It took a couple of days to digest it all, but after a bit of thought, my take on the Vancouver Olympics is really quite simple: It was an absolute blast.
And the most impressive thing about these Winter Games had nothing to do with the sporting events themselves. Rather, it was the people—both locals and visitors—out on the streets partying and celebrating all day and all night over the entire duration of the Games.
Strange as it may seem for those who never got a chance to visit Vancouver over the past couple of weeks, the highlight of these Games was not, in fact, Canada winning more gold medals than anyone else has ever won in a single Winter Olympics. No, the unequivocal highlight was the party and amazing atmosphere out on those streets.
Well, that and February 28's gold medal hockey game, of course.
Dancing in the Streets
Whatever you may think about the government's incredible ability to come up with billions of dollars for sporting events while pleading poverty whenever it comes to properly funding education, social programs, etc., and whatever you may have thought of the aggressive "win at all costs" stance of the Own the Podium program, there's simply no denying the joy out on the streets of Vancouver over the past two weeks.
Simply put, Vancouver has never before been such a fun place to be. Not even close.
I mean, wandering up and down Granville and Robson streets and around Yaletown on Friday and Saturday nights together with literally hundreds of thousands of drunken, happy revellers was an absolute thrill.
Yes, there may have been one or two minor incidents reported in the press, but I was there with my wife and our 4-year-old son and the vibe was nothing but positive and it felt absolutely safe—and we were there past midnight. (And, yes, that's right all you uptight, worried, repressed, anally retentive types, my 4-year-old son was indeed out with the drunken hordes past midnight... and he had a blast too!)
Sure, some of the nationalistic pride could feel a little over the top at times, but there was nothing like the thrill of wandering those downtown streets with all those drunken, joy-filled, red-and-white clad crowds screaming and singing "Oh Canada".
The only thing I've experienced here in Canada that even comes close to that festive joyful mood was when the Blue Jays won their first World Series championship in 1992—I was in a bar in downtown Toronto and then out on the streets celebrating with an estimated one million people. But that was just one night, while this street celebration here in Vancouver went on for two full weeks.
And, importantly, it was festive and joyful even before Canada really started winning a lot of medals in the second week.
This is not just my impression, however. I've heard numerous interviews with both foreign and local athletes and media speaking of how these games were different and how in most previous Olympic cities the joy was mainly just concentrated around the venues.
Not in Vancouver.
The overall highlight may have been the spirit out on the streets, but the single most exciting moment for all Canadians had to be Sunday's amazing hockey game and, in particular, that absolutely awesome overtime goal by Sidney Crosby. That was, without a doubt, the single most exciting moment I've ever experienced watching sports. And I've watched a lot of sports in my life!
Actually, I'd say the entire tournament featured some of the best hockey I've ever seen, whether we're talking about the Americans' surprising play throughout, the equally surprising Slovaks or simply that gold medal game between Canada and America (definitely one of the greatest games of all time).
In my mind, Olympic hockey is almost always superior to NHL hockey, at least since 1998 when NHL players were finally allowed to participate. Not only do you have the best players in the world out on the ice but you also don't have the constant, senseless, momentum-draining scrums and fights. They just play the game.
Interestingly, they say Sunday's game was the most watched TV program in Canadian history, with 80 percent of Canadians (26.5 million) watching at least part of the game. The second most watched program in Canadian history? Sunday's closing ceremony.
Some Other Highlights
Canada's 2-0 win over the Americans in the women's gold medal hockey game.
Jon Montgomery's beer-swilling victory march through Whistler after winning gold in skeleton.
All those free concerts.
Stephen Colbert's comical take on the city, the country and the Games.
And, finally, Neil Young playing "Long May You Run" at the closing ceremonies as they extinguished the flame.
Before I go I just want to ask one question: What the #*%$ is up with those bloody Norwegians?
Somehow, Norway, a nation of just 4.5 million people, continues to defy all logical explanations with their performance in each and every Winter Olympics.
Not only did they finish these games with the fourth largest medal haul—with a total of 23 medals—but they also remain the all-time leaders in both total medals and gold medals. I mean, 4.5 million people—WTF?
You could say they're a northern nation, but so is Finland (five medals—5.5 million people) and Sweden (11 medals—close to 10 million people) and Russia (15 medals—142 million people).
Seriously, what's up with the Norwegians? Perhaps it's all the mercury in their fish? Or maybe it's just their Viking blood? Whatever it is, they sure are an enigma.
But, enigmatic Norwegians notwithstanding, the fact remains it's been a incredible couple of weeks.
Mike Cowie is a freelance writer who writes about politics, music, film, travel, and much more. You can read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.