The best and the worst 

Between the Lines

VANCOUVER — In restaurants and bars, streets and living rooms, millions of enthralled Canadians roared and wept Monday night.

With every good reason.

On countless TV screens, they watched with joy as one of their own, a freestyle skier named Alexandre Bilodeau, stepped to the top of the victory podium for men's moguls. Receiving the first Olympic gold medal ever won by a Canadian athlete on home soil, he joined the delirious crowd of 22,000 inside B.C. Place for the most heartfelt rendition of "O Canada" that you might ever hear.

At that moment, the 2010 Winter Games officially allowed Canada's people to morph from gracious, humble hosts into ecstatic, proud celebrants.

That occasion also magnified the best and worst of what the Olympics have become, though we could argue this point until the flame goes out Feb. 28.

Nothing could top having such a great crowd and atmosphere to honor the medalists for any event, no matter who or what nation has won. How could anyone question the idea of nightly ceremonies — in this case, both in downtown Vancouver and up at Whistler Mountain, depending on where the actual event took place?

They could question the idea because the ceremony comes so long after the fact, away from the actual competition venue, devoid of the raw emotions that come in the moments after winning a medal. They could also question the idea because of the host city charging as much as $50 a ticket just to see a few ceremonies, hear some national anthems and listen to a mini-concert inside B.C. Place by the likes of Nelly Furtado, Barenaked Ladies, INXS, Trooper or Loverboy.

At Whistler — where the tickets are supposed to be free, but are only available from scalpers — you get familiar names including Denver's The Fray, as well as the Roots and Usher.

Is it greed? Just another way to balance the Games' gargantuan budget? Or a special extra touch that no other sporting event on Earth could provide?

Certainly, there's no doubt the staged medal ceremonies are wonderful when the host nation wins. They also give the winning athletes in lower-profile events some prime-time exposure. Plus, as one Olympic official was saying, "It's a chance for a lot of people to get their only taste of the Olympics, because they might not be able to afford going to an event."

Here's another point to consider: Having all the flags available at each competition venue, and a proper place to raise them, plus a sound system and recordings of all the possible national anthems, is an expensive challenge. (Albeit a challenge that other host cities have handled without hesitation.) So while it's worth doing at the larger indoor venues for hockey and figure skating (and curling, one of Canada's national obsessions), maybe it's not worth doing at the rest.

Perhaps this is just a sign of the times, and you can find Olympic purists who think the nightly medal ceremonies help maintain the Games' momentum from start to finish.

But to me, having covered these extravaganzas since the 1980s, the sweetest memories have been seeing medal-winners, still exhausted and enraptured by their accomplishment, getting their hardware, watching the flags go up, singing the anthem and hugging their families, teammates and fans. Right there, where it happened, not in a downtown stadium followed by Loverboy.

That's not happening here. Instead, immediately after the event, the top three finishers step up on a podium, assume the usual positions and are presented with ... flowers. The real hardware comes hours later, or even the next night, and your event ticket won't get you in the door for the medal ceremony. That'll cost you up to $50 more.

Not sure about you, but if I've shelled out hundreds to attend speedskating, freestyle skiing, snowboarding or the marquee skiing races, seeing the medals and hearing somebody's anthem should be part of the deal, and a tradition worth saving.

Not just at a few events, but all of them.



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