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Forty-three years after the Centennial Flame flickered to life on Parliament Hill, Canadians came together for 17 glorious days in February beneath the glow of another fiery symbol of peace and goodwill: the Olympic torch.

The Vancouver Olympic Games, an event that for Canadians became much more than an athletic competition, has been voted the top Canadian news story of the year in the annual survey of newsrooms across the country by The Canadian Press.

Organizers were driven from Day 1 to craft an event that would touch every Canadian. They launched an ambitious sports development program to help Canada "own the podium" in 2010 and also designed a torch relay that delivered the Olympic flame to within an hour's reach of 90 per cent of the population.

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But none of that would have mattered had Canadians not been ready to show up, suggested veteran television broadcaster Lloyd Robertson, whose network CTV had the broadcast rights for the Games.

Not since the centennial celebrations of 1967 had Mr. Robertson seen such an outpouring of national spirit.

"It rekindled the passion deep in the Canadian consciousness about how we feel about ourselves," he said in an interview. "In our soul, there is this need to be patriotic and shout out that we are great and we are wonderful, but we don't have the chance to do it very often."

The Games were the gold-medal choice for editors in the year-end survey by The Canadian Press: 46 per cent of newspaper editors, news directors at radio and TV stations and editors at member news websites across the country picked the Olympics as the top news story.

No other Canadian story came close to the Olympics in the newsroom voting. Next were the crimes of Russell Williams, with 18 per cent of the vote. Last week, The Canadian Press announced that editors and broadcasters had chosen the convicted sex killer and former military colonel as Canada's Newsmaker of the Year.

The Olympic spirit started sweeping the country in the fall of 2009 with the start of the Olympic torch relay. But Canada's patriotic spirit truly caught fire with the start of the Games themselves - even though it wasn't the most auspicious of beginnings.

On the very day of the opening ceremonies, 21-year-old Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili was killed when he lost control of his sled in the final turn during a training run on the lightning-fast and controversial luge run at the Whistler Sliding Centre.

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It cast a pall over that evening's opening ceremonies, when the Georgian team entered BC Place looking downcast and wearing black armbands. The tragedy made some of the day's other concerns - a chronic shortage of snow at the skiing venues and a malfunctioning centrepiece during the lighting of the torch - seem trivial by comparison.

Canadians deserve the credit for making the Olympics the story of the year, said John Furlong, the chief executive officer of the Olympic organizing committee.

"We conceived of it, but in many ways the real story is the fact that people accepted that they could participate in this, [knew]how they could make a difference and then went on their way and did that," Mr. Furlong said in an interview.

"How else do you explain 3.6 million pairs of red mittens sold?"

Almost a year later, Canadians are still pulling on those mittens. The minute the temperature dropped, they started popping up on hands across the country this winter. But they aren't just wearing them to stay warm - polls suggest their Olympic spirit continues to burn bright.

A Canadian Press-Harris Decima survey conducted during the second week of December suggests eight in 10 Canadians still feel a sense of pride from the Games. And more than seven in 10 said the Games positively increased Canada's reputation in the world.

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In a global survey of countries released last month, Canada emerged with the most favourable brand.

"[The Olympics]showed people around the world, certainly people in the United States, what Canada was all about," U.S. Ambassador David Jacobson said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

But the change is more marked at home, Mr. Jacobson said, noting that he feels many Canadians sing the national anthem now with a lot more pride in their voice.

"The outpouring of national emotion and the internal confidence does seem to endure, and endure in a very positive way," he said.

For athletes, the gold medal rush has slightly diminished. Sponsor and media attention to sports that were the darlings of Vancouver have faded; several medal-winning athletes have since retired.

It's hard to keep the public's attention during the seasons between Games, said Hayley Wickenheiser, the captain of the gold-medal winning women's hockey team.

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But she said her experience over the past year has been that more Canadians are, overall, far more connected to sport than they were.

"More people than ever watched the Games, more people than ever got engaged in them and were surprised at how they got swept away by them," she said in an interview.

"There is an increased interest and awareness in the Olympic movement and the athletes and recreating the feelings people had watching the Games in Vancouver."

Even for the Olympic movement, the 2010 Games were special, said Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympic Committee.

Leaving behind a legacy is now a mandatory part of being an Olympic host, he noted, but Vancouver kicked it up a notch.

"Perhaps the greatest intangible legacy of these Games has been their ability to bring Canadians together and present your great nation to the world," he said.

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"Sometimes, it requires a major catalyst to achieve such a lofty goal and the Olympic Games in Vancouver definitely delivered on that count."

The Canadian Press

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