'You can do more than you think'
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- With famous Canadian humor, Vancouver began Sunday's closing ceremonies to the Winter Olympics with a good laugh at its own expense.
A clown crawled out of a trapdoor in the center of the BC Place floor, plugged in two enormous electrical cables that exploded with sparks, and then mimed pulling a rope to raise the faulty fourth cauldron leg that stubbornly and infamously stayed down during the opening ceremonies. Catriona Le May Doan, who was awkwardly left without a leg to light on that first night, then appeared to finally receive her moment to light the cauldron anew.
It not only was a funny, clever, superb way to begin the ceremonies, it was the first time in history that a mime was actually entertaining.
There is much to remember from these Olympics. Lindsey Vonn used every remedy shy of leeches and copper bracelets to heal her shin, but nothing made her body feel quite so good as draping a gold medal around her neck for winning the downhill. Bode Miller made good on all those pre-Games predictions -- albeit four years later and half a world away from Torino -- when he won three Olympic medals, including his first gold.
Evan Lysacek ended Russia's hold on men's Olympic figure skating, even though Evgeni Plushenko still won't let go (give it up, Evgeni -- you lost). Korea's Yu-na Kim took women's figure skating to a new level (her score would have beaten U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott's performance in the men's competition). And Sidney Crosby added to his growing legend by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime of the gold-medal hockey game, a tense showdown that challenged hearts even more than a lifetime diet of poutine.
When Vancouver Olympic Committee CEO John Furlong mentioned the hockey victory during his closing remarks, a spontaneous roar filled the BC Place dome and forced him to stop speaking. Or perhaps that just was the noise from the public celebrations on Granville and Robson streets, where Canadians waved flags and broke into "O Canada" at every opportunity.
Like the cauldron itself, Canadian athletes took awhile to catch fire at these Games. But after the U.S. completely dominated the first week, Canada started winning almost everything the second week, including the all-important (in Canadian eyes, anyway) hockey gold. The host country finished with 14 gold medals, the most here, and 26 overall. The U.S. led the overall medal count with a record 37, including nine gold.
Or, at least, that's the official tally.
"If you're good at something, we will claim you. And since you competed here, that makes you Canadians, too," Michael J. Fox told all the athletes during the closing ceremonies. "Canada is my home and now it's your home, too. And that means the new home medal count is "
The closing ceremonies were a night for laughing. Unfortunately, these Olympics began with that terrible, horrifying moment when luger Nodar Kumaritashvili flew off the track to his death the morning of the opening ceremonies.
"To the people of Georgia, we are so sad and so sorry for your loss," Furlong said in his speech. "Your unimaginable grief is shared by every Canadian and of those who have gathered here. May the legacy of your favorite son, Nodar Kumaritashvili, never be forgotten and serve to inspire youth everywhere to be champions in life."
How do you put something like that into proper context while cheering athletes who slide down mountains, chase rubber pucks around the rink and skate across ice while wearing costumes Elton John would consider a little too outrageous? I don't know, other than that you go on with life and live it to its fullest.
So, you sing: Canadian music legend Neil Young performed "Long May You Run" as the torch was extinguished. You dance: Mounties, hockey players and lumberjacks high-kicked their legs around 15-foot-high inflatable beavers, 20-foot-high moose and giant table hockey figures while Michael Buble sang from a stage shaped like a giant RCMP hat (it's very doubtful we'll see anything like that in Sochi in 2014, or anywhere else, ever.) And you laugh at yourself: Comic actress Catherine O'Hara made her entrance with curlers sweeping her path while she howled, "Hurry! HARD!" and later alluded to the rainy conditions at these Games and the artificial flakes inside the dome by saying, "There may be more snow in the stadium than on the slopes."
You invite the world together, hand out party favors (the crowd wore moose antlers included in the closing ceremony welcome bag), pour some cold ones and celebrate life. Life in every land and at any age.
Fifty-one-year-old Hubertus Von Hohenlohe skied in his fifth Olympics here, 26 years after skiing in his first in Sarajevo. He is a lot slower now, but he was here and that's what matters.
"If you told me when I was 34 in Lillehammer that I would be racing at 51, I would have imagined I would be an old man with gray hair and a belly and all this," he said. "But I just kept going. The lesson is you can do much more than you think you can."
You can do more than you think.
That's what the Olympics remind us. Consider: In 1980, a very pregnant Helen Demong stood as near as she could get to the Lake Placid skating oval and cheered on Eric Heiden as he raced to his five gold medals at the Winter Olympics. A month later, she gave birth to a son, whom she named Billy. In 1998, Billy went to Nagano as a teenager on the U.S. Olympic team. He didn't get to march in the opening ceremonies, however, due to a snafu that kept him trapped too long at the accreditation center. This week, Demong won America's first gold medal in Nordic combined. After receiving his medal that evening, he proposed marriage to his girlfriend, and she accepted.
And Sunday evening, the boy who "attended" the 1980 Olympics in his mother's womb and grew up within a ski jump of Lake Placid, the athlete who missed the opening ceremonies of his first Olympics because of red tape, the man who won a gold medal in his fourth Olympics, carried the Stars and Stripes as his country's flagbearer, just as his hero, Heiden, did 30 years ago.
With enough work, enough dedication and enough desire (and perhaps enough of that Austrian cheese Vonn used on her shin), you can do more than you think.
The 2010 Games of Vancouver are over, the Olympic flag on its way to Sochi for the 2014 Olympics, and hopefully Plushenko will be willing to hand over that flag when those Games end and it's time to move on to the 2018 Games.
And perhaps, come 2034, another Demong will compete in the Winter Olympics (if there still is winter then).
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is at jimcaple.net.