Saturday, August 16, 2008

For Good Sportsmanship, Canada Takes the Gold

Canada, like most nations, is obsessed with the Olympics despite the fact that they never do very well. I've mostly lived in countries (UK, US) that do incredibly well, racking up medals like coins in a Mario game and chanting their national anthem as if they were trying to beat the rest of the world over the head with it.

Up here, however, the prospect of winning a medal is more remote (except with hockey, but that's a winter sport so we have to wait for Vancouver in 2010), and so the country's strong attention to the games comes with a different mindset: they do not watch them to reinforce the idea that they're #1 as a lot of Americans seem to do, or that they are #1 in the sports that matter the way the Brits do (that was a joke, son, laugh!) -- they watch out of the simple joy of friendly international competition and are perfectly happy for the countries that do win, particularly when it was an underdog (like yesterday's Jamaica's Usain Bolt breaking the world record in the 100-metre dash) manages to win or someone just completely dominates the field (aka half-man/half-fish Michael Phelps).

Obviously, however, Canada likes to win a few medals of its own, and finally on Day 8 they managed a gold thanks to BC resident Carol Huynh in the women's wrestling competition. Some more BC athletes, the men's rowing pair of Dave Calder (from Victoria!) and Scott Frandsen from Kelowna, took the silver. Another female wrestler, Tonya Verbeek of Ontario, took a bronze medal in her class.

UPDATE: Well, the pattern that emerged early continued. The United States won the most medals (110, 36 gold), so it can claim to have "won" the Olympics, but China got the highest number of gold medals (51, out of 100 medals total) so it can claim it "won" the Olympics. For me (and apparently for the rest of the world, since they have little hope of ever dominating the Olympics in the way the US, Britain, China, Russia and the other "big nations" do), it's more about cheering on the underdog, enjoying the upsets and admiring those who come from behind to win.

I've heard it said by some of the locals that one of the reasons Canada doesn't do nearly as well as its very similar cousin to the south is that Canada invests more heavily in the overall health of the general population rather than specifically focusing on creating Olympic ├╝bermensch. I've also been told that children's school athletics programs pale in comparison to the US, but I don't know how true either of those charges are. Kids around here have, it seems to me, plenty of athletic opportunities available. Maybe Canada just lacks that bulldog-like "win at any cost" hunger that Americans have.

In any event, though athletics have not been much a part of my life since my school days, and though Canadian interest in this Olympics has been lessened noticeably due to Canada's disapproval of China's pollution and human rights records (PM Stephen Harper skipped the opening ceremonies), we salute the athletes of the US and Canada who succeed in achieving world ranking in their chosen sport.