Sunday, February 28, 2010

February 28, 2010

As the Olympics draw to a close today, I have to take a moment to talk about the U.S.-Canada dynamic throughout the duration of the Games. It's always a rivalry to say the least, but this Olympics has had it's share of moments highlighting that rivalry.

From the opening night, when Jenn Heil won her silver medal, and was flanked on either side by American skiers waving the American flag, it looked like a dim premonition of what may be to come. In the first week, after the U.S. took a lead on the medal count, and Canada conceded that they would not be able to catch them, it appeared that the dream of leading the Olympics in medals had been lost to our neighbours to the South.

But 13 gold medals later (one possibly one more to come), Canada leads the medal count in Golds...the most ever by any country at the Winter Olympics, and a total medal count higher than ANY host country, including the U.S. at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Now people are saying that we actually have WON the games due to our gold medal count, and here's where I disagree. It's a uniquely American trait that when you aren't the best, you simply adjust the parameters so that you are now defined as the best. Remember Michael Johnson and Donovan Bailey? Historically, the title of 'Fastest Man Alive' was always reserved for the winner of the 100 meter-dash at the Olympics, but when Donovan Bailey won in 1996, all of a sudden, the American speedster Michael Johnson was now the fastest man in the world, because he won the 200 meter-dash. It was an ignorant attempt at patriotism by the U.S., and I refuse to play the same game by saying we won the Olympics because we have more Gold Medals. The goal was to win in overall medal count. We didn't, but that doesn't mean it was a failure in any way. It was fantastic...but let's not go the American route and make up reasons why.

These Olympics have had a lot of U.S.-Canada subplots, none bigger than the hockey rivalries on the mens and womens sides, but something happened the other night that said a lot.

In the 500 metre Short Track Speed Skating Final, Charles Hamelin and Francois-Louis Tremblay were both skating against the U.S.'s Apolo Ohno and Korea's Song Si-Bak. Coming around the final turn, Ohno clearly put a hand on Tremblay, causing him to fall, and in turn causing Bak to fall, with Hamelin crossing the line first and Ohno in second.

I immediately screamed at the TV that Ohno needed to be disqualified for the contact, and sure enough he was. But after the fact, Ohno skated around the ice demonstratively protesting that he did nothing wrong.

After the race, on NBC, Ohno was asked by Cris Collingsworth about the incident, and Ohno replied by saying that he disagreed with the ruling, but that since it was a Canadian referee, there were two Canadians in the race, and "we're on Canadian soil", that explains why he was disqualified so that they could get two medals. To his credit, Collingsworth pushed him on that statement, asking him if that's really why he thought he was disqualified, and Ohno replied "Absolutely."

What an ignorant comment. I was disgusted by Ohno, widely regarded as one of the greatest Olympians in U.S history, spewing his sour grape wine all over the camera for the world to see. And even more ignorantly, there were no U.S. media outlets that reported his inane comment, other than one that proclaimed that "Ohno was in a position to win a medal when the incident happened" and that the Canadian ref essentially stole it from him.

Well, Ohno was in 4th place of 4 skaters going into the final turn, and since they only award medals to the top three, I would hardly consider that "in a position to win a medal." Ohno owes an apology to Charles Hamelin, and the Canadian Olympic Team.

Sour grapes indeed.

There will likely never come a time when the U.S.-Canada rivalry isn't in the forfront of the Winter Olympic Games, but let's have some decency when we are defeated fair and square.


Anonymous said...

Sean, while Ohno's comments (regardless of nationality) are reprehensible, I think that you could also have highlighted countless video interviews of American athletes who were (and are) gracious in either their victory or their defeat. It's unforutnate that Ohno's comments should get any "air time" so to speak, in public, or even in a blog like yours. He's irrelevant to the subject matter and to the super athletes on both sides of the border who make up the rivalry you've written about.

Danny said...

I do agree US-Canada have a great winter rivalry and while i conceded to Canada winning Gold in the hockey game(which they just did) I have to say i did throw a bet down with a buddy on US because of their performance since the start. Ohno is a spoiled brat that is all I really have to say about him. To me tho the Hockey game just felt like a big NHL all-star match tho.

Sean said...


Yes, I could have highlighted those other videos, but that wasn't the point of the post. The post was about the rivalry, and the ugliness that came out of Ohno because of it. Those other videos only make his comments more disgusting.

Jason said...

Maybe this is apropos of nothing, but I'd like to make a comment on the Canada/USA dynamic as it relates to a broader scale. I have a friend who's been living in South Korea for the last ten years that insists that Canadian tourists are more hated than Americans. They tend to overcompensate in their insistence of their Canadian citizenship (presumably so they don't be confused as American)and it rubs them the wrong way. I can only imagine that this is going to be compounded after these Olympics. It seems that we have been given official license to be arrogant and self obsessed.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the Olympics, and I really enjoyed it when Canada won anything (including the sports that felt like they were made up on the spot). But on the Canadian coverage of the games there was a lot of talk about how wonderful it is that these Olympics have turned us from being shy and reserved and slightly embarassed, to chest-thumping, flag-waving and aggressively proud.
I've been getting that sense of nausea usually reserved for a crowd of people chanting USA!USA!USA!
What say you Sean? Do you think I'm just being a spoil sport?

Sean said...

No Jason, I don’t think that you’re being a spoil sport, and I’ve heard the same argument in the past two weeks in terms of our rampant patriotism…comparing Canadians to Americans in terms of their chest-thumping, some even calling Canadians “the new Americans.” That’s precisely why I made the argument in the post about the ‘Own the Podium’ parameters. We are not the Americans.

Yes, I can see the comparison in terms of Canadians and their response to these games, but I personally don’t believe that the Canadian contingent (fans and athletes) have been ‘arrogant and self-obsessed’, and that’s where I differentiate. Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian, and I’ve always seen the ‘ugly American’ response and bravado, but I’d like to think I’m assessing this with a clear and unbiased eye. I think it’s a fair point, but I also think that it’s more pride-based than taunting.