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Ten winter moments worth having…

March 1, 2010 Leave a comment

The Olympics are over. When they began, I wondered whether I would pay any attention at all, and for two weeks I’ve done almost nothing else. When I’ve been awake, the Games have been on, sometimes in the background, sometimes with me actively shouting at the TV. I fist pumped Ice Dance, I laughed at Jon Montgomery auctioning off a pitcher of beer, and I mourned the Canadian women’s curling loss harder than any sporting event in years (in part, because the Jays haven’t competed in anything relevant since I was thirteen, and I expect the English national team to lose).

I think part of my reticence heading into the games was that as a warm weather people, I’ve historically only paid attention to the Summer Olympics and honestly, the Summer games cannot hold a candle to the winter games. The summer games just have too many sports and more specifically too many dull sports. Equestrian? 8,000 different wrestling weight classes? Table tennis? Badminton (sorry Grandpa)? And did I mention equestrian?

By contrast, the winter games are almost all good. I mean, I probably wouldn’t have had much of an interest in Ice Dancing if I didn’t have a little crush on Tessa Virtue, but short track skating, bobsleigh, the skiing and snowboarding events, are money baby! And, while I love hoops and baseball, neither sport gives Canadians any shot at gold, so they can’t approach the adrenaline that I feel watching team Canada thump Russia 7-3, or watching Bernard miss a gold medal by inches.

That’s what following sports is all about. Becoming invested in whatever you are watching, as the adrenaline pumps through you during the tensest moments. It’s emotionally contagious, feeding from the arena, through the television, to viewers and, in the case of the Olympics, uniting a community of followers. In the past four years, I’ve only felt that pull for the Suns, a team I cheer for because of a player, not for team, city, or country. Thus, it isn’t quite as emotive.

By contrast, these games have given me that feeling countless times. Sometimes it has been exalting in joy – jumping on the back of Big Sexy after Crosby scored. Sometimes it has been the blank staring, ignominy of defeat – asking the Bride, “how’d she miss?” Either way though, it has been captivating sport.

So, here is a list of my ten favorite moments from the games… Good… and Bad…*

*(And yes, these are all Canadian moments. It’s not that there weren’t other important stories, the Slovenian woman who punctured a lung in a horrific crash and still won bronze was amazing, and Lindsay Vonn managed to be the first woman to ever ski with a make-up bag in her back pocket, but… This was Canada’s games, through and through)

10) Canadian Women win Hockey Gold – Honestly, they can’t rank higher because it was such a foregone conclusion. Yes, they might have lost to the Americans, but it just never seemed likely. The only downside of their victory was the absurd uproar over their celebrating with beer and cigars at center ice. If they had been men, nobody – NOBODY – would have cared, they’d just have been “good old” boys celebrating. Disagree? Then how come nobody made a big stink of Montgomery chugging a pitcher in the streets of Whistler?

9) Jennifer Heil wins silver – Sometimes, most times actually, you can tell more about a person in defeat than in victory. It is one of the hardest parts of being an athlete, having a camera and a microphone shoved into your face, seconds after having your heartbroken. Heil came in to the games with the expectation that she would be the first gold medal athlete to win on Canadian soil. Not just a gold medal winner, but the first on home soil. She skied a great race, but was beat. She was graceful and classy seconds later, only her eyes belying the pain. She said that there would be many Canadian golds to come and thanked all of the country for supporting her. Pure class.

8 ) Joannie Rochette wins Bronze – You’d have to be a robot not to have been moved by Rochette’s skating this week. No one would have blamed her for not skating after her mother died of a heat attack the day after arriving at the games. Yet, Rochette skated and skated well, capturing bronze with two skates that had many eyes wet, and many hearts warm.

7) Jon Montgomery marches through Whistler, Gold in one hand, Pitcher of Beer in the other – I think this was the turning point in the games for Canada. The first week, from Nodar Kumaritashvili’s death, to the torch malfunction, to the litany of fourths and fifths, had the nation reeling, the COC president waving a pathetic white flag, and foreigners mocking the “Own the Podium” campaign. Then Montgomery won gold and took the entire town of Whistler on a victory parade that included a pitcher of beer. With his auctioneers voice, Montgomery was the pied piper of the Canadian success that followed.

6) Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir win Ice Dancing Gold – I’m not going to lie, I have a pretty big crush on Virtue… and an equally big one on Moir.

5) Marianne St. Gelais watches Charles Hamlin win Gold – Seriously, go here and watch the video of silver medalist St. Gelais cheering her boyfriend to gold. It was a spectacular night for Canadians, as within an hour our skaters captured two golds, but St. Gelais exerting more energy in cheering Hamlin’s race than Hamlin used winning his race, well that was a moment. It had a room full of hockey fans jacked up.

