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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Monday, 25 February, 2002, 17:49 GMT
Canada basks in victory glow
Canada's Mario Lemieux celebrates a famous win
Delight and pride for the whole of Canada
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By Mike Fox
BBC Montreal Correspondent
Canada is still tingling with excitement from the thrilling 5-2 victory its men's hockey team achieved over rival and neighbour the United States.

At office water-coolers up and down the country millions of people are recounting their experiences of one of the most memorable days in Canadian sporting history.

We look like this weak link all the time, we are a nice country but that's it, we're nice - in hockey we're a powerful country, we're strong, efficient, we win

Canadian fan

With the national sport approaching the status of a religion for many people, it is hardly surprising that the celebrations continued long into the night.

But for the estimated 10 million people who watched the game on television - the country's biggest ever audience for a sporting event - the match was an edge-of-the-seat roller-coaster ride.

With two evenly matched teams full of National Hockey League stars, it was only in the last few minutes when Canada scored their fourth goal that the fans could relax.

Canada's Mario Lemieux celebrates a famous win
Something to smile about: First victory in 50 years

The earlier tensions, and Canada's stuttering start in the competition, made the celebrations all the sweeter - along with the knowledge that this was the first time in 50 years that they had won the Olympic gold medal in the only sport which matters for most Canadians.

Many of the viewers following every move of the game on television spilled out of bars and restaurants onto the streets of cities all over the country.

In downtown Montreal, over a thousand people waving flags, jumping on top of cars and buses and blowing on plastic horns filled St Catherine Street for several blocks.

Several even braved the freezing temperatures by taking off their Team Canada hockey shirts to turn them into improvised flags.

In the capital, Ottawa, around 1,000 people gathered on Parliament Hill, waving flags and singing the national anthem O Canada.

Similar scenes were reported across the country, from St John's to Victoria.

Historic event

The Globe and Mail newspaper summed up how the event helped to unite this hugely diverse nation.

"Seldom since the German surrender in 1945 have so many Canadians been so happy about the same thing at the same time," said one of its columnists.

The importance of the moment was underlined even further when, just after the gold medals were awarded, Canada's Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, phoned team manager Wayne Gretzky and congratulated him live on television.

Canada's Mario Lemieux celebrates a famous win
A celebration for the whole country

Before the game there was talk about the importance of beating their rivals the US.

That made the victory especially sweet for Mark Suchavinsky, who watched the game in Champs sports bar in Montreal, along with more than 400 cheering fans.

"We look like this weak link all the time, we are a nice country but that's it, we're nice," said Mark.

"In hockey we're a powerful country, we're strong, efficient, we win! It's the only place where we can kick the US in the ass, so it's very good for the pride, very good."

There were reports of one man in Toronto carrying a US flag which he laid down on the road for cars to drive over.

But afterwards most people just seemed delighted that Canada had won, and proved it is the best at hockey.

Sarah Fraser of Montreal said: "It was a hell of a lot of fun to see them win - I remember the previous Olympics and we've been so almost for such a long time, and it was such a good game it was great to see them come through this time."

BBC Sport's Simon Cross
"A thrilling exhibition of high-class ice hockey"
See also:

24 Feb 02 | Ice Hockey
Canada clinch ice hockey triumph
24 Feb 02 | Photo Galleries
Canada claim ice- hockey gold
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