23 February 2010
Watching the Winter Olympics in Canada, while they’re taking place on Canadian turf, brings up two distinct feelings: 1) Wow, Canadian pride can be a genuinely beautiful and touching thing; and 2) Wow, it must be tough to compete with the entire weight of the nation resting on your shoulders.
The two, of course, are linked. Until this year, Canada had, rather outrageously, never won an gold medal during any of the previous Olympics on home turf (c.f. Montreal, Calgary), but the Own the Podium initiative — which I see I can still donate our credit card reward points towards — has drawn considerable critique from both outside and inside the country. On NBC’s all-U.S. all-the-time coverage, U.S. athletes who are interviewed tend to speak of their performance in terms of personal goals, but Canadian athletes inevitably speak first of making Canada proud, or letting Canada down. This weekend, we saw Mellisa Hollingsworth — who got fifth place in the women’s skeleton after a bounce off the wall–repeatedly apologizing in tears for her performance. Then she held a press conference, where she apologized again for being a disappointment to her entire country. The perceived pressure was jarring: it’s not like Canadian athletes are being ripped away from their families when they enter the double-digits and sent to remote government-sponsored athletic training camps, but still.
On the flip side, there was Manitoban Jon Montgomery’s gold in the men’s skeleton. Montgomery, who gives off the vibe of being someone you might actually know in real life, as opposed to a Wheaties-box Super-Elite Athlete, was elated at his win: repeatedly giving a shout-out to his hometown in Manitoba, lustily participating in several spontaneous rounds of “O Canada!” begun by the equally exhilarated crowd at Whistler during his television interview, demonstrating his skills as a used-car auctioneer, and — perhaps most awesomely — picking up a pitcher of beer from the crowd during his victory walk and polishing off about half of it during his interview with CTV. Dude just won a gold medal, and he’s going to sing the national anthem and drink beer, damn it!
You own that podium, Canada. But I am glad to be an ordinary civilian, with no gold-, silver-, or bronze-winning powers.