4) Kevin Martin wins Gold – Honestly, the biggest revelation of the Olympics, even bigger than me watching Ice Dancing, is that I have become an unabashed, rabid, curling fan. Some might say that it’s the lovely ladies, but I watched all the men’s games too. For two weeks, Martin was all business. With an ace team, that included the stubborn, flame throwing fireman, John Morris, Martin was so in command of the game that gold seemed assured. Of course, the women’s team can tell us all about assured gold. So when, with victory three rocks away, the fans in the Vancouver Olympic Center sang the Canadian national anthem goose bumps appeared on my arms.

3) Alex Bilodeau wins Gold – The first Canadian gold, won on Canadian soil. Olympic gold is an incredible experience, but I believe all the Canadians who won gold in 2010 would say that winning at home took the elation to another level. What pushes this past Martin for third is that, perhaps, the best non-sporting moment of the games was the hug that Alex shared with his brother Frederic just after winning.

2) Cheryl Bernard wins (loses) Silver – Kevin winning was a serious balm, but this loss haunted me, I can’t even imagine how hard it must have hit Bernard. Two shots, inches from gold. It sits above Martin’s win, because tragic losses are so much more emotive the solid wins…

1) Canadian Men win hockey Gold – Come on, you knew this was a given… One last thought about the men’s game. How about Sidney Crosby? Having what could be described as a mediocre tournament, he showed his class when it mattered most. That goal was all his effort. Charging forward, trying to split the defenders to get a shot, pursuing the puck into the corner, fighting the referee’s feet, and Brian Rafalski, to retain possession, slipping the puck to Jerome Iginla, heading to the net, and snapping a perfect shot. Sidney was effort personified and effort rewarded, and for the rest of his life, that goal will make him a legend in Canada. Sigh… That was a moment.

The Women Owned the Podium, but will Rogge Let Them Keep Playing…

February 26, 2010 Leave a comment

The Canadian women’s hockey team played a strong, structured game yesterday to defeat the U.S. 2-0 and win their third straight gold medal.  Congratulations ladies.  You played an amazing tournament and deserve nothing but acclaim.

Unfortunately, yesterday was also the day that IOC president Jacques Rogge chose to put women’s ice hockey on notice.  The comepetition in the sport could be generously described as lacking.  In three round robin games, the Canadian women had a goal differential of plus 39, with their closest contest being a 10-1 trashing of Switzerland.  So, yes, I can see how competitiveness here is an issue.

BUT… what purpose does whacking women’s hockey from the games serve?  Hockey is a wonderful game, played competitively by men in Sweden, Finland, Russia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Norway, Switzerland, and Germany.  Sweden and Finland have put some development into women’s hockey, but the others have shown no effort to develop a game for women.  Instead of making threats, Rogge should be encouraging the spread of the game in hockey rabid countries to the other gender.

North America has shown that women are avid fans of playing hockey.  Young girls love the sport here, they love playing the game, and they deserve the chance to compete at the highest level.  Dropping the game from the Olympics will kill the sport being played by young girls in those European countries, which would be a shame.  Perhaps I am making assumptions here.  Perhaps young girls in Russia do not want to play hockey, but I think given the opportunity to play, to do what their brothers do, Russia and the other countries would find ample young women interested in hockey.

This is a threat that the International Hockey Federation should take seriously.  The IOC has shown itself to be a bully in all respects of sports.  They have already dropped women’s softball from the Summer Olympics for much the same reason that they now threaten women’s hockey.  Unfortunately removing team sports over questions of competitiveness generally affects the women more than it does the men.  Baseball remains in the Olympics, because besides the U.S. it is played avidly by men in Japan, Korea, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, the great White North, and to much lesser extents Australia, China, Italy, and the Netherlands.  How many of those countries give equal, or reasonably equal attention to women’s softball?  Canada and probably Australia, but the others?  I don’t know, but I doubt it.  Instead of putting pressure on those athletic federations to give equal opportunity for women to play softball, the IOC just drops the sport.

Instead of unilaterally removing these games from competition, the IOC should be working with individual Olympic federations, international sports federations, and the professional leagues (yes, the professional leagues, the NHL and MLB need to follow the example of the NBA in developing their game for women) to ensure that girls are getting equal opportunity to play and compete in team sports.  Rather than making threats, Jacques Rogge needs to be embracing the Olympic spirit, setting an example by working together with others to develop women’s softball and hockey around the globe.  Young girls out learning a new game, learning to work together as teammates, developing skills and a passion for sport, and then getting the opportunity to compete at the highest level in front of the world, are what the Olympics are all about.  Isn’t that something we should be striving to achieve?

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