An Olympics to remember
Months later, Canadians are still basking in the glow of the 2010 Vancouver Games. According to Maclean’s columnist Andrew Coyne, the Olympics unleashed a “massive, almost cathartic banshee yell of national pride” felt throughout the country.
Some of the loudest yelling was emanating from McGill.
From the start, members of the McGill community were instrumental in putting together the Vancouver Games. Chancellor emeritus Richard Pound, BCom’62, BCL’67, a longtime mover-and-shaker on the International Olympic Committee, was a key member of the board of directors for the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympics (VANOC). Ward Chapin, BA’75, VANOC’s chief information officer, had the Herculean task of overseeing the massive technology infrastructure required to support the biggest international event on the planet.
At the opening ceremonies, astronaut Julie Payette, BEng’86, DSc’03, was part of a distinguished group of Canadians (among them, Romeo Dallaire, Anne Murray, Bobby Orr and Donald Sutherland) who carried the Olympic flag into B.C. Place, while k.d. lang’s shivers-down-your-spine rendition of “Hallelujah” (a song by Leonard Cohen, BA’55, DLitt’92) won’t soon be forgotten.
McGill management student Jenn Heil earned Canada’s first medal of the Olympics, a silver in women’s moguls. Strangely, McGill is sort of responsible for the fact that Heil didn’t place first in her event. The gold medalist was American Hannah Kearney, whose parents, Jill Gass, BEd’79, and Tom Kearney, MA’79, met at McGill.
Heil wouldn’t be the only McGillian to medal. The Canadian women’s hockey team captured the gold thanks, in part, to the contributions of a formidable McGill Martlets contingent—goaltenders Charline Labonté (a physical education student) and Kim St-Pierre, BEd’05, blueliner Catherine Ward, BCom’09, and assistant coach Peter Smith, BEd’79, MA’86.
And, sometimes, McGill grads played a pivotal role getting other people to the podium. Kosar Khwaja, MDCM’99, MSc’04, the director of clinical teaching for trauma services at the McGill University Health Centre, was part of the VANOC medical team for the Whistler-based events—other members included Greg Berry, MDCM’91, Pierre Guy, MDCM’89, and Tarek Razek, MDCM’93. While tending to various neck and knee injuries, Khwaja encountered one of the most memorable athletes of the 2010 Games—Slovenian cross-country skier Petra Majdic, who, incredibly, placed third in her event despite puncturing a lung and breaking four ribs. Following her race, she sought treatment.
“She told us she wasn’t going to miss her medal ceremony,” says Khwaja. “She could hardly breathe. I said, ‘You can’t leave like this.’ She said, ‘I am leaving.’ It became a negotiation. We took her to the ceremony in an ambulance and, as soon as she got her medal, we took her right back in the ambulance.”
While Canadians cheered for all their Olympians at the Games, there was little doubt about which event mattered the most. Mike Babcock, BEd’86, coach of the Canadian men’s hockey team, knew he would have to contend with second-guessers from coast to coast if his charges faltered. Babcock’s players won a nail-bitingly close victory over their U.S. rivals in the gold medal game, a victory that established a new Olympic record as Canada became the first country to win 14 gold medals at a Winter Games. Babcock wore his not-so-secret weapon at the game—his lucky red McGill tie, which promptly became a red-hot fashion accessory and a Facebook and YouTube star.
Finally, at the closing ceremonies, William Shatner, BCom’54, delivered the shout-out of shout-outs, expressing his pride for his alma mater before an estimated television audience of a billion or so.
In the words of Montreal Gazette columnist Peggy Curran, “McGill University owned the [Olympics] podium on closing day.”
Hard to argue with that.
Daniel McCabe, BA’89