Today, Canada is synonymous with winter sports. Our maple syrup-loving neighbors to the north are 5-to-1 odds to win the medal count at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. They’re the favorites in hockey and curling – both men’s and women’s. But things were different when Canada last hosted the Winter Olympics in Calgary in 1988.
In fact, when Canada last hosted the Winter Games…
1. Canada didn’t win a single gold medal on home soil… for the second time! That’s right, Canada has NEVER won a gold medal on home soil. Our neighbors to the north have hosted the Olympics twice: the Summer Games in Montreal in 1976 and the Winter Games in Calgary in 1988. Both times, they failed to bring home a gold. That makes Canada only the second country to not win gold on home soil in the Winter Olympics. The first time it happened was at the previous Winter Games in Yugoslavia in 1984.
2. Canada ranked 12th in the overall medal count with only 5 medals: 2 silver and 3 bronze. By comparison, at the 2006 Games in Torino, Canada ranked 5th with 24 medals: 7 gold, 10 silver and 7 bronze.
3. The Winter Games were extended to 16 days for the first time. That’s been the norm ever since.
4. The Soviet Union and East Germany were still countries. By the next Winter Games, these communist nations didn’t exist. East Germany reunited with West Germany in 1990 and the Soviet Union became the Russian Federation in 1991.
The Soviet Union and East Germany dominated. The sickle and hammer countries chiseled their athletic superiority into the history books by winning the most medals far and away. The USSR won 29 medals (including gold in Canada’s sport, hockey) while the GDR won 25. Their closest competitor was Switzerland with only 13 medals.
5. The Torch Relay was one of the longest in Olympic history. It spanned over 11,200 miles in 88 days.
6. A record number of nations were represented: 57. In 2006, 80 countries were represented.
7. Curling wasn’t a sport. Canada’s a favorite at the 2010 Winter Olympics, but in 1988 curling was only a demonstration sport. It didn’t become an official Olympic sport until 1998.
8. It was the first Winter Games for countries we usually don’t associate with winter sports: Guam, Guatemala, Fiji, Netherlands Antilles and everybody’s favorite fish-out-of-water, Jamaica.
9. The Jamaican Bobsled team debuted. Yes, “Cool Runnings,” the feel-good family-comedy of 1993, really did happen. The movie fictionalized most of what really happened, but it’s true that the team crashed and then famously walked to the finish line with the bobsled raised above their shoulders.
The Jamaican Bobsled team still isn’t very good — the highest they ever finished in an international competition was 14th — but who doesn’t love to root for the underdog? The team didn’t qualify for the 2006 Winter Games, and they were hoping to return to Canada where it all began… but they failed to qualify again. All those people who bought tickets to the Jamaican Bobsled Party House must be pissed.
10. Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards became a celebrity… for finishing last… twice. Edwards wasn’t just Great Britain’s lone competitor in ski jumping, he was also their first. Even though he was the best in England, he was the worst on the world stage. “The Eagle” came in dead last in both the 70m and 90m events.
But Eddie’s lack of talent led to great success. He made more money through endorsements and gained more international notoriety than any medal-winning ski jumper. “The Eagle” not only appeared on The Johnny Carson Show, he was also the first athlete in Olympic history to be mentioned in the closing ceremony.
Embarrassed by the celebration of failure, the IOC changed the entry requirements soon after the ’88 Games. Called “The Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Rule,” it ensures that only the top competitors in ski jumping are admitted to the Olympics so that unworthy athletes can no longer profit from epic failures. With the new rules in place, Edwards failed to qualify for the following three Olympics.
But this is an inspiring tale. It gives us hope. Hope that if guys like Eddie Edwards can suck so bad at ski jumping and William Hung can suck so bad at singing, but still become rich and famous, so can we!