Thousands in Montreal hail Canadian Olympians, Hall of Famers inducted

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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The country's love affair with its Olympic and Paralympic heroes clearly isn't over, with Montrealers the latest Canadians to heap admiration on the athletes who thrilled them at the Vancouver Games.
Tens of thousands of spectators young and old flooded the downtown core Friday to get an up-close look at many of Canada's Olympic athletes in a float-filled parade.
The crowd hooted and hollered as a veritable who's who of Olympic standard-bearers waved their appreciation, while younger fans clamoured for autographs - even if some didn't know right away who the athletes were.
The athletes mused that a post-Olympic parade should become a Canadian tradition following Summer and Winter Games.
"This is fantastic," said Hayley Wickenheiser, captain of the Canadian women's hockey team. "I rode with Scott Niedermayer and said this is probably as close to a Stanley Cup parade as it's going to get for us.
"It's been a great turnout and it's nice to have a celebration out in the East.
"Vancouver had its time and to share that excitement with people across Canada, it has been great."
The Olympians capped off the day with a glitzy Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame Gala inside the Bell Centre, where kakayer Caroline Brunet, sprinter Bruny Surin and speedskater Susan Auch were inducted.
Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, COC and VANOC board member Walter Sieber and track and field coach Paul Poce were named as builders, while Carol Anne Letheren, former head of the COC, was inducted into the category posthumously.
Jack Poole, the founding chairman of the Vancouver organizing committee (VANOC) who died of cancer prior to the Games, VANOC chief executive officer John Furlong and B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell received the Canadian Olympic Order.
Canadian Olympians won 26 medals, including a record 14 gold, at the Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.
Paralympic athletes followed with 19 more medals, including 10 gold, during their Games in March.
In a 10-minute speech, Prime Minister Stephen Harper saluted the country's most-recent crop of Olympians and Paralympians.
"Athletes, your performance captivated and inspired our entire country like never before," Harper told the Hall of Fame gala.
"I don't know any other way to say it, but Canada rocks."
Flashbulbs lit up a pre-dinner cocktail party as the athletes, decked out in suits and evening gowns, made their red-carpet entrance.
Surin, a four-time Olympian, said his gold medal in the 4X100-metre relay at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games was the greatest moment of his career.
"I'm flying in the sky, it's a great, great honour," the Haitian-born Surin said of being inducted as he strolled along the red carpet before the gala.
"A lot of times I say to the kids (that) when you have a dream you have to hang in there. A lot of times in my career I could have just called it quits very easily and I kept going."
Dozens of people at the reception thrust their fists skyward and cheered when footage of Surin's dash in the gold-medal-winning relay at the '96 Games played on a big screen before his induction.
Poce, a former national running coach and founder of the Toronto Olympic Club, said he was calm, cool and collected leading up to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
"But coming here tonight, seeing all these Olympians, listening to all their exploits - the butterflies are really fluttering," Poce said at the podium after being named.
Earlier in the day, about 150 athletes, including Jon Montgomery, Joannie Rochette and Alexandre Bilodeau, made their way down Ste-Catherine Street - the same route taken by the Montreal Canadiens following their Stanley Cup victories.
Skeleton racer Montgomery, who tore up the track to win gold in Whistler, led the way as the parade's flag-bearer.
"The energy that we felt in Vancouver is every bit as present here as it was out there," he said.
"If you left your door this morning with a frown on your face, it wouldn't be long before you were downtown and smiling from ear-to-ear. This is just an incredible feeling."
Rochette, who courageously captured Olympic bronze in figure skating only days after her mother died of a heart attack in Vancouver, was stunned that so many people were still excited two months after the Games.
"We could see some kids being so inspired by us and I hope that will help them get involved in a sport and just maybe get to the Olympics," she said before heading to the gala.
During the parade, Montrealer Eric Desautels, wearing a Team Canada hockey jersey, brought his six-month-old son Logan with him to cheer on the athletes.
Desautels said Canada's pride in its Olympic heroes will continue.
"It's just starting, we need to (keep up) that Canadian swagger," he said.
"We're the best country in the world and we should be proud of it."
An emotional Jasey-Jay Anderson, who won gold in alpine snowboarding, described the experience of being cheered by the masses as "overwhelming."
"You've got to love our country on days like today," said the blueberry farmer from Mont-Tremblant, Que.
"A lot of the medallists get the attention but all the athletes did superb. Just qualifying for the Olympics is a big thing . . . it's good for sport in Canada." Niedermayer, the Canadian men's hockey captain whose Anaheim Ducks failed to make the NHL playoffs, has been taking part in the festivities over the past week.
"That's the best parade I've ever been a part of," said the multiple Stanley Cup winner who took part in rallies following cup wins in Anaheim and New Jersey.
The Canadian Olympic Committee hoped to raise $1 million to support athletes at the gala, which is the first gathering of sport leaders and Olympians following the Winter Games.
Politicians, business leaders and athletes mingled on the ice rink in the Bell Centre, where each of reception table had a torch used in the Olympic relay as a centrepiece.
Organizers encouraged diners to bid for the torches with a donation, with a $3,500 offer guaranteeing that they could take one home.
Canadian artists, including Simple Plan, Sarah McLachlan, Tom Cochrane and Nikki Yanofsky, performed at the event.

Organizations: Canadian Olympic Committee, Vancouver Games, Bell Centre Toronto Olympic Club Montreal Canadiens Team Canada NHL

Geographic location: Canada, Vancouver, Montreal Whistler Alberta Atlanta Ste-Catherine Street Anaheim New Jersey

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