From Clark Kent to Superman—Canada gets heroic

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Canada: No more Mr. Nice Guy. Google the words and you’ll soon realize that the biggest surprise of the Vancouver Olympic Games is . . . Canada and its evil desire to “own the podium.” No longer is “after you” our competitive slogan and no longer are we the country whose citizens, according to author Peter C. Newman, “dream of being Clark Kent, instead of Superman.”

This new-found desire to achieve victory—not just excellence—is taking the world by surprise and other nations seem a bit put out by our intention to kick some Olympic butt. According to,“They used to be the nice guys; now they’d rather leave you buried in the snow on a ski trail.”

But the real story in Vancouver isn’t that Canadians are lusting after medals and pushing our national ‘niceness’ to the sidelines. It’s not even the number of medals we are winning. Rather, the real lasting story of these Games—and maybe even its Canadian legacy—is that patriotism has taken Canadians by storm and the city of Vancouver has been transformed into one giant celebration of Canada.

Just two weeks ago, it played the role of the reluctant host. Protesters were making public plans to disrupt the Games. Street closures, cutting off main arteries of traffic flow to make room for Olympic vehicles, security issues and ballooning costs of the Games were all pushing Vancouverites to the limit. Who would have guessed that these same stressed citizens would now take to the streets in record numbers, wearing Canadian Olympic gear and putting on a display of patriotism and spirit not seen previously?

This is our national moment and, surprisingly, Canadians have embraced it and turned it into a party with a purpose. Streets once filled with cars are now covered by a sea of red and white (and the obligatory black) Hudson Bay Olympic gear. Businessmen and women are accessorizing suits with Canada scarves and red mittens; hockey jerseys are the outfit of choice for the vast majority.

There are spontaneous outbursts of Go Canada and of “O Canada.” Frankly, you can’t pass by any of the bustling crowds without wishing you had the time to join them in their obvious celebration of Canada.

Yes, they are celebrating our victories and athletes. But their significant participation in every part of the Olympics—from culture and athletics to music and tourism—makes it clear that they are finally claiming and proclaiming their national identity.

An Ipsos Reid poll, released this week, is somewhat less convincing than the streets of Vancouver. It showed that roughly one-half of Canadians believe that the Vancouver Olympics will be a more defining national moment than the 1972 hockey summit or previous Olympics. In addition, 40 per cent were willing to display the Canadian flag and 33 per cent were planning to wear Olympic clothing during the games.

So will this moment last or is it a temporary exuberance? Some pundits are predicting that this powerful new spirit of nationalism is here to stay and will set the tone of our country for decades to come.

If our national identity is limited solely to our experience, then patriotism is doomed to fail. But our national identity is more than that. It is composed of both told and untold stories that share a common purpose and understanding among Canadians. Years from now, we won’t remember how many medals we won or lost. But we will always remember the Olympic triumphs and tragedies that are worthy of becoming part of our national story.

The youthful exuberance of Alex Bilodeau as he won the first gold medal ever on Canadian soil. The story of his brother’s inspiration that he so proudly shared with the world. Then there were the tears and apologies of Mellisa Hollingsworth. Most memorable is Joannie Rochette, who gave the performance of her life just days after her mother’s sudden death. The list goes on.

Think back to Turin in 2006. The men’s hockey team lost, but who can forget the Norwegian ski coach who gave his ski pole to Canadian cross country skier Sara Renner? Or the lucky loonie planted in the ice at Salt Lake City?

Our national identity and patriotic spirit can only be perpetuated by telling these stories. For 5,000 years, the Jews were scattered and endured assaults on their culture. Yet, they remain a strong and united culture because, for generations, they have passed on the stories that make up their national identity.

The Games will end, but we have an obligation to keep the stories alive.

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