Olympic moments

Last week, the Olympic torch was wildly cheered by throngs as it wound its way through numerous Manitoba communities. In Winnipeg, 20,000 people lined the downtown route to the Legislative Building and at The Forks to catch a glimpse of the torch that will be  used to ignite the flame signalling commencement of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games next month. The enthusiasm was equalled in Manitoba towns ranging from Churchill to Gimli to Steinbach.

As the torch warmed the spirits of those gathered in the cold, the Royal Canadian Mint announced it was releasing a newly-minted quarter commemorating the unprecedented Olympic accomplishment of Winnipeg speed-skater Cindy Klassen during the Turin Winter Olympic Games in 2006.

In Turin, Italy, Klassen won the gold medal in the 1,500-metre race, silver medals in the 1,000-metre race and in the team pursuit, as well as bronze medals in the 5,000-metre and 3,000-metre races. This extraordinary accomplishment led IOC president Jacques Rogge to name Klassen the “Woman of the Games.”

“I recall the 2006 Winter Olympic Games for the pride Canadians felt as they watched Cindy Klassen sweep around the Torino Oval Lingotto and grace the podium on five separate occasions,” said Ian E. Bennett, president and CEO of the Royal Canadian Mint. 

The coin is being produced at the  Winnipeg Mint. Up to 22-million 25-cent coins featuring Cindy Klassen entered circulation on January 5. In a unique twist, three million of the coins were produced in colour and inserted randomly into circulation coin rolls.

The coins are available exclusively at RBC branches and participating Petro-Canada locations. Participating Petro-Canada locations will also sell sport cards, containing a uniquely painted version of the coin for $7.95.

Designed by Burlington, Ontario artist Jason Bouwman, the coin features Klassen in a familiar speed skating pose on the backdrop of a maple leaf. The words “Cindy Klassen,” the year “2006” and the logo of the Canadian Olympic Committee also appear on the reverse of the coin. 

The three-million coloured 25-cent coins, which were produced using state-of-the-art patented technology, feature the maple leaf in brilliant red.

Although Klassen's medal haul at the Turin Games was unprecedented in Canadian history — no Canadian has won so many medals at one Olympic Game, summer or winter — her achievement was only voted by fans as the No. 3  of 10 all-time Canadian Winter Olympic Games moments in an online contest hosted last year by the Mint and Canada's Olympic Broadcast Media Consortium. 

In hockey-mad Canada, the fans opted to declare the men’s and women’s hockey gold medals at Salt Lake City in 2002 as moments No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. The 25-cent circulation coins celebrating these moments entered into circulation on September 29, 2009, and November 17, 2009.

Since hockey is the top-echelon sport for Canadians, the  nation’s first gold in men’s hockey in 50 years undoubtedly explained its designation as the No. 1 moment. In Salt Lake City, the Canadian men’s team of NHL all-stars defeated the United States’ NHL all-stars 5-2. 

It was at Salt Lake City, Utah that the loonie — dubbed the “Lucky Loonie” — was secretly buried at centre ice, which has contributed to the mythology surrounding the victory and is now indelibly linked to hockey success in the minds of Canadians. Since the presence of the “Lucky Loonie” was revealed after the 5-2 victory, the tradition has arisen to bury a “Lucky Loonie” at centre ice during international hockey competitions, including the recent International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Men’s Hockey Championship held in Saskatoon. Unfortunately, the loonie’s  luck was not with the Canadians who suffered a 6-5 overtime defeat at the hands of the Americans. The Salt Lake City “Lucky Loonie” is now on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

That it took a hard-fought effort for the Canadian women to defeat the U.S. 3-2 in the hockey final explains the victory’s designation as the No. 2 moment. Etched in the minds of Canadians is the fact that the women overcame a multitude of penalties in the first period en route to the gold medal.

No.4 on the list is the gold won by Jamie Salé and David Pelletier at Salt Lake City in figure skating. Originally they had received the silver medal, but the next day, the French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne admitted she had been pressured into awarding the long program to the Russians in exchange for a first-place vote for the French ice-dancing team. The scandal ultimately resulted in the suspension of several judges and officials, and Le Gougne’s vote was discarded, leaving the long program a tie. Salé and Pelletier were awarded gold medals in a special ceremony later in the week.

There was no controversy when Catriona Le May Doan won the 500-metre speed-skating gold medal in Olympic-record time at Salt Lake City, earning her the title of “Fastest Woman on Ice.” 

Le May Doan also won the Olympic 500-metre title at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. 

No. 6 is Clara Hughes for her speed-skating gold medal at Turin in 2006; No. 7 is Nancy Greene, who captured gold and silver skiing medals at Grenoble in 1968; No. 8 is Gaétan Boucher, who won two speed-skating gold medals and a bronze at Sarajevo in 1984; No. 9 is Beckie Scott, who won cross-country gold at Salt Lake City, and the No. 10 moment is Marc Gagnon’s short-track speed-skating gold medal at Salt Lake City.

The Mint is also launching its 2010 Lucky Loonie coin on the first day of the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games on February 12, while the 25-cent coin featuring the sport of sledge hockey will be launched during the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Games on March 18.

Manitoba will be represented by 14 athletes during the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, giving local residents more incentive to cheer.