By Dr. CHRISTOPHER J. MORGAN
I love the Olympic Games – summer and winter. I must admit my interest in the winter games really heightened Since Vancouver 2010. I love the performances, the excitement, the surprise victories, but most of all I love the compelling stories behind the athletes and the teams.
There are many teachable points to garner from these Olympic stories for those of us, young and old. What it takes to make a dream a reality? Belief, hard work, perseverance, support of family, coaches and teammates are all necessary to help one overcome the injuries, doubts, sacrifice, in order to experience both the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Following Canada’s best ever Winter Olympic performance in Vancouver 2010 winning 26 medals (14 Gold, 7 Silver, 5 Bronze) leading into Sochi 2014 the Canadian Olympic Committee set the ambitious goal of becoming the world’s best winter sport nation.
Now that I have young children who are becoming more and more involved in sports, the Olympic Games with its showcase of the world’s best athletes in a variety of different disciplines is a fantastic way to share my love for sports and athletics with them; an opportunity to educate myself and them on the different sports, to be inspired by the performances and of course to express some national pride.
It’s fun watching my children enjoy the games. I recall one Saturday afternoon watching speed and figure skating with my wife and children, cheering on the Canadian athletes, having the children locate on the atlas the nation of the competitors, and watching them being truly impressed by the speed, grace and beauty of the performances. The following day after church we went ice skating and my eldest daughter and son spent the whole time racing as fast as they can around the track like Canadian Olympic speed skater Charles Hamelin, while my second daughter was busy trying to spin like Tessa Virtue. I must admit they were not the only ones out there trying to become Olympians. Dreams can take root in these precious moments.
Not unlike the origin of arguably Canada’s greatest athlete, Clara Hughes. Hughes is the only athlete in history to win multiple medals in both the summer and winter games. She has won six Olympic medals – two bronze in cycling and four medals (one gold, one silver and two bronze) in speed skating.
I recently heard a radio interview in which Hughes said she was inspired to begin skating after watching Canadian Olympic speed skater Gaetan Boucher compete in the 1988 Winter Olympics. Boucher won gold medals in the 1000 m and 1500 m events and became the first Canadian male to win an individual gold medal at the Winter Olympics.
For Hughes, that dream-setting moment transformed her life forever. By that time she was 16 years old, she was spending more time out of class than in class, and she was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day since she was in grade 7, drinking and partying. Today, not only is she an outstanding athlete, and Order of Canada recipient, she is also the National Spokesperson for Bell Canada’s Mental Health initiative and the ‘Let’s Talk’ campaign. By sharing her past struggles with depression, she helps break down the stigma associated with mental illness.
Arguably one of the most well-known Sochi 2014 stories, certainly for Canadians, was the act of true charity and sportsmanship by Canadian speed skater Gilmore Junio. Junio, who was in Sochi to compete in the 500- and 1000-metre men’s short track speed skating, graciously gave up his position in the 1000-metre race to teammate Denny Morrison. Morrison won a silver medal in the 1,000 in Turin 2006, but suffered a broken leg and other major injuries in 2013 and qualified as an alternate in Sochi after clipping his heels and falling at the Canadian trails in December. After accepting teammate and friend Gilmore Junio’s offer Morrison went on to win the silver medal in the 1000 meter in Sochi. When asked why he gave up his spot, Junio said it was easy, “you always want your best face-off man in the circle…. it was our best chance for a medal”.
Another inspiring but possibly less known Sochi story is that of Aboriginal Canadian Ted Nolan. As Head Coach of the Latvian National Men’s Hockey Team, Nolan was the driving force and heart behind this team’s success in Sochi advancing to the quarter-finals, pushing the powerhouse Canadian Men’s Hockey Team all the way to overtime before the Canadians scored to win 1 to 0.
When the Latvian players were asked about their team’s surprising success in Sochi they all credited their coach, Ted Nolan. “He believes in us….so we believe in ourselves” one player said. Another said: “Everyday he tells us ‘you’re one hell of team’.”
Nolan’s story is inspirational, as the tenth of 12 children, he grew up on Garden River Reserve near Sault Ste. Marie and when he and his brother first played hockey they could not be on the ice at the same time because they had to share the one helmet and pair of gloves. Nolan went on to play three seasons in the National Hockey League and coach several teams and won coach of the year award.
Then there is the story of Hubertus von Hohenlohe of Mexico, the only Olympic athlete in Sochi from Mexico. Von Hohenlohe is competing in his sixth winter Olympic games in slalom skiing and at 55 years of age, he is the second oldest Winter Olympian in history. He hopes to inspire other Mexicans to pursue their dreams and said in an interview, “following your dreams is even more important than achieving them because many people won’t fulfill them”.
Last but not least and, arguably, one of the most endearing stories and a crowd favourite, the much anticipated return of the Jamaican Bobsled team. The team has been a winter attraction since 1988, the year it made its Olympic debut in Calgary. The team returned to the Winter Games in 1992, 1994, 1998 and 2002 but failed to qualify again until this year.
The two-man Jamaican bobsleigh team comprised of driver Winston Watts and brake man Marvin Dixon faced hurdles every step of the way. After finally qualifying to compete in Sochi, days before the games they didn’t have enough money to cover travel and equipment expenses. Fortunately, with the last minute assistance of sponsor Samsung Mobile and thousands of fans from around the world, they were able to raise $178,000, which was more than what they expected.
Once in Sochi, Watts and Dixon had to deal with an airline losing their gear causing them to miss out on a day of training. When their equipment finally arrived they quickly got ready for the competition. Veteran bob sledge driver Winston Watts said: “We want to go out there and show the world that we are still around, that we are still competitors. You always hear people at events, and over in Europe asking, ‘Hey, where is the Jamaican bobsleigh team?’.”
The Jamaicans finished 29th in the Two-man Bobsleigh and reminded the world that despite the challenges they are indeed still around and they are competitors.
At the close of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Canada ranked third with a total of 25 medals (10 Gold, 10 Silver, 5 Bronze). Yet, the inspiring stories and performances will continue with the start of the Sochi 2014 Paralympics Games March 7 -16. This international, multi-sport event involves athletes with a range of physical and intellectual disabilities competing at the highest level. It reminds me of my memorable involvement many years ago with the Special Olympics Team Africa Committee as we helped to raise funds for the athletes and coordinate their stay in Toronto and cheer them on in their various competitions.
We all have dreams, let’s inspire and be inspired.
Dr. Christopher J. Morgan is the director of Morgan Chiropractic & Wellness, an interdisciplinary health centre in Toronto, and the Past President of the Black Health Alliance, a network of community organizations, health professionals and community members working in partnership to advance the health and well-being of the Black community. He can be reached at 416-447-7600 or firstname.lastname@example.org