Sunday, February 14, 2010


Oh, Canada.

With two golden opportunities coming up short, is there enough Valentine’s chocolate on the shelves to help us cope?

As the Olympics got underway, I kept my television on for most of Saturday. There is pride with these Olympics on Canadian soil and, although I cannot afford to see any of the events live, I feel a greater connection since I was living in Vancouver when we won the bid and I’m still only a ferry ride away. Still, I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable as I watched the coverage on CTV and Sportsnet. The hunger for gold this time around seems to have cast a shadow over the way the events are reported and the way viewers are being groomed. All of us are supposed to be on a quest for gold. I feel sorry for all Canadian athletes competing before the country gets that golden monkey of its back.

Am I really being too Canadian in thinking that a silver medal is worth celebrating? Should I slap myself for smiling as Canadian mogul competitor and medal contender Kristi Richards flashed a sportsmanlike grin after wiping out during her run and getting up to complete the course as best she could? The new Canadian mentality is supposed to be gold or nothing. Own the podium. Leave the please and thank yous to the beat poet. How dare Charles Hamelin fail to reach the short track final! And how can we embrace Jenn Heil and her “disappointing” silver?

Yes, it’s unfortunate that Canadian athletes have yet to win a gold medal during an Olympics at home. Every host nation wants to sing along to its anthem as the flag is raised during a medal ceremony. (For us, the longing may be heightened since we were stripped of the chance to sing along to Nikki Yanofsky’s version during the Opening Ceremonies. I wonder if shutting us out was a ploy to make us long even more for the podium moment.) But the hunger needn’t make us savages.

My all-time favorite Olympic memory came during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary when perky Elizabeth Manley won the silver in figure skating and celebrated on the ice donning a cowboy hat as the audience gave her a thunderous ovation. I was living in Dallas at the time and my Canadian pride in sport has never been as great as during that shining silver moment. Would we view it differently today?

Watching Jenn Heil’s mogul run and hearing the crowd cheer created a wonderful Olympic moment. Moments, by nature however, are brief. American Hannah Kearney followed Heil down the course, faster and, yes, better. I’ll admit I briefly hoped for a little judging fudging, but then I came to my senses. Shouldn’t Canada’s longed for home-grown gold be earned outright? I empathized with Jenn Heil after the race as she stood looking stunned at the bottom of the hill while Kearney and ebullient American bronze medalist Shannon Bahrke hugged, hollered and draped American flags around themselves. Get Heil a Canadian flag! Stat! Or at least get her a hug. Initially, I thought the Americans were being obnoxious, but then I checked myself and acknowledged that the two medalists were celebrating as they had every right to. I understand that Heil was disappointed, going in as the favorite, but Kearney skied the run of her life and isn’t that what everyone aspires to during the Olympics?

As an elite athlete, Jenn Heil’s achievements have come in part due to her nature as a fierce competitor. The fact she was determined to win gold is admirable. I can’t fault her for feeling a letdown. What bothered me was CTV’s reaction. The network was more disappointed than the skier. This was supposed to be the Golden Moment, a televised nugget of Canadian history. The interviewer on the hill took on a somber tone while Heil, the shock having sunk in, was poised in thanking her coach/boyfriend and in saying she’d done her best. Subdued anchor Brian Williams took Heil’s perspective that she didn’t lost gold, but in fact won silver as a pep talk for himself.

I do hope the gold comes soon. Then, hockey notwithstanding, Canadians can go back to being the modest folks we are, seeing the glory in silver, bronze and personal bests that nonetheless fail to put our athletes on the podium. A medal haul would be welcome, but let’s remember to be good hosts and enjoy all of the competition.

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