There was a puzzling sight and sound as the Winter Games began. You'd swear that through the mist enveloping Vancouver you could see homegirl Cindy Lou Who sporting a tattoo. And over the refrain of O Canada, you were positive that you could hear another Who taunt foes with "boo-hoo!"
What happened to innocent Canada? Is it not Whoville anymore? Our modest neighbors to the north, once content to feed our cat and pick up our mail while we Americans traveled the globe to kick Olympic ass, have started to sound a lot like us—as in U.S. "While we will always be willing to hold open a car door for a guest," says J.D. Miller, a Montreal businessman who has helped fund Canadian Olympians, "I have an inclination as to which country will be looking in the rearview mirror come February 28th."
Oh, so it's like that, eh? First, it was the Canadian currency that was outperforming ours, and now the nation with a health care system wants to shove our stripes where the stars don't shine. "We have come to this era where we can say we're proud," says Team Canada's chef de mission and former speedskater Nathalie Lambert, "and we want to be Number 1."
The sound of bravado and the perception of Canada is an awkward fit. To date, William Shatner's role as the Priceline negotiator is about the only tough-guy act to come out of Canada. So what's with Canada's craving for a No. 1 foam finger? This is a country seeking to establish an identity that goes beyond nice. During the opening ceremonies Canadian poet Shane Koyczan delivered an encomium to his homeland titled We Are More, which included this passage:
And some say what defines us
Is something as simple as "please" and "thank you"
And as for "you're welcome," well, we say that, too
But we are more than genteel or civilized
We are an idea in the process of being realized?
Apparently, part of the country's grand evolution is to make the world eat its gold dust. Canada's Own the Podium scheme, launched in 2005, has poured millions into athlete development to ensure that the country with the maple leaf on its flag wins more than consolation bouquets. The OTP is also insurance against humiliation; in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics and during the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, Canada did not win one gold medal. With Vancouver as its showcase, Canada wants to prove itself as an Olympic power on par with, say, the U.S. So think of Canada as the new China or the old U.S.S.R.—without, of course, the Communist high jinks.