Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Olympics (because everybody else has)

After a seven day drought on the medal boards Canada got a hat trick yesterday, gold, silver and bronze. Carol Huynh from BC (woot!) got our gold in wrestling and made a lot of Canadians breathe a little easier. And I didn't even get to see it.

Friday night while putting the kids to bed I stopped to watch a medal ceremony and realized it was the first one I had seen. I'll give you three guesses who it was but if your first two aren't Michael Phelps then you're stupid. As I asked my wife what number he was on now I wondered whether it meant anything to him at this point, but when they closed in on his face and you could see the glassy look in his eyes, you knew it did.

I can't believe that was the first medal I've seen awarded. I've been watching since the opening ceremonies, but nowhere near as much as I usually would. I guess the kids would be part of the reason since they aren't really interested yet so they won't leave me alone for five minutes to watch. Liam is too young to sit still long enough and Connor doesn't care because there are no planes shooting at each other. The rest is probably just exhaustion from work, the impending loss of work and the aforementioned kids.

I love the Olympics. I love everything they represent. I love that they make the world feel a little smaller every two years. I love the excitement, the hype and the fact that it's something that everyone in the world talks about at the same time because we're all watching it together. And it is the world. A lot of sporting events get billed as world this or world that, but nothing really pulls the entire planet together like the Olympics do. The World Series? Outside of the Americas? Japan maybe. Random fans in Europe, but the World? No. The only thing that really comes close is the World Cup, because most of the world, outside of North America really does watch it. And aside from our immigrants and hard core soccer fans, we largely ignore soccer here.

I love it when my country does well, who doesn't, but I wouldn't have enjoyed the games any less if we hadn't medalled at all because it's not about that. I cheer for everyone. Sure I'd rather see my athletes win, but I'll still cheer for the winner, regardless of what country they are from. The Olympics are different because aside from some of the bigger sports like hockey and basket ball, most of these athletes aren't professionals, yet they've devoted their whole lives to this. The lucky ones will get enough financial backing that they can afford to train all the time without having to actually work, but they are the minority. Most still have to hold down jobs and fight for every last sponsorship dollar they can just to keep doing this. So I do cheer them all on, because they made it. They got to march into that stadium with their country's name across their chest and win or lose, they made it to the Olympics. 

And regardless of the sport, this is it. Even for the professional athletes, the Olympics are different. No, nothing is going to compare to hoisting the Stanley Cup or making it to the NBA Finals, but this isn't one league played in one or two countries. This is representing your country against the best the world has to offer. It means more. It means more to everyone and for the most part, it has nothing to do with money. Aside from a select few, nobody is going to get rich from these games. Yes, some of the wealthier countries do reward their athletes for medals, but do you really think any of them started out in their sport thinking about that?

I love all the stories that come along with the games, all those short interviews with the athletes, all the little facts and fillers the broadcasters come up with. I love learning new things about the countries the games are in. I love the commercials, especially the ones from companies like Nike that give you an ad that's not trying to sell you anything, that just make you feel good for watching it. I love the athletes that have no business whatsoever being there, like Eddie the Eagle or the Jamaican bobsled team. Some of the people invited just out of courtesy make for the best stories. There was a swimmer, a Palestinian I believe, from... Sydney? Athens? I don't remember, and it's not important. What I do remember is crying over this poor bastard  struggling to finish after every other swimmer had touched the wall and the crowd going just as crazy for him as the did for the winner. That's what the Olympics are about for me. That feeling.

My favourite games would have to be Salt Lake City. Watching both the men's and woman's hockey teams win gold. The loonie buried at centre ice, Gretzky at the helm, our men's team doing what we expect them to. Guess they're kind of like the US basketball team. All that talent, truly the best in the world, we are supposed to win. And that time, they finally did. Mostly though, it's images of particular games that make them favourites. Like the back drop of Barcelona behind the diving competition, the beauty of Nagano and the opening ceremony at Beijing. 

And with the good, there has to be bad. For me, those were Seoul and Atlanta. I don't mean to offend any of my American friends, but the games in Atlanta were definitely my least favourite even though it had some spectacular moments. Muhammad Ali lighting the torch, Kerri Strug landing on one foot because of an ankle injury and winning gold, Donovan Bailey winning the 100 metre. My issue with Atlanta were the fans and their patriotism. Hold on, let me finish. I don't have any issue with anyone showing pride in their country, in fact, I envy Americans for theirs. We are just as patriotic here in Canada, we're just more subdued. We don't have that history of flag waving. The problem with Atlanta was that it was just so in your face that it got to be ugly. Those chants of 'USA, USA' lost their sense of pride and began to feel mean spirited. Even NBC succumbed to it in their own way. The winner of the 100m has traditionally always won the title of 'world's fastest man,'  but after Michael Johnson won the 200m NBC decided to call him the world's fastest because well, 200 m is twice as far as 100m. 

