Olympic medalist Clara Hughes leads the Canadian delagtion into the opening ceremonies in Vancouver.There is a giant electronic clock mounted on a wall across from my office in Canada’s Parliament buildings that has been counting down to the start of the Olympics for the last two years. Watching the sport stadium style digital clock countdown the days, hours and minutes to the games, combined with endless government announcements made these Olympics, the 21st Winter Games, seem like so much background music of late, there but safely ignored. That melted away on Friday.

The games started on a sombre note with the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili who died in a practice run on what is perhaps the world’s fastest ice track. Kumaritashvili’s passing was duly noted during the opening ceremonies by International Olympic Committee Chairman Jacques Rogge and Vancouver Organizing Committee Chairman John Furlong who paid tribute to the 21 year-old athlete and then led a packed stadium in a moment of silence.

I called my children to watch the opening ceremonies, telling them that they would see a small piece of history and hoping that the wonder I once felt toward the games might rub off on them. For all the commercialisation, the games be it summer or winter, still have the ability to bring out a sense of awe at the magnificent displays of athleticism.

In 1984 it was Gaetan Boucher’s double gold performance in speed skating and Katarina Witt’s magnificent turns at figure skating that captured the imaginations of so many, including myself. While I had no desire or inkling to be Ms. Witt, I do remember lining up at the ice rink with my brother, each of us thinking we could be the next Boucher, racing around the rink in our hockey skates with all the finesse of snowshoers. Our ability may have been lacking but our dreams came alive thanks to these athletes.

It has been 26 years since the games were held in Sarajevo and much has changed. The East Germany that Witt represented no longer exists, more countries now enter the winter games even if they send small teams such as the one athlete sent by Jamaica or the three brave souls representing the winter hopes of more than a billion Indians. I’m still captivated by the ability of people to glide across the ice on blades of steel at incredible speeds, to jump higher and further and then land with grace on a frozen sheet or the packed down snow of an ancient mountain. The closest I may get to repeating these feats is teaching my own children to skate at the neighbourhood rink or lying on the couch watching the games in a position vaguely similar to luge but the feats I do see will still inspire me.

Are there problems with the modern Olympic movement? Of course. The disqualification of 30 athletes for doping on the eve of the games shows that some feel the need to win so strongly that they will cheat. These 30 have been caught, surely some who grace the medal podium will have cheated and not been caught but most athletes will have bested their competition through skill and determination. The inclusion of professional athletes in events like hockey, or basketball in the summer games, has taken away a little bit of the magic and the chance for young athletes aiming for the pro-ranks to strike their mark. Still, the loss of pure amateurs won’t stop me from watching Team Canada, led by Sidney Crosby, taking on the likes of Jamie Langenbrunner and the Americans, hopefully in an exciting gold medal match.
In a world so cynical and jaded, I’ll take the relief that these Olympic games give us to believe that once upon a time, I could go higher, go further and I will hope that in watching the wonderous feats of the young people in Vancouver, my children will be inspired. Let the games begin.

Brian Lilley is a political journalist and the Ottawa Bureau Chief for radio stations Newstalk 1010 Toronto and CJAD 800 Montreal. He is also the Associate Editor of Mercatornet. Follow Brian on Twitter.