I hadn't watched television in a week, but Saturday night was a great time to start. Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield had about two kilometres left in the Olympic debut race of the sport. He was in second place when I turned on the TV and looked certain to finish there. But Whitfield had something in him that none of the other athletes did: a final 200-metre sprint that would lead him to victory.
It was a sight that may just go down as one of the greatest in Canadian Olympic history. Whitfield sprinted past Germany's Stephan Vuckovic, and crossed the finish line with his arms in the air, tears in his eyes and smiling ear to ear. Vuckovic, who had a stranglehold on the gold until the final 250 metres, cried tears of joy, spinning in circles, fists pumping in the air, as he finished in second place.
In today's sports world, it is rare to see an athlete display such an intense level of emotion. It was a real and true scene to see athletes crying for their sport, not for their money. To see athletes completing their lifelong quests and not their temporary contracts. Usually, when I turn on the television, I see news about the latest contract holdout, or a bench-clearing brawl by a bunch of over-paid, out of shape baseball players, or even the latest murder suspect in the National Football League. Society has not lost the essence of sport but television rarely displays it.
At the amateur level, sport can be seen at its best, featuring challenge, competition and even displays of emotion. Watching pro football on television may very well entertain, but it will not put tears in your eyes and it will not make you proud to be Canadian. It will not capture the attention of everyone in the house, and it will not make you proud to be you. Somehow it is just easier to be proud of Simon Whitfield crying on the Olympic podium than it is to take pride in Deion Sanders high-stepping into the end zone while he holds the ball out to mock an outstretched opponent.
If you think there are no role models left in Canadian sport today, look no further than Whitfield. He may just come out of the Sydney Olympics as the Canadian hero, and unlike past Canadian heroes such as Donovan Bailey and Ross "the reefer" Rebagliatti, Whitfield may also serve to be a role model and a great spokesman for our Country. Whitfield seems to be a genuine person; he gave credit to his fellow competitors, he gave credit to his country and he said of the gold, "Just what I owed Canada."