The dust is settling after the Winter Games. We did think of reflecting on the Canadian performances in x-c skiing, but our thoughts evaporated… like xenon. There is no point commenting on athletes who do not compete on a level playing field. So instead, we would like to share our favorite story about those Games. There are tons of great stories during Olympic Games, but for us, this one tops them all.
Colleague Jean-François Poirier is an ace reporter with Radio-Canada Sports. Jean-François has been covering the Canadian women’s Olympic hockey team since Vancouver in 2010. You are about to read in detail how this journalist ended up being involved in an amazing inspirational story, one that involves the flag bearers at the closing ceremonies, Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse.
«On the day of the gold medal game between Canada and the US, after the morning skate, I was to meet with Catherine Ward and Danielle Goyette at the arena for a pre-game interview to be broadcasted just before the game, recalls Jean-François. Caroline Ouellette walked by (ed. note : in the mixed zone. During OG, journalists are not allowed in the dressing rooms. Athletes are brought to them in this designated area). She was not in my plans, I had interviewed her the day before, but since she was the captain, I thought I’d talk with her again.
«At some point I ask her, you’re the new captain, it will be your first time wearing the «C» in a final, did you prepare a different/special speech for the girls? After a four year preparation for this big, crucial game, I expected an affirmative answer. She said “No, I don’t have a speech, somebody else did one in my place. Last night, we all got together to strengthen our team spirit one last time before the final, and we watched the final in bobsleigh between the Americans and the Canadians. Heather Moyse and Kaillie Humphries did my speech. They came from behind to win in an incredible way. We were all behind them, encouraging them, and that was such a strong, emotional moment for us. Plus they had just beaten the Americans! So I don’t have a speech, THAT’S my speech! Tonight, we will approach our game just like Heather and Kaillie did with their last two runs”.
«I went back to the IBC (International Broadcast Center) to prepare the pre-game show. I picked that quote from Caroline for my live report 10 minutes before the game.
«Before heading back to the Bolchoi for the bronze medal game, I spotted Heather Moyse in the CBC-Radio-Canada area inside the IBC, probably just after giving an interview to the CBC. I knew Humphries wouldn’t be far either. I had met Heather in Montreal when the Canadian team was presented to the media. I know nothing about bobsleigh but I was sent to that press conference and she did an interview in french for me. Her french is a lot better then what she thinks it is!
«It was the first time I was seeing her since. I walked up to her and asked her if she remembered me. She did. I explained to her that I had seen Caroline Ouellette that morning. “Are you aware that the Canadian team is using you, Kaillie and you, as inspiration for tonight’s final?” She said “No, I haven’t heard anything about that.” I explained the story to her, and Caroline saying “I don’t need to make a speech, those two girls talked in my place”, because you guys made a spectacular comeback, and that created a very strong bond within their team.
«She got tears in her eyes, put her hand on her chest and said “Oh wow! I know Caroline, we see each other sometimes in Calgary. I’m very touched that’s how they feel”.
«That’s when I got the idea. Would you like to send them a message because I’m going back to the arena and I could try to pass it on to them. Of course you could tweet but there’s nothing like a written message on a piece of paper. She was thrilled. She said yes right away, “It’s a great idea!” She was waiting for Kaillie and was sure she would want to sign that too.
«I left her with a pen and paper while I went on air for a live hit at the 5 o’clock news. When I got out of the studio, they were gone, but they had left the message to my attention.
There are ups and downs in every race/game, but we are proof that if you keep believing in the possibilities, results can be golden. Own it! The ice is yours! Fight ’til the bitter end! Smiles.. .. Heather and Kaillie
«When I read that I thought, wow! I have to find a way to get that to the team! But I wanted to give it directly to the girls, not through the PR, with all due respect. I made a copy of the message for my use in the pre-game show.
«I got to the Bolchoi and headed for the mixed zone, the only place I would have a chance to catch one of them if they happened to pass by, because the mixed zone was not adjacent to the dressing rooms. As I show up, who do I see? Hayley Wickenheiser! followed by Francis Dupont, the PR man. She’s headed to the end of the zone for a (very quick) interview with NBC, so I know she’ll have to walk by me on her way back.
«I called out to her when she passed by: “Hayley! I have something for you!” The PR objected: no more interviews now, etc. “No interviews Francis, I just need to give her something important.” He still objected but Hayley stopped and looked at me (she’s seen me around the team plenty). I knew I had 15-20 seconds, no more. I asked her: “The team watched the bobsleigh races last night?” She said yes. “I talked to Caroline and she said you were inspired by Heather and Kaillie?” She nodded. “Well, here is a message from both of them to the team.”
«She took it, read it. I could see she was very stressed out, very nervous about the game. She was in her own zone. She did not see anything like that coming to her less than two hours from the game. Especially from a guy not directly related to the team. She folded the paper in two, looked at me straight in the eyes, said thank you and walked away.
With 5 minutes left in the game, Canada was trailing 2-0. Lead by Marie-Philip Poulin, the girls made the most spectacular comeback in women’s hockey history. Those who watched closely will have noticed that every girl interviewed after the game said that she never stopped believing in the team, in the fact that they could win this game. Just like Kaillie and Heather the day before.
After the game, Jean-François was of course at the mixed zone for interviews. «We were live (on air) and I saw Hayley but I had to concentrate on the francophone players as we were live on Radio-Canada. When Caroline Ouellette showed up, there was a commercial break on. I had 15 seconds left before interviewing her live. I showed her my copy of the letter and asked her if she knew anything about that. “Of course! she said. Hayley read that to us before the game!”
«Then we’re back on live. I told the story, read the message, and the captain confirmed that to have that message read to the team just before the game was a double shot of inspiration for the whole team. “We were being told to never give up and we got right in that situation with five minutes left in the game!”, said Caroline.
Would the Canadians have won the game without that message? Of course they would. But any elite athlete will tell you this : when it comes down to the crucial race or game or moment of the crucial race or game, when they’re fighting with their team or they’re on their own hitting the «wall», they will catch and hold on to anything that can inspire them.
When Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse won the gold medal in the most resilient fashion, they had no idea how much their toughness would be the seed of greatness to the national women’s hockey team. In fact, they’ve inspired a whole nation.
Close our eyes. Start dreaming. That dream can come true.