My beloved home nation has had plenty of emotional moments - most of which involve the game of ice hockey, of course. I've thought of five others non-hockey related moments when the Red Maple Leaf was proudly hoisted in victory, and Canucklehead eyes were far from dry.
1). Donovan Bailey, Canadian Relay Team - Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympic Games
Canadians were all too willing to forget about the shame brought on our national sporting stage by Ben Johnson in 1988 - and for that reason hopes were high that Donovan Bailey could flash across the finish line and restore some of our nation's lost track and field glory. He didn't disappoint. A couple of days later he anchored the team that won gold in ther 4 X 100 Relay. It was a great time to be a Canadian, that summer of 1996.
2). Toronto Blue Jays Win their First World Series - 1992
Confession time: I was probably the only person in the country that was cheering hard - for the Atlanta Braves. I'd been a Braves fan all my life, Hank Aaron was my idol (I am fortunate enough to have received a signed ball from him back in 1993). Despite the fact that the entire country was wearing black, white and blue in October, I just couldn't cheer for anyone other than the Braves. When Otis Nixon made the final out on a slow roller to first base, I made my way to the orch of my (then) house, utterly crestfallen. Now, here's the thing: At that time I lived in Calgary, Alberta - a town known as vociferous Toronto haters - so you can imagine my surprise while sitting dejectedly on the porch steps I couldn't help but hear ...a ROAR ... sweep across the city. People were already in the streets, revelling in the Blue Jay win. At that moment, I realized, it wasn't about the Toronto Blue Jays winning the World Series. The entire COUNTRY had been behind the ball club, and therefore the entire NATION won the World Series. I have never had a more proud moment as a Canadian in my life, as when I heard that roar blissfully cry towards the Northern Sky in the Rocky Mountains, as a baseball team from 5,000 miles away managed to unite us all, from Victoria B.C. to the Grand Banks, Newfoundland. The Toronto Blue Jays weren't just Southern Ontario's boys: they belonged to ALL of us that autumn evening - and the country put aside it's collective distaste for Toronto for one night and cheered so loudly, the Inuit across the straits in Siberia must have been wondering what all the commotion was about ...
3). The Edmonton Miracle - The 1983 Canadian Basketball Team
Long-time coach Jack Donohue made believers of all Canadian hoop fans by skillfully guiding what was probably the best collection of Canadian talent (to that time, anyway) to a shocking Gold Medal victory at the World University Games in Edmonton in 1983. That tournament wasn't a cakewalk by any means: many future NBA stars represented their countries in that tournament. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Kevin Willis all represented the United States, who were looking for a fifth straight Gold Medal. A Canadian team led by men named Bill Wennington, Gerald Kazanowksi, Jay Triano and Karl Tillman would upset the heavily-favoured Americans, and then stun the even-more heavily favoured Yugoslavians to capture the gold. It was the best moment, thus far, for basketball fans in this country -and gave a young program the success it needed to build on.
4). 1986 World Cup Team and the 2000 Gold Cup Team, Men's Soccer
Canada hasn't had a lot ot cheer about in regards to international success in the world's beautiful game. But qualifying for the Big One in Mexico in 1986 - and playing the French, the Soviets and the Hungarians tough for three grueling games earned the team surprisingly high praise from Michel Platini himself. The French team had expected to route the Canadians - instead, they had to rely on a late goal by Papin in the 79th Minute in order to walk away victorious. Canada had very nearly scored twice in the earlier goings - having rattled one sure goal tantalizingly off the crossbar, then the right goal post, but ultimately staying out of the net. The French played back on their heels against the relentless attack of the Canadian forwards until Papin found a way through and put a solid shot past keeper Craig Forest. Still, we had arrived on the world's biggest stage - and we didn't disappoint. The Gold Cup victory in 2000 was a shock and a surprise - and would have been seen as more of a watershed moment in Canadian football had the club managed to follow up its success by continuing to win games and qualify for the 2002 World Cup. Sadly, after the Gold Cup victory, the team emotionally and mentally came apart at the seams and faded away. But the Gold Cup win over Colombia we savoured all that summer, anyway ....
5). Lennox Lewis, Carolyn Waldo and Michelle Cameron winning Gold - Despite the Johnson Scandal (1988)
Lennox Lewis surprised everyone but himself by thoroughly man-handling Riddick Bowe in the Gold Medal final of the men's heavyweight boxing division. While after the Olympics he would turn his back on Canada and return to Great Britain (where he was actually allegedly born), the sight of the red and white Maple Leaf draped over his shoulders calling into the crowd for his mom is moment Canadians would cherish for years. Waldo and Cameron, two genuinely nice and affable synchronized swimmers from Calgary, blew away their competition and won Gold Medals - Waldo an individual Gold and another with Cameron as her partner in the pairs. It is sad that the Johnson Affair is the one "Canadian Moment" that we tend to remember about Seoul: but I'll never forget Lennox Lewis's sheer joy in the ring after having his arm raised, or Carolyn Waldo and Michelle Cameron both playfully biting their Gold medals on the podium, synchronized of course, in an effort to "prove" what they'd won wasn't fake - let alone tarnished.
Does anyone else have any favoured Canadian sports moments - trying to leave ice hockey out of it for now - that can be shared?? I'd love to hear from you ...
Thierry P. Nihill
Toronto, Ontario, Canada