Time for a new narrative: Coming to defense of the Vancouver Games
Three big 'dots' emerged early, and 'miserablists' scurried to connect them
No matter what it did, Vancouver was going to get slammed for something
In the end, Canada continues to be home of the world's most polite people
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- They did more than give their all. By twizzling their way to gold in ice dancing on Monday night, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir handed out rally caps to a grateful nation.
Not to go all SI-jinx on the host country or anything, but with the possible exception of a few soft goals given up by Martin Brodeur, it has been quite a few days since the so-called Glitch Games have had a high-profile faux pas. In fact, the longer one looks at the isolated incidents that gave rise to that "narrative," the clearer it becomes that it was, like the coiffure of American ice dancer Charlie White, a tad overblown.
At a recent dinner with colleagues more worldly and hard-boiled, I made the mistake of effusing about the Opening Ceremonies. I had been moved by the symbolism of "host nations" -- Canada's native Americans -- welcoming the world as it entered the stadium in alphabetical order. I dug their free-form dancing, and noted the contrast between it and the rather more regimented celebrations we saw in Beijing.
But did they have to go on all night?
And of course they couldn't decide on one person to light the torch, so they had four. How Canadian!
No one could argue that K.D. Lang rocked. But several of my dinner companions kvetched about the song she was given to sing, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Likewise, the slam poet came in for some rough treatment, but I liked him, too. He took chances, as did the producers of that extravaganza. In this way, I agreed with The Globe and Mail's Ian Brown. "It was daring," he wrote of the ceremony. "It made me proud to be from here... Having said that, we can also acknowledge that the malfunctioning torch lit by Gretzky & Co. really did resemble two burning spliffs, with especially symbolic resonance for Vancouver."
Dot No. 2 was that dysfunctional torch. Dot No. 1, of course -- the only blight on these Games that is truly indelible -- was the death that morning of a young luger on a track that had been widely described as too fast.
Dot No. 3 was the sight of the Great One being borne to the Olympic Cauldron in the back of a pickup. Yes, it was rather ... plebeian. Maybe that was the point. Standing in the rain, waving to the flash mob that followed him, Gretzky embodied a populism of which Pierre de Coubertin would have approved.
Once there were three dots, there was no shortage of people eager to connect them. Throw in a chain link fence around the Cauldron, an ice-resurfacing machine on the fritz at the Richmond Olympic Oval and a disastrous lack of snow on Cypress Mountain, and we've got ourselves a pattern, a theme, a "narrative," even if it was somewhat contrived.
As Canadian IOC member Dick Pound told The Globe and Mail last week, "When you compare these Games to Torino or Lake Placid or anywhere else, VANOC is a pretty well-oiled machine."
No matter how much goes right, or how much of themselves people pour into it, there's something about an undertaking this vast that quickens the pulses of nitpickers, alarmists and "miserablists" (coinage: Rick Broadbent of the London Times). For those in need of a quick column, there's an abundance of low-hanging fruit.
When Canada finally did win a gold medal at these Games, National Post columnist Stephen Marche sympathized with those who will go into mourning, because "We are no longer beautiful losers."
Well Stephen, you're half right.
If the security personnel subjected journalists to bag checks and metal detectors at every turn, we would trumpet our displeasure to the mountaintops. But, with the Canadian government taking a more selective approach, at least one correspondent "doesn't feel particularly safe in Vancouver," and yearns for more frequent, intrusive security measures.
The simple truth is that VANOC is going to get slammed by some people no matter what it does.
The "narrative" suffered a serious blow last Tuesday at Cypress. Maelle Ricker, from just up Highway 99 in Squamish, took the gold in women's snowboard cross. After eight knee surgeries; after knocking herself out in the finals at the Turin Olympics and having to be choppered off the course, Ricker embodies the resilience that Canadians will need to rewrite the "narrative."
Indeed, that job is already underway. Sure there was the small matter of failing to Own (or, often, set foot on) the Podium over the next several days. Then came Sunday night's upset of the mighty Canadian hockey club -- "Damn Yankees!" blared the headline in the The Province.
Then came Monday, and Virtue and Moir cleansed the palate of a nation by cleaning up in ice dancing. What struck me, as much as the synchronicity of their twizzles -- "Bang on!" declaimed the CTV analyst, reminding no one of Scott Hamilton -- was their graciousness. Interviewed afterward, Virtue went out of her way to thank "the many people" who had helped them along their "journey."
Moir took pains to give props to their friends and training partners, the silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, from America. "We're so proud of them," he said. "They came in here and really laid it down, and we couldn't be happier for them."
Even with this uncharacteristic emphasis on medal counts, Canada continues to be the home of the world's most polite people. That's why it's a pleasure to rise to her defense, to "stand on guard for thee."