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Commentary: An apology to Canada

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — I'm not Canadian though, like most Louisianians of French descent, I suspect my ancestors were.

I am proud of that heritage. I can still remember the delight I felt — and the pictures I took — when, as a young journalist covering the 1976 Olympics, I discovered that Montreal had a Rue de LeBreton.

I'm not that young pup anymore. These eyes have now seen 15 Olympic Games, seven of them Winter Olympics.

When the time comes at the end of each Games to sum up the 17 days, I don't take that task lightly. I try to use that seasoned viewpoint and write it from the heart.

My intention in Monday morning's wrap-up column wasn't to offend Canada, the land of my ancestors, and my hosts of the past three weeks. On the contrary, I was trying to express my disappointment and surprise that, in my opinion, Canadians had failed to grasp the global mandate that being an Olympic host entails.

In doing so, I reached for a comparison — and picked one in the 1936 Olympics that unintentionally may have offended the very people whose company I have enjoyed for these past days.

I apologize for offending them.

As I said in the wrap-up, I certainly implied no political analogies. But some comparisons are sensitive enough to be offensive just by their very mention.

No one argues that instead of the Olympic rings, the predominant image throughout Vancouver and its venues for the past 17 days was Canada's red maple leaf.

As chief Vancouver Olympic organizer John Furlong said at Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, "That quiet, humble national pride we were sometimes reluctant to acknowledge seemed to take to the streets, as the most beautiful kind of patriotism broke out all across our country. So many new and dazzling applications for the maple leaf."

What passed for patriotism here in Canada, however, came across differently in the eyes of an international guest.

Unlike soccer's World Cup, where nationalism abounds, the Olympics are meant to be a celebration of the entire world.

I was privileged to attend both previous Olympics held in Canada. In Montreal, the performances of Nadia Comaneci, Alberto Juantorena and Lasse Viren were cheered by everyone. At Calgary in 1988, the exploits of Alberto Tomba, Eddie "The Eagle" Edwards and the Jamaican bobsled team framed the story of those Games.

Sadly, I felt, in the rush to celebrate Canada's new patriotism, some of those stories were missed here.

That doesn't excuse me from making an insensitive comparison. But in 14 previous Olympic Games, never were the cheers for the visiting countries' athletes drowned out so ferociously.

On the eve of the final day of these Games, I attended the team pursuit finals at the Richmond Olympic Oval. There were two medal ceremonies at the conclusion of the day’s events.

In the first, the gold medal went to the Canadian men's team, and the Canadians in attendance cheered heartily and sang along with O Canada.

The women's medal ceremony was next. But as the gold medals were being placed around the necks of the Germans, much of the crowd was busy filing out.

That final scene prompted the column. The comparison I used prompts me to apologize to anyone who felt offended by it.

I'll leave Vancouver with indelible memories — many of them were of Canadians, wearing red maple leafs, having the time of their lives.

The Olympics are all about memories. And meeting new people from around the world.

Changing trains on the way to the Closing Ceremony on Sunday, I passed a gentleman that I had seen before at that station. He was a street musician and had an electric guitar, but he was dressed elegantly in a white bowtie and dinner jacket. His guitar case was open to collect tips.

The gentleman was slowly strumming the Louis Armstrong classic What a Wonderful World.

I gave him all the change I had.