Iginla helps end half a century of pain for Canada
As ever with Olympic ice hockey tournaments, Salt Lake City 2002 threw up a couple of surprises. The biggest upset was produced by outsiders Belarus, who beat Sweden in the quarter-finals of the men’s competition. However, there was also an element of the unexpected about the success of the USA, which had fielded a relatively weak looking team at the Games that defied predictions to reach the final.
Along the way the Americans had to navigate their way through two titanic matches against Russia, drawing 2-2 in the group stage and then winning 3-2 in the semi-final, despite throwing away a 3-0 lead and having to resist an onslaught in the latter stages.
That victory set up a final against Canada, who had started badly (losing 5-2 to Sweden) but had gradually improved as the Games went on. It was 50 years since the Canadians had last won an ice hockey gold medal, but it was also more than two decades since the Americans had taken the victory.
The Canadian line-up included a player who was chasing a very particular piece of history. Jarome Iginla (full name: Jarome Arthur Leigh Adekunle Tig Junior Elvis Iginla) had once played baseball for Canada's junior team, but blossomed spectacularly as an ice hockey player in his teens. He was drafted into the National Hockey League by the Dallas Stars but very quickly moved to the Calgary Flame, where he developed into one of the club's star players and going on to represent Canada in the world championships at both junior and senior level.
His call-up to the 2002 Olympic squad, though, had come as a surprise, with Iginla initially thinking that one of his team-mates was playing a trick on him. By the end of the tournament he was one of the acknowledged stars of the Games.
In the final against the USA, Iginla produced one of his best, and most memorable, performances. He scored in the first period to put Canada into a 2-1 lead. In the second period, the two teams traded scores, meaning that Canada held a 3-2 advantage as the game entered its final period for a tense climax. It was too close to call.
What was clear was the next score would be decisive. And so it proved – with Iginla blasting a shot past Mike Richter to put the Canadians 4-2 up. A fifth followed from Joe Sakic to complete the victory, end the 50-year wait and give Iginla his own place in the record books.
He returned to the Olympic stage in 2006, when Canada lost in the quarter-final, and then again in 2010, where he helped the host nation team win a second gold medal in front of an utterly ecstatic Vancouver crowd.