Now you may be thinking I'm only saying that because the winner of the 100m that year was a Canadian, Donovan Bailey, but you're wrong. It's not just me. If you are one of my American readers, or just passing through, try asking a friend who lives outside of the US what they thought of Atlanta. It's not always easy to see from the inside. And don't think I haven't left my own country off the hook. In Seoul we also won the 100 m and we were all very proud of ourselves, until we found out that Ben Johnson had been using steroids and he was stripped of his medal. That was terrible, but what I found worse was my country's transition from cheering Ben Johnson as a Canadian hero to criticizing Ben Johnson the Jamaican-Canadian. It was instantaneous and shameful. 

What the hell? I've written a book here. This post must be as long as everything else I've written put together. If you've made it this far, thank you. And yes, it's over. But I'd like to hear from you now. What's your favourite? Moment, games, memory, whatever? Monday morning I have to go back to an office of people who don't watch at all and that is annoying as hell.


  1. All of my favorite Olympic moments have been during Winter Games, and two of them were for Canadian teams. 2004 Team Canada in hockey, because of Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan, and Jamie Sale and David Pelletier figure skating. Watching them nail their long program is even giving me shivers just thinking about it. Also, way back when when British Ice Dancing Team Torvil and Dean were competing, their work was so gorgeous I cried.

    And the USA! stuff from Atlanta? Was embarrassing, dude. Many Americans hated it, too. What crappy hosts Americans make. I think we did better in Lake Placid, but then we were beating up on the big, bad, USSR, and just about everyone was glad to see that happen.

  2. Thanks, Cap'n D. I just went on youtube and had the best time watching these old Olympic moments!

  3. Thanks, MAW, I forgot to mention Sale and Pelletier, and it was only Atlanta, Salt Lake was great. And I miss the USSR, they made for great bad guys.

  4. I remember that swimmer, and the guy who's dad had to help him cross the finish, and the Jamaican bobsled team that first year. Atlanta made me cringe, and Salt Lake was brilliant.

    I have been watching the Olympics since I was little, almost forty years, and each time, I get just as excited as I did when I was little.And not just about the USA, but about all the athletes, no matter how good or bad they may be.

    Hell, I even watched curling, and enjoyed it because it was THE OLYMPICS.

    So, well said, dude.

  5. You nailed it right on the head when you wrote it makes the world feel smaller. I couldn't agree more. I am so jealous/excited for you to have the games in your back yard. Warning: you will experience extreme depression once they leave. It seems your city just stands still and it's eerily quiet.

    I agree whole heartedly on the American Pride stuff too. I often worry that it becomes difficult for the world to watch because the way NBC portrays the Olympics its all about the medal count (WTF? who cares?) and how, in this particular Olympics, it's about Phelps being the hero of the games. I disagree. He accomplished a major feat, but what about an athlete that had to overcome incredible odds just to be there? Phelps has sponsors. There was a profile on a woman swimmer from Zimbabwe (Covington) and how when she brought home that's country's first ever gold medal she was hailed as a hero. They showed the small parade her hometown gave her. It was quaint and sweet and moved me more than any other moment I've seen so far during this Olympics.

    BTW: Sale and Pelletier handled the SLC thing with such grace. I saw them at a meet and greet (impromptu) and they were the nicest people. They won our city's heart in 2002.

  6. Yada Yada, If we hadn't finally moved from 56th to 27th place I would have become a hermit and claimed a Rock for my Country!!!
    Canadians are too nice. we all say well they did their best and that's all we should expect!!!
    I hate my many forums member's calling us the Sissy Country!
    Growl, (Throw Fit) (slide back into TV chair) (Slump and say) "There That'll Hold Em"

  7. I have hated the Olympics ever since my grandmother forced me to watch ice skating over and over and over again.

    I swore I wouldn't watch them this year because of that hatred.

    Well, as is the norm with me, I did a complete 180 and now love the Olympics. Not every sport but I discovered my love for "phelpsing" (go to Dogs and Jeans on my sidebar for that reference), women's volleyball, women's gymnastics (Go Nastia!) and some track.

    I now can't wait for London 2012.

    Oh, and I already have a blog post written about my 180 but I'm waiting for later in the week to post it.

  8. i'm slightly OBSESSED with the olympics. and i missed the first 3 canadian medals too!

    (ps Sale and Pelletier were robbed...sharing that gold medal with the russians??!)


Come on, sailor. I love you long time.