Last week Hughes (below) checked out a few of the Canadians she had led into these Games, and took away something from each: from skeleton rider Jon Montgomery, his sheer love for the sport; from ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the ability to tap deep to find one's best; from figure skater Joannie Rochette, competing right after her mother's death, the realization, Hughes said, that "if she could do that, with all that pain and sorrow," surely Clara herself could deliver in her final event after two decades of competition, the 5,000 meters.
But contentment came not from the bronze medal she won in her finale. It came instead, at 37, from the seven minutes on the ice during which, she said, "I brought my very best." As if to rebuke the medal-grubbing premise of Canada's Own the Podium program, she pronounced it impossible to quantify "all those young people out there, learning and being inspired." That would be Hughes, even as she left, tracing one last interlocking circle.
WHITE ON WHITE
Snow was relatively sparse in Vancouver during the Olympics, but the city and its environs were covered in a blanket of white nonetheless. The Winter Games are overwhelmingly populated by Caucasians, which made an African-American like me feel not so much like a minority, but a rarity.
That feeling was fed by the way a few spectators, though unfailingly friendly, regarded me as another sight to see on their Olympic tour. Sometimes they were disappointed that I wasn't as exotic a find as they had expected. In Starbucks one morning a woman in a red Canada sweatshirt asked me hopefully if I was the Jamaican skier she had heard about. Her face fell when she discovered I was just another guy from the States. A couple from Great Britain didn't care that I wasn't the genuine article—they asked me to pose for a picture in front of Jamaican House, a restaurant in Whistler, anyway.
A FULL KRAMER
Dutch speedskater Sven Kramer was leading the 25-lap 10,000 meters (a race he had not lost in four years) when his coach, Gerard Kemkers, mistakenly shouted for him to switch from the outer lane to the inner one. Kramer complied, and after finishing four seconds ahead of his closest competitor, he raised his arms in triumph. But when he next passed Kemkers on his cool-down lap, his coach told him he'd been disqualified for a lane violation. In his reflexive anger, Kramer, who had won the 5,000 a week earlier, flung his goggles then said he couldn't "do anything else" but blame Kemkers. The disaster sprawled across headlines in the skating-mad Netherlands, knocking the resignation of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende off the front page. One Dutch journalist said that a pure blunder would from here forth be known as "a Kramer or a Kremkers."
In the calm of passing hours, Kramer chilled out and decided he would keep skating with his coach. "I don't want to blame anyone," he said. "These things can happen to the best."