Until Neil Young brings down the curtain along with a cast of thousands tonight, this finale to these Olympics just completed this afternon mirrors the arc of these Games: Halting beginning, lots of questions, a rising red and white tide – and finally a new generational touchstone with an epic gold-medal hockey final. Sidney Crosby has always been The Kid to Canadians. Today he became The Man.
(Photo: Julia Mackey, left, and Francis Sacurom of Vancouver celebrate Sidney Crosby's overtime winning goal in the men's hockey final as Canada beat the United States. The pair were watching on a giant screen at Vancouver's BC Place while awaiting the start of the Olympics closing ceremony Feb. 28, 2010 in Vancouver. ROBERT SKINNER/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
What has struck me being here the last two and a half weeks is the magnitude of the crowds downtown – and the lack of incidents (as of this writing, anyway). The athletes are always what these things are all about, but Vancouver, Richmond, Whistler and the visitors here joined them among the biggest stars of these Games. At the World Cup, this kind of fervour sometimes spills over, tribal affiliations and flags and beer running over and up against each other. I was in Marseille in 1998 when fans rioted, and in Dortmund four years ago when hoolies from Poland and Germany met up for a punchup that was contained by police far away from the stadium where we all sang I Will Survive. I've seen the Olympics at its best and less (Sydney 2000; Atlanta 1996). These are all privilege assignments, but as a Canadian with family ties to Vancouver, this one was especially so. Here, every night coming back on the SkyTrain from downtown to Richmond was a packed party on wheels. Every morning coming back in, you wondered if anyone was sleeping given the early lineups to get into the sights.
I'll leave the rest for my colleagues to fill in. Meantime, one last link before I get on tonight's redeye for back home. It comes from overseas, from the BBC's James Pearce, looks ahead to Vancouver's influence on the next unfolding of the bloated, overhyped and entirely out of control Olympic circus, and it's a worthy coda to those way too early assessments that seem a long time ago and far, far away:
One senior official from London 2012, who's been in Vancouver, told me that she's learned more from five days in Canada than she had from three weeks in China. That's because, in terms of spectator experience, London will be looking to follow the Vancouver model.
On Saturday I was outside the Broadcast Centre grabbing some fresh air when I saw a large crowd heading down the street towards me. At the centre of the throng was a big Canadian flag being waved proudly in the air. As the people moved closer I could see that the man carrying that flag was Jon Montgomery, a Canadian gold medallist last weekend in the skeleton.
Around him, an impromptu procession had formed - a celebration of home-grown success. The further down the road that Montgomery went, the more people tagged on behind. If this had been a scene in some other countries maybe there would have been accusations of over-hyped nationalism, but this felt spontaneous, natural and very good natured. I had witnessed just one of hundreds of events that have been taking place on the streets here every day, but for me it summed up one of the successes of these Games.