Wednesday, February 17, 2010

With glowing hearts? Hell, yes

The slogan of the 2010 Olympic Games is being tested.
Six days into the Olympics, a myriad of media reports have chronicled every moment of Canada's turn on the world's stage. 
Reports of the many misadventures in Vancouver are starting to cast a pall over Canada's turn as host country - or are they? There is still much debate about that, contrary to what international media would have us all believe. There is much fodder to pick from, what with bad fortune surfacing starting with the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili during a training run Friday and continuing  that evening at the Opening Ceremony, when a giant column failed to rise from the stage due to what officials deemed a mechanical malfunction. Since then, a lack of snow - or in some cases too much - has caused a number of events to be moved, a malfunctioning ice resurfacing machine caused delaysprotesters have had their 15 minutes and on Tuesday 20,000 standing room tickets were cancelled for all events at Cypress Mountain as a result of rain that has made the area unsafe. Canada has been criticized for lording its home field advantage over other countries. Wednesday brought reports of broken down buses, the ongoing saga and compromise over the fence blocking photographers attempting to capture the cauldron, 19 people being injured at a concert when a barricade collapsed and a security scare when a B.C. man infatuated with vice-president Joe Biden used a homemade pass to get by screeners at the opening ceremonies.

Even Alex Bilodeau had become a target for the tireless media Wednesday, when I saw Mark Hebscher of CHCH news spark a debate over whether our golden boy, Bilodeau (gold medal winner of the men's moguls skiing) should have removed his toque during the awards ceremony. Are you kidding me? The guy wins us our first ever gold medal on home soil at 22 years old - an accomplishment the rest of us will likely never achieve - and this is what he gets for it. I think he's earned the privilege to WEAR A HAT! Leave the kid alone, and enjoy the moment.
There has also been debate over the ubiquitous red mittens sold by HBC. The mittens are made in China, not Canada, and many are boycotting purchasing them for that reason. I am likely missing many other happenings but in the interest of brevity, I'll cut it off there.

As for the mittens, I too avoided buying them, rationalizing that China gets enough of my and millions of other Canadians' money. Then I received a pair as a gift for Valentines Day, and must admit I've taken a liking to them. Though I feel a twinge of guilt over wearing them and somewhat like a poser for talking about how much I love my country while donning yet another product manufactured offshore, they're warm. And I agree with the sentiment of one writer replying in a forum on the St. Catharines Standard's website - "Just because the product isn't made in Canada doesn't mean the act of purchasing that product isn't patriotic..."
Now maybe I'm just rationalizing to excuse my own guilt here and I'm still on the fence on this one as I write. I know HBC has cashed in big time on a surge in Canadian pride and this trend that will die the minute the Olympics is over. Are we really so materialistic and self-centred that we feel the need to buy a pair of mittens to tell others how patriotic we are? Quite the philosophical dilemma, it's a trivial concern on its own but a valid one when you really think about how psychology and culture influence what we buy.

As for the rest of the melee, in my opinion the factors contributing to Kumaritashvili's death should have been investigated and debated more thoroughly than they were. This incident was clearly swept under the rug too fast and questions remain. I am no engineer, but I wonder why steel columns had to be located in the place they were. Padding would probably not have saved his life as he was flying at a speed of just under 90 km/h. The blame seemed to placed on the luger's inexperience, but if that was the cause of this accident, why was the men's luge event moved to the women's starting place? There is double-speak going on.
VANOC's ability to organize and their lack of competence at times mystifies me.

Most of this other stuff is incidental and makes for juicy headlines for the two weeks the Olympics will run. The events of the past six days will provide much fodder for the cheesy retrospectives, round-ups and analyses you know will fill the week after the Olympics end. Nothing more, nothing less. In an anomaly, CTV has published a list of what's gone wrong, and how to fix it.
In the sea of gloom and doom, I have found some refreshing outlooks, including St. Catharines Standard editor Kalvin Reid's Point of View, published on today on the paper's website:
"It's too bad we can't enjoy the spectacle without being so self-critical. The media carries much of the responsibility. The expectations were placed high heading into these Games, especially after Canadians brought 24 medals home from Turin in 2006. Television commercials repeatedly asked which of the 206 Canadian athletes in Vancouver would be the first to win a gold medal on Canadian soil. Profiles of athletes, sponsored by the television broadcasting consortium carrying the Games, implored us all to "believe." Is it our fault that we did? So what if Manuel Osborne-Paradis finished 17th in the men's downhill, and Jeremy Wotherspoon once again failed to win gold in the men's 500-metre long track speed-skating event. Other great stories have emerged, not the least of which is Alexandre Bilodeau winning the men's moguls - and his is a great story to tell. Canada had high hopes heading into these Games. From our federal taxes comes $11 million every year to support the sports of the Winter Olympics. We are invested in our nation's sporting success. But here's the thing: After the first weekend of these Games, it has been a success. We have been a gracious host, and our athletes have performed admirably. And it only promises to get better. We should be proud."

I also liked the thoughts of the Edmonton Journal's Dan Barnes:
"...there are warts on every Olympic Games. It's too big a show to come off smoothly. But every time you think the whining of some British media will drown out O Canada, the city roars even louder...For all those cranky Brits who need a smile, might I suggest doubles luge as a constant source of entertainment. Two men. One sled. Millimetres of fabric. Speed. Curves. Ick."

The Olympics aren't even half over and Canada has much to be proud of. Namely, 22-year-old men's moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau's gold medal win at Cypress Mountain. He snatches the medal from reigning Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith, the rather smug Australian who left Canada for the program down under and refused Canadian media interviews once he arrived in Vancouver and who was cast as a "villain" Bilodeau had to defeat. Bilodeau's story, and his achievement, will go down in history in the minds of the millions of Canadians grateful to him for ending the country's drought of gold medals on home soil. More than 7 million Canadians tuned into watch Bilodeau's run and 23 million Canadians watched at least part of the Opening Ceremonies. Monday's medal ceremony, predicted to be ho-hum, was anything but for people who had bought tickets. Canada also has a golden girl in Maelle Ricker, who won the snowboard cross final Tuesday.
Canada's men's hockey team is hoping for gold and was off to a good start Tuesday, shutting out Norway 8-0.
 Our women's team crushed Sweden 13-1.

At the end of the day, I'm more inclined to adhere to the advice written on one of my favourite Facebook Pieces of Flair than sit around bemoaning the country's self-perceived failure as an Olympics host, as a result of some speculation by talking heads. 
"Put on your big girl panties, and deal with it!"
Go Canada.

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