In a digital age, picking a single iconic moment out of a year’s worth of Canadian sports is almost an impossible task.
They’re captured in GIFs and vines and on Snapchat and Periscope, distributed among many – not so much a single point as an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of images that sometimes have nothing to do with winning and losing.
Penny Oleksiak is Canada’s athlete of the year, hands down. But I have trouble summoning up an instantly recognizable moment from her amazing Rio Games, despite having had the privilege to be there over a week of late nights to cover her historic performance in the Olympic pool up close.
For the resolutely teenaged Oleksiak, it wasn’t one moment, actually, as it literally was a collection, like the four gold, silver and bronze pieces that ended up hanging around her neck. There was no split-second image; instead, in the case of her gold medal 100-metre swim, 25 seconds or so upon its conclusion in which time didn’t exactly stand still but was held in abeyance. Over the course of nearly half a minute, a spectrum covering intense effort, elation, confusion and exhaustion hung in the air as Oleksiak slowly, finally turned to look at the clock – and flashed an emphatic OMG smile you could see all the way from the opposite end of the stadium and back home in Toronto on TV.
It was a rare Olympic dead-heat, and the moment that Canada waits for at these quadrennials, with the Maple Leaf going up and O Canada playing, was in this case part of a dual celebration with two anthems and two flags – and countless hugs.
There’s no single moment in there. Andre De Grasse trailing home the remarkable Usain Bolt is the one image that comes closest, during their final encounter on Rio’s Olympic Stadium track that was this year’s highest-rated Games broadcast.
But this was an Olympics, too, in which women came up big for Canada, delivering unforgettable results and accompanying images: Jen Kish’s embrace of her dad at the end of women’s rugby’s coming-out party; gold-medal wrestler Erica Wiebe completing her comeback by parading over the mat with her coach on her shoulders; and perhaps most of all, Christine Sinclair, a lioness in the Brazilian winter, scoring the goal that clinched a second bronze medal on the trot for Canada’s soccer side.
Outside of the Olympics’ powerful pull and into the meat and potatoes of the pros, Bismack Biyombo posed, and Edwin Encarnacion froze with arms upraised. Sidney Crosby skated around with the Stanley Cup again held high. Henry Burris put Calgary and Bad Hank to bed.
But it’s not just technology and a lengthy passing parade that’s turning this stock-taking into a blurry collage. The one thing we can say going forward is we’ll be seeing more, and likely much more, from Canadian athletes in years to come. The year 2016, so thick in anger and sadness, heralded a wave of young sportsmen and sportswomen wearing the Maple Leaf, some not even out of their teenage years. Oleksiak and De Grasse will carry the standard going forward, but Brooke Henderson, Connor McDavid, Deanne Rose et al are right behind them … they’re going to give us moments again. Finding just one will be even harder.