One night before, another sport on ice – though a rather different one – had stoked national passions between the two North American neighbors. Then, in a game where two-thirds of all Canadians were watching, each body check boomed of backyard bragging rights.
But what happened in the ice dancing final Monday was something altogether different, and perhaps even more amazing. For a night, it seemed, the 48th parallel disappeared and we were not two brotherly nations, but brothers.
Technically, Virtue and Moir won gold for Canada and Davis and White won silver for the United States. Yet they were our medals. We were all winners. And not because there were no judging controversies or because North Americans had just won their first gold medal in ice dancing.
An exhibition of ecstatic skating
Would Virtue and Moir have skated a program of such brilliance – a beauty that even the most hard-hearted American Olympic imperialist could not help but applaud – if Davis and White had not done the same thing just minutes before?
It happened just so. Davis and White, placed second going into the free skate, went first in the final group of five pairs. The moment they were finished, the Pacific Coliseum knew that gold was not going to come easily for Virtue and Moir.
Davis’s and White’s skate was a gold medal-worthy performance with any number of moments that could have become that moment – the one image that becomes synonymous with the sublime for a generation.
And that is what made what Virtue and Moir did so striking. In an Olympics where so many Canadians have faltered in front of their nation, Virtue and Moir rose on its shoulders.
When they first stepped onto the ice to perform, Virtue and Moir skated almost an entire lap of the rink, hand in hand, Moir chatting pleasantly to his partner as if they were strolling down Robson Street, window shopping on a Sunday afternoon.
Enjoy this, he seemed to be saying. And they did. And Canada did.
And surely America did, too.
Two pairs, and two nations, intertwined
Would either of the pairs – American or Canadian – have been on the podium had they not shared the same training rink in suburban Detroit, pushing each other, day after day, to become the best two ice-dancing pairs in the world?
For a wonderful night of skating, Great White North and Uncle Sam’s south were united by the intimacy of the bond between the athletes that represented them.
As we know, figure skating is theater. But there was no artifice in the happiness – the sheer, unfeigned joy – that both silver and gold medalists had for each other’s success.
The cliché that did not need to be said was expressed far more beautifully in every look and embrace:
If we couldn’t win, we would have wanted it to be you.
Winning with you on the podium, too, makes it a perfect night.
Sometimes the Olympic spirit seems manufactured – a selling point as much as an ideal. But more often, it is genuine. At its core, it is the celebration of the unvarnished values of sport: inspiration, determination, and skill.
Virtue and Moir, Davis and White expressed it innately in their performances and their sportsmanship Monday, and it made even Americans wish they knew the words to Canada’s national anthem.
“With glowing hearts,” the lyrics say – an excerpt that has been adopted as the motto of these Games.
Monday night, that was something everyone could understand.