August 16, 2008

It is rare for a G8 country not to medal in the Olympics at all. In fact, I have not been able to track down a single case.

Yet this was exactly the position Canada was finding itself in all this week.

Although the Canadian team traditionally performs much better on the second week of the Olympics than the first, this time the first week became a real test of a nation's patience. Throughout the week Canadian athletes were positioning themselves for runs at medals, but in the early finals, Canadian athletes were treated to a series of heartbreaking fourths. Again and again, the photo finish turned just barely against the Canadian: by a fingertip, by a centimetre, by a single run again and again and again.

Most in the nation tried to be tolerant. The medals were coming, they said with fading confidence and crossed fingers. Canadian athletes always tended to perform better on the second week, they knew. But as the week wore on and still not a single medal, the tolerant smiles grew more strained, and some of the opinion columns grew positively vicious. Few noticed that Canadian athletes were quietly positioning themselves for some significant challenges. Against that giant goose egg that continually seemed to mock a nation, against the athletes who kept repeatedly falling just short, it might have been difficult to notice.

Today, all that changed. In the space of a single hour, three athletes took home medals, one of each colour. Although Carol Huynh, competing in women's freestyle wrestling (-48 kg), was the first to guarantee a Canadian medal, in the actual ceremony she was edged out by David Calder and Scott Frandsen, who were awarded a silver in men's coxless pairs just before she could win in her gold medal match. It was only minutes later that Tonya Verbeek was able to tie for bronze with Columbia's Jackeline Rentería in women's freestyle wrestling (−55 kg).

The floodgates are open ... and a nation breathes a collective sigh of relief.

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