Red heart thumping… what a prideful experience!

Vancouver is a sea of red and white. Whistler is the same; in fact, stores have sold out of the red mitts and scarves and there’s a hot market for anyone with extras.

And certainly the Canadian ski world was on its ‘boots’ when Alexandre Bilodeau and his remarkable family story, made history with our country’s first gold medal on our own turf.

Olympic fever is running high across the country, but is at its peak on Robson Street in downtown Vancouver and on the village streets at Whistler Blackcomb.

Two columns ago I told you the story of my son’s hopeful but unsuccessful attempt to trade his Nagano CBS Olympic gear for that of his father’s native land, Latvia. It was a treasured uniform for the country’s first Olympic athlete since Latvia gained its independence in 1992 and it was not being relinguished!

And now, filled to the brim with national enthusiasm from a week at the Olympics, I’m here to share first hand how high spirits are in British Columbia’s Olympic centres. Of course, people have their favourites but I have focussed on sports I know little about, and made attempts to learn more.

We went to the women’s skeleton heat events at Whistler… not an easy thing to attend. Hundreds of us up a gondola, walking up stairs and ramps and walkways, getting scanned and zapped through security stations (just like the airport) and herded in to stand at the sliding centre where lugers, bobsledders, and skeleton racers reach speeds that are illegal on our roads! Little whiz-bangs zipping past… blurs on the camera for sure.

The pleasant, enthusiastic family of Canada-favoured Melissa Hollingsworth, their banners held high, was a real treat during our skeleton lesson. And when this lovely young woman shed tears at missing a podium title, the crowd cheered her on. It’s hard to even fathom losing a medal by 8/100ths of a second!!!!

But, for my first husband (who’s working for CTV at Whistler) and I, the supreme race was the men’s skeleton event. Two Latvian brothers, Martins and Tomass Dukurs were pitted against European racers, all from countries with vast sliding experience. And out of nowhere, having started the sport in 2003, came the affable, very human Jon Montgomery, who grabbed the gold medal and the hearts of everyone near him.

As Jon was being interviewed after his final heat, he was thrilled to be a gold medalist, but deferred to Latvian Martins Dukurs as the superior skeleton racer. Our iphone (me) and blackberry (him) were buzzing with friends’ comments: “Latvians and Canadians on the same podium!” Who to cheer for? Well, both, of course! A blended patriotism that pays homage to my husband’s birth country and lets us really experience love of nation in the country that nurtures us.

When you spend a week immersed in this culture, where Olympic games, competition angles, split second wins, and tragic losses, it’s not so much about the winning. When you watch a losing Canadian skier embrace a friend, a winning Finnish skier, or a winning Korean speedskater, it becomes apparent that for these athletes, the boundaries are blurred by love of sport and appreciation of excellence. Throughout the week, people were passionately moaning about American Lindsey Vonn’s ill-fated ski catch on the slalom races; they were appreciative of athletic excellence that was not Canada’s in the men’s speed skating events. There was such a cheer for just excellence, and in it all, a love of red!

And here’s the thing. You, right here in Barrie, have a better view of every single event, captured for you in your living room on that television set that brings it all home. But being in the luge park, surrounded by hundreds of people from all over the world, looking at the flags flying the pride of nations, it’s the feeling, the energy, the connectedness to humanity that is the most thrilling.

I’ll be glued to the Closing Ceremonies at 8:30 Sunday evening. And as we let our hearts soar over our country and the achievements of athletic excellence from around the globe, our ceremonies will turn our eyes to Russia, host of the next Winter Olympics.

An event not to be missed, for sure!