|Posted on February 21, 2010 at 11:33 AM|
Posted Sunday, February 21, 2010 1:13 AM ET
Denny Morrison of Canada competes in the men's speed skating 5000m on Day 2 of the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Getty Images
Denny Morrison was bewildered, a little angry, pulling his punches abit (he seemed to want to criticize the Own the Podium program forhaving failed him but stopped short of saying how it had),disappointed.
A legitimate medal contender in both the 1,000 and 1,500metres, he'd finished 13th in the former last week. Saturday night wasto have been his so-called redemption race.
Instead he exploded - that's the term speed skaters use - and died in the last lap.
Whenasked if he could rally himself for the upcoming men's team event,bless his heart, he said, "I can give you the answer my sportspsychologist would like me to tell you or I can tell you how I reallyfeel." I felt like clapping. He even managed to escape the press scrumwithout apologizing.
The night before, beautiful MellisaHollingsworth, the skeleton favourite who finished fifth, was weeping,telling a TV interviewer "I feel like I have let down my wholecountry." The night before that, Christine Nesbitt seemed almost afraidto celebrate her gold medal in the 1,000 metres, as if carpe diem didnot include joy.
In between, here and there, other Canadianathletes, when the heartless cameras first found them but before thetalking heads got to them, have mouthed a silent "Sorry."
AndSaturday, at last, at least two Canadian sportswriters used the word"choke" or "choking" to describe the performance of the men's alpineteam at these Olympics.
It was almost a relief. That it cameunusually late in the game is a testament only to the four gold medals,three silvers and one bronze that the country's athletes have won, andthe remarkably good performances (such as the three men who finished inthe top nine in the 30-kilometre pursuit yesterday) many others havelogged.
It is my 12th time watching this demeaning, exhausting, ridiculous Canadian circus.
TwelveOlympics I've been to, and every single time, the old accusation isdragged out and cast at some kid who has just busted a gut and whoseonly failure is not to live up to the expectations of someone else,usually someone with a pot belly or in a suit. It is like the languagedebate in this country, the conversation as without end, as wearing, assuperficial and puerile. In both, there are instigators on thesidelines, chips the size of trucks on their shoulder, waiting to takeoffence. The rest of us just want them all to shut up.
Thefirst time I saw it happen at an Olympics was in Innsbruck in 1976, inthe days when most Canadian athletes did finish in the back of thepack. Those kids were hardly losers; rather the opposite. Theirmodern-day counterparts now regularly finish in the top third, but thekids are the same.
Worth noting: The "what's wrong?" discussion almost never starts with Canadians watching at home.
Asone of them, Anton Plager, whose three cousins played in the NationalHockey League and who is no stranger to excellence, snarled in a noteyesterday, "Canadians are quite aware of the abilities and sacrificesneeded for these kids to excel in their chosen sports and are alsoquite aware that some days it all comes to together and other days itdoesn't. That's sports." Then he added, "I believe 'Own the Podium' isa good program with an absolutely idiotic name. In business as you wellknow, 'Under-promise and over-deliver' is always better than thereverse. Same in sport." I think he's right: Goals are good, reachingfor the top honourable, but as ever, it's not the winning which is thegreat teacher, but the long hard road there. That's how young Canadiansacquire that grave sense of responsibility to one another and to thecountry, learn that you have to experience failure to fear it, thatit's the ride not the result which matters.
Marnie McBeanv, thegreat, gold-medalling rower who is a mentor with the Canadian teamhere, was at Whistler the night Ms. Hollingsworth made her mea culpa."What I said to her was that she had worked hard enough to believe inher dream, and that it wasn't life, it was sport," Ms. McBean said.
She told her, "Let the country love you."
Iwalk home here on Granville Street every night, one of the partystreets I have come to call The River of Vomit because, were it not forthe extraordinary efforts of Vancouver's sanitation department, itwould be just that after the usual invasion of 100-150,000 young peopleevery evening, most of them half-drunk. I watched as one young womanstopped, held up her cell phone camera, opened her mouth wide andlip-synched a loud shriek, and took her own picture.
What wouldyou want for your daughter, that she be the fifth-best drinker onGranville, or go upstream, against the current, and dare to testherself in something?
Let the country love the right ones, for the right reasons.