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Inching away from Gold…

February 27, 2010 Leave a comment

In the words of the late, great Jim McKay… the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Yesterday in the women’s curling final both were on display. Canadian skip Cheryl Bernard and her team had curled a tremendous game, stealing a deuce to take the lead in the 7th and a single in 8th for the two point advantage. In the tenth, Bernard’s team put her in position to win. They cleared all the Swedish rocks out, leaving only their own in the house.

It was all there for Bernard. Two stones to win. Sweden had the hammer, but Cheryl was positioned to keep the Swedes to the single, solitary, lonely point. Throughout this tournament, this is what Cheryl has wanted. The stone in her hand with the opportunity to win. For two weeks she had proven herself woman enough to stick each decisive shot. She had proven herself mighty.

It was a relatively simple shot. Hit the Swedish rock out the back and the gold was Canada’s. Cheryl threw. The line looked good, and as the camera held on her face, the slightest smile appeared. There it was, just a hint around her lips, the thrill of impending victory. The Vancouver Olympic Center was ready to explode.

But sports are funny and sometimes cruel. Despite looking good the whole way, the rock just didn’t quite curl enough at the end. When it hit the Swedish stone, instead of rolling out the back end, it struck a Canadian rock and stuck. Swedish skip Annita Norberg had a dead on hit for two to tie and she didn’t make a mistake. Inches, inches from victory.

How cruel then that with the Hammer in the eleventh it would come down to another shot for Cheryl. Another shot at gold. A slightly harder shot, but still a shot that Cheryl surely hits nine out of ten times… maybe even ninety-five out of a hundred. This time there was no hint of a smile. Despite the imploring shouts of Canadian third Susan O’Connor, the rock came down the ice too straight and as it struck there was no doubt.

Inches, mere inches away from the sun shining bright; from the band playing; from the thousands of hearts in the Olympic center being light; women laughing and children shouting, but there was no joy in Mudville – mighty Cheryl had struck out.

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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