The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics have come to a close following three weeks of excitement and memorable moments for participating athletes and countries. Even for those of us who were indignant about the anti-LGBT laws, animal brutality and astronomical costs, it was difficult not to get caught up in the swell of Canadian pride that builds with each new medal or heartwarming story. Having been lucky enough to attend Vancouver’s games four years ago, it was especially thrilling to see Canada’s brand continue to flourish on the international Olympic stage of competition and culture.
Mid-way through the games, BuzzFeed listed “10 Ways Canada Has Already Won The Winter Olympics” which focused on a number of feel-good moments including speed skating teammates Gilmore Junio and Denny Morrison, gold medallist Alex Bilodeau and his brother Frederic, the three Dufour-Lapointe sisters, cross-country skiing coach Justin Wadsworth lending a ski to a struggling Russian athlete, and in Canada, Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson proudly flying the Pride flag at city hall (as did many other cities). These incidents and many, many more were inspiring in their portrayal of athleticism, sportsmanship and, especially, the human spirit.
Some of these stories were also the focus of today’s “9 most shared memories of the games” by the Globe and Mail, another roundup of wonderful moments many of us experienced together.
Canada’s success in Sochi might be measured by the number of exciting outcomes (women’s hockey, curling and bobsled); hard-fought victories (men’s curling and hockey); grace in disappointment (Virtue and Moir, Patrick Chan); or the promise of emerging sports and young athletes (Mark McMorris, Dara Howell). It could be assessed by looking at our overall ranking by total medals (4th) or gold medals (3rd). Or as the result of the internationally respected leadership of pioneers such as the late Sarah Burke, Right to Play and mental health advocate Clara Hughes, and IOC representatives Beckie Scott (retiring) and Hayley Wickenheiser (newly elected).
For me, Canada’s Olympic success is the culmination of some great results, some meaningful moments and, most importantly, much humanity shown by our athletes, coaches, support staff, families and many Canadians in general. While Vancouver 2010 was the occasion for Canada to set the scene, Sochi has provided the opportunity to demonstrate further the beauty of the Canadian spirit.
From a communications perspective, the essence of the “Canada” brand could well be summarized as “excellence, integrity and commitment, combined with a sense of fun and a generous dose of nice.” What seems to appeal so broadly are these “Canadian” qualities that genuinely come through, time and again.
While some commentators, IOC officials and Vladimir Putin, himself, are declaring that Sochi has been a great success and that Russia is the “winner” of the games – given the full story, this doesn’t really ring true.
Following Vancouver, Canada’s international brand grew even stronger in Sochi. In contrast, Russia’s Olympic legacy represents a much more complex conundrum. Lacking authenticity, and without values that resonate internationally, it seems that Putin’s “New Russia” brand will continue to be fraught with contradiction and controversy. This is especially so as all eyes now focus on the situation in Ukraine.
Dawn Charlton, Iris Strategic Communications & Marketing
Photo: Canadian and world ice dancing champions and 2010 gold medallists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, receiving their silver medals at Sochi. John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail.