The Big One

By Nathan White

Canadians are not big on celebrating themselves or patting themselves on the back.

Except for this one little thing called hockey.

That’s why Sunday’s gold-medal game against the United States has such magnified meaning for Canadians.

Other countries might not know this, but Canadians have been told for the last six years about how we were going to “Own The Podium,” with extra funding focused on athletes with medal hopes. Canada got off to a bit of a slow start at the Games, falling behind in the overall medal count while the U.S. marched out to a big lead and set its own national record for medals.

But as we’ve been piling up the golds, the pride has slowly built. On Saturday, Canada tied the all-time record of 13 golds by winning another trademark Canadian sport, curling, overcoming the Norwegians and their pants.

Now, the chance to set a new Olympic record and doing it with a hockey gold at home would be the ultimate for Canadian sports fans. Today the Canadian hockey team has a chance to create an unforgettable moment for Canadians, in our undisputed favourite sport. A Canadian hockey gold, on home soil, that gives us the all-time record for gold medals  would be forever etched in the memories of Canadians, who have been debating the makeup of this team – and the merits of hosting the Olympics – since the disappointment of 2006.

BAD SPORTS?

Win or lose, I’ll also be watching the gold medal game to see how the U.S. reacts to the result.

We meek Canadians up here in our igloos are always saying things like, “Please pass the maple syrup, eh?” and we like our winners and losers to celebrate or congratulate with grace and sportsmanship.

The U.S. has a reputation for not quite having that same knack, as supported by the 1998 Olympic hockey team, which got lit up on sake and trashed the place before leaving Nagano, Japan.

The 2002 team, however, seemed to recognize it was Canada’s destiny to break a 50-year gold medal drought, and were gracious losers as the Canadians celebrated on American ice in Salt Lake City.

This Olympics we’ve seen a range of examples.

An image that sticks with me from early in the Games is of freestyle skiers Hannah Kearney and Shannon Bahrke jumping up and down in Canadian Jennifer Heil’s face after she had fallen just short of delivering on the hopes of a nation anticipating its first gold. Kearney and Bahrke never seemed to tire of jubilantly waving the stars and stripes while Heil sheepishly pretended to be happy with silver.

Of course, Apolo Ohno’s recent comments blaming Canadian referees for costing him a speed-skating medal would be another exhibit in the bad sportsmanship case.

But we’ve seen plenty of good sportsmanship from the Americans as well. Snowboarder Shaun White, for example, seemed like about the coolest, most laid-back guy in the world while accepting his gold medal. And you might have missed 16-year-old figure skater Mirai Nagasu with all the fuss over Joannie Rochette, and Korean gold medalist Yu-Na Kim. Nagasu came on after Rochette’s emotional performance Thursday and delivered a flawless free skate, true to the competitive spirit, yet smiled when she found out she landed just outside the medals.

Speaking of sportsmanship, if you haven’t read this great first-person account from Canadian Olympic speedskater and cyclist Clara Hughes, it’s a must.

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~ by Nathan White on February 28, 2010.

4 Responses to “The Big One”

  1. I also hope there is good sportsman ship on both sides – and not just for the players, but both sides of the border as far as the fans go!

    With all due respect, The great citizens of Canada did not show their respect after we beat them in the prelim round with the **** USA video (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3XibMPAf-z0) which came out.

    I know that if America loses we will still get silver (when the experts said we would be lucky to finish in sixth) and I will not accuse Canada of cheating or bad sportsmanship or whatever, but if America wins today (which if we are truly being honest is possible as they are undefeated and have Ryan Miller as the goaltender) what videos or vicious sound bytes can we expect tommorrow? I truly hope none, the hockey has been great this year at the Olympics, but after that video who knows.

    I doubt either teams players will be fighting, after all in a couple days they will be going back to being teammates and in the hunt for the cup. But let’s hope that the fans can be just as neutral.

    • Great comments Pam, I hope those fans represent the minority, just like past cases where people have booed the American anthem, etc. I’m hoping for a well-played game that leaves both sides feeling they gave it their best shot.

  2. I think your article is good…but, you should also mention the Women’s hocket GOLD medal game too…Hockey winds for Canada for us all. Thanks, Janice

    • Good call Janice, you’re right, I never got around to mentioning the women. There was so much focus on the celebration “controversy” that I didn’t want to weigh in at the time. It was a big deal for the women to win on home soil as well, and their gold set the stage for Sunday’s finale. I also have no problem with them celebrating on the ice. It’s not like they were trashing hotel rooms, or the “underage” girl was 12 years old or something. Canadian hockey players having a couple of beers and a cigar is a non-issue to me. I think there was a double-standard there, considering skeleton gold medalist Jon Montgomery was practically applauded for chugging a pitcher of beer in the street.

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