year.

Many people rolled their eyes at this notion, but it was true.

Canadians loved these Games. The numbers on TV and online show that. Anecdotally, it seems everyone I spoke to back home had a new favourite Olympic athlete or had become an instant expert in a sport that they might not have known existed before these Games.

With 42 sports and thousands of athletes, there are many special moments that for me will resonate long after the flame is extinguished.

WATCH | Damian Warner's road to Olympic glory:

For Canada there was lots to savour. 

There are few moments that can bring an entire country together and create an "I remember where I was moment." The women's soccer gold-medal game was one of those moments, an entire nation rising and falling with every nerve-racking kick and save.

There were also heroic individual efforts. In the pool, Canadian swimmers rose to the occasion against the best in the world. It was again the summer of Penny Oleksiak. But it was also the summer of Kylie Masse and Maggie Mac Neil. 

On the track, Canadian athletes reached heights never achieved before in this country. People watched Damian Warner win Canada's first decathlon gold, a remarkable feat of strength and athleticism played out over two days to earn the title of "world's greatest athlete."

We watched Moh Ahmed break on to the 5,000-metre podium with a stirring final 100m to claim Canada's first-ever medal in one of track's most prestigious and contested events.

WATCH | Moh Ahmed wins silver:

For me, the best moments of the Games are the unexpected medals, the ones that come out of nowhere, causing people to scramble to learn about an athlete and their story.

That story happened early on at the historic Tokyo Budokan.

I admit, the name Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard wasn't on my radar before these Games. But as she advanced through the tournament and it became apparent a medal was possible, I quickly redirected to the Budokan. 

It was worth it. When the Montreal native realized she had won the bronze medal, the tears flowed.

WATCH | Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard reflects on her bronze medal:

They were still flowing when I caught up to her moments later and she told me about her journey to Tokyo, never giving up and about the family she had left behind.

It's an afternoon I will never forget.

The Olympics are about watching the culmination of years of hard work and practice play out in real time, with the world watching. They can produce moments of tremendous joy and unimaginable pain. But they are all special, that's why we watch.

The Olympics are like that friend, with lots of baggage, who maybe isn't the best person, but you get together with them anyway because it's always a good time.

Thanks Tokyo. See you in Beijing.

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