The day Jarome Iginla became the first black man to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics
The Calgary Flames right winger and NHL scoring leader helped Team Canada break its 50-year drought in hockey in 2002
No one could really pinpoint why Calgary Flames winger Jarome Iginla displayed such humility after leading Canada to its first gold medal in hockey in 50 years at the Winter Olympics in 2002.
Maybe it was because he still couldn’t believe his childhood idol Wayne Gretzky not only picked him as the person to replace an injured Simon Gagné at Team Canada’s Olympic orientation camp but actually selected him for the team.
It’s also possible that Iginla and the rest of his teammates were just happy to take home the gold after Sweden had mopped the ice with them, 5-2, in their first game in Salt Lake City.
Or perhaps the 24-year-old son of a Nigerian father and an American mother couldn’t believe the role he played in ending Canada’s gold-medal drought — two goals and an assist — en route to Canada’s 5-2 victory over the United States on Feb. 24, 2002. Iginla became the first black man to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Vonetta Flowers’ victory in the two-woman bobsled the week before gave her the distinction of being the first black athlete to win gold at the Winter Games. Four years later, speedskater Shani Davis would become the first black athlete to win an individual gold medal.
“This has just been an unbelievable experience, to play with these guys, for Canada,” Iginla told The New York Times. “We all dream of playing in a game like this.”
”I’d love to be a role model. I love hockey. If more kids can play and be a part of it, that’s great. It’s one of the thrills of my lifetime.”
Coming into the Games, Iginla — who donated $1,000 for every goal scored during the 2001-02 season to a group that provided equipment to underprivileged youths — was the first NHL player to score 20 goals that season, while his 35 goals and 64 points were both three ahead of the next person in each category. He finished the season as the leader in both categories (52 goals, 96 points).
The Canadians reached the championship game after a humbling opening loss to the Swedes in the round-robin tournament. It picked up with a 3-2 win over Germany two days later and a tie with the Czech Republic the following day. There was no shortage of criticism and panic after the poor showing against Sweden.
“For some reason, in the second period, we backed off a bit and weren’t aggressive,” Iginla told the Times-Colonist of Victoria, British Columbia. “They were moving the puck and we watched them move it. They picked us apart.”
Canada would go on to beat Finland, 2-1, in the quarterfinals, getting revenge after losing to the Finns in the 1998 Olympic bronze-medal game. The Canadians dismantled Belarus, 7-1, in the semifinals before working over the Americans in the championship.