The Globe and Mail
March 21, 2010
New records, new
heroes and a new era for the Paralympics
- These were the Games that may have changed Canada, with an unprecedented
outpouring of national pride and unparalleled Olympic success.
But the glow didn't stop when the puck fired by Sidney Crosby
found the back of the American net on that memorable Sunday three
Lauren Woolstencroft, Brian McKeever and Viviane
Forest are the country's new athletic heroes, emulating the nation's
Olympians by leading Canada to a record harvest of winter gold
at the Paralympics, as well.
The celebrated trio iced the cake with one last,
inspiring flourish during the Games' final weekend.
Ms. Forest won her fifth medal of the Paralympics, Mr. McKeever
took his third gold and Ms. Woolstencroft, now known as the country's
golden girl, made her fifth trip to the top of the podium with
another powerful run down the slopes of Whistler.
Sunday, Ms. Woolstencroft, the 28-year-old electrical engineer
from North Vancouver, was chosen to carry Canada's flag in the
Paralympians to the wet, chilly, special plaza for
last night's stirring closing ceremonies that brought down the
curtain on the country's six-week turn on the global stage.
Ms. Woolstencroft believes her success and the unprecedented embrace
of the Paralympics by Canadians could signal a new era for an
event that has often seemed an awkward fit after the sturm und
drang of the Olympics.
"We're a different story than the Olympics, but ultimately
we are going for the same thing, to be the best," she said.
"I think that message is getting out there more and more.
The attention we got at these Games was way more than I expected.
People really got behind them. They can only go in the right direction."
Canada had its best Paralympic Winter Games in history. The country's
athletes won 19 medals, including nine gold. The total met the
team's goal of finishing third among the 44 competing nations.
But there was more to these Paralympics than Canada's pile of
medals. By the time they ended, there was something new in the
As they had during last month's remarkably successful Olympics,
Canadians took to these Games - not in equal numbers, but more
than any previous host of a Winter Paralympics.
They produced record ticket sales, with roaring, enthusiastic
crowds at every venue, and the most-watched coverage in history,
online and on television.
International Paralympic Committee president Sir Philip Craven
said Canadians seemed to make "an instantaneous switch"
the moment the Paralympics began, "from maybe negativity
to incredible positiveness. ... So many people have spoken to
me about this community feeling. Athletes told me they didn't
want to leave." At the closing ceremonies, Sir Craven called
the Vancouver/Whistler Paralympics "truly magical, the best
ever Paralympic Winter Games."
The intimacy was brought home during the moving parade of Paralympians
to the closing ceremonies. Athletes walked and wheeled themselves
right through the open air of Whistler's main streets, cheered
on by raucous, flag-waving residents who snapped photos and roared
approval as each delegation went by.
When the official flame went out for the last time, however, it
was more than the final moment of the Paralympics. It was the
end of everything, from the faint hopes 15 years ago of a small
group of people dreaming of bringing the Olympics to Vancouver,
to the frenetic campaign to win the bid, to the seven long years
of preparation, to the staging of the Games themselves.
VANOC chief executive officer John Furlong pointed out yesterday
he had no grandchildren when he first became involved with the
Winter Olympics. Soon, he will welcome his 11th.
He said the Games succeeded even beyond his wildest hopes, leaving
behind a legacy that cannot be erased.
"Something pretty important happened," he told reporters
at a farewell press conference. "Our goal of touching every
Canadian heart has been achieved. We think the Games brought this
country together in a way it never had before."
And, noting how the success of Canadian athletes had resonated
with Canadians, Mr. Furlong added: "I believe that now sport
will be forever seen as something in Canada's interest to go forward."
On a personal note, Mr. Furlong said he was tired, but couldn't
"I'm exhausted. Everyone is exhausted, but I think something
pretty extraordinary has happened in this country, and I'm very
proud to have been part of that."
Mr. Furlong had to leave midway through the closing ceremonies
to begin a long journey to Georgia to attend Tuesday's memorial
service for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed
during a training run on the first day of the Winter Olympics.
Before leaving, he told the closing ceremony crowd: "Our
work is done. We have given this magnificent adventure our complete
effort - our full enthusiasm - in the name of a country we all