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Struggling to celebrate in a city used to losers

Sparking interest: Babcock (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)

Torontonians don’t quite seem to know how to celebrate sporting success.

It’s hardly surprising really, considering it’s been more than 20 years since a Toronto sports franchise playing in one of the “big four” leagues paraded through the city’s downtown with a shimmering piece of silverware.

The city might have 11 Stanley Cup wins and two World Series rings — not to mention several trips to the NBA play-offs — but there’s been very little to write home run about since the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back titles in 1992 and ’93.

So perhaps it’s understandable that the people of Canada’s most populous city, a notoriously reserved and polite bunch, have struggled to completely shed their inhibitions when showing their appreciation for their country’s medal-winning athletes.

There’s still more than enough time for them to get into the full swing of things, though, with another week left of the largest multi-sport event to have been held in Canada.

And already there’s been plenty for the success-starved city to get excited about.

The Canucks were capturing medals faster than you can say “O Canada” at the start of the Games, leading the United States, their hated rivals, until Saturday night when their southern neighbours nudged ahead in the medal table.

That early surge of podium joy certainly helped the Games penetrate the collective consciousness of the Toronto people, with ticket sales now swelling to the one million mark, a milestone that reflects the growing popularity of the event.

It’s a far cry from little more than a week ago when the Games were barely on the radar of the average Torontonian.

For some of the friendly folk around these parts, unless there’s a puck and a stick involved, well, they don’t really care.

But at least the Games — the most expensive in history at about $2.5 billion — have temporally reduced the number of newspaper column inches devoted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ hiring of Mike Babcock as head coach.

For those of you who are interested, Babcock will take home about $50 million over the next eight years as part of the most lucrative hockey contract of all-time.

In Saturday’s bumper edition of the Toronto Star — Canada’s largest daily newspaper — six pages were dedicated solely to Games coverage. The Blue Jays 6-2 win over Tampa Bay Rays the previous night at the Rogers Centre didn’t even make the front of the section.

Prior to the Games’ opening ceremony, held at a packed Rogers Centre, apathy had been rampant with gloomy stories centering on the abundance of tickets still available, hotels resembling ghost towns, and traffic crippling an already congested city.

Sadly, it seems all the scaremongering has frightened away some tourists, with hotel bookings indeed down for July, while taxi drivers have claimed they have never seen downtown so deserted for this time of the year.

The “inconvenience” of the Games might have also led some locals to flee the city, while it is understood that some workers living further afield were told to stay at home or carpool to avoid the anticipated traffic.

Although the feel-good factor at the CIBC Pan Am Park and events such as the swimming at the Aquatics Centre and gymnastics at Toronto Coliseum has been superb, the atmosphere in and around the city has been strangely subdued.

It’s a minor gripe, that and the long distances between competitions spread out across the Greater Toronto Area, with the smooth-running event, enthusiastic fans and ever-helpful volunteers deserving of far more than just a well-mannered cheer and polite round of applause.