Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's enough to make a grown man cry

These Olympics can be emotionally draining

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Lying on the couch in my den watching the Sochi Winter Games, I have had an Olympic-size flash of insight.

I have come to realize it's not about the gold medals. OK, it's partly about the gold medals, but it's mostly about the hugs. And the kisses, too.

I have started to feel this way because as I relax in the dark on the ratty old couch in the den, staring up at the big-screen TV, my wife is typically parked directly behind me on the new, stylish couch.

Whereas I am a guy and therefore not typically given to open displays of emotion during major sporting events, my wife is one of those people who is easily reduced to a puddle of tears by the beauty and majesty of even obscure events such as parallel snowboarding, let alone major events such as ice dancing.

"Oh, what a beautiful twizzle by that Latvian dancer," my wife will frequently gush. "Sniff!"

I do not personally know the difference between a twizzle and a double salchow, but even so, I will on occasion let my emotions get the best of me. "Oh, what a beautiful move Sidney Crosby just put on that Swedish defender," I have been known to whisper. "Sniff!"

The point I am trying to make is the Sochi Games have been even more emotionally draining than your standard Olympics. Fortunately, we keep an industrial-size box of tissues in the den.

For instance, on Day 3, there we were on our respective couches, watching with true patriot love as Canadian short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin powered his way to a gold medal in the men's 1,500 metres.

Before the race was over, the cameras caught Hamelin's girlfriend and teammate, Marianne St-Gelais, who is as cute as a bug's ear but slightly smaller, with tears of joy and pride and love streaming down her face.

While it is possible I had a manly lump rising in my throat, my wife was experiencing a full-on weepy moment. "Ohhhhhh!" she squealed, dabbing at her own eyes. "She is sooooooo cute!"

Her misty eyes really began to overflow after the victory when Hamelin, draped in the Canadian flag, flung himself head-first over a barrier on the sidelines to wrap St-Gelais in his arms and plant several Olympic-calibre smooches on her lips.

In terms of Number of Tears Per Minute of Viewing (NTPMV), I had assumed that moment would be the emotional pinnacle of the evening's Olympic broadcast, but it turns out I was a fool.

A short time later, my wife was snivelling again as we watched Alexandre Bilodeau flip, flop and fly to gold in the men's moguls event, becoming the first Canadian to repeat as a gold medallist.

It wasn't so much watching Bilodeau make Olympic history that turned on the waterworks; it was the way he shared the glory and the joy with his personal hero, his brother, Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.

The bear hug the brothers shared at the Vancouver Games is etched in Canada's collective memory, but since then, Frederic's condition has worsened and it's reportedly difficult now for him to stand up.

Moments after capturing his second gold, we watched as Alex searched out his older brother, physically lifted him over a fence, then locked him up in his arms.

"How can you not love him?" my teary-eyed wife demanded, gazing at her Olympic hero.

But the real tears came even before the gold medal when we watched one of those mini-profiles on NBC wherein Bilodeau recalled a day when his brother had asked their mother if she felt he, too, could have been an Olympian if it weren't for the cruel burden of cerebral palsy.

It was at this point Bilodeau tried to tell NBC's cameras that Frederic, freed from his disability, would easily have won three times the gold medals Alex himself had won. He tried to say it several times, but each time the words refused to come, choked back by the power of his love for his brother, the man he calls his inspiration.

I waited for my wife to say something at this point, but she too had lost the power of speech. So I peeked behind me and saw a puddle of tears had replaced my wife on the couch.

Which is when she glanced at me and sniffed. "Are you crying, too?" the puddle wanted to know.

As you would expect, I am made of sterner stuff. "No," I grunted, quickly turning back to the TV. "I just accidentally poked myself in the eyeball with a taco chip."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2014 A2

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