Friday, February 12, 2010

A Big Hockey Tournament Starts Tonight

When Elizabeth Manley took to the ice in Calgary in 1988 to compete as a figure skater in the Winter Olympics, Canadians watched with pride.  She hadn't been given much of a shot at a medal, but by the time the competition reached the long program, it looked like she could get the bronze, agreeable to Canadians as emblematic of a good effort.  The real battle was between the beautiful Katerina Witt and Debi Thomas, the flashy Californian.

Before Thomas skated out for her long program, the camera and audio zoomed in to capture her coach's final words of encouragement.  "You're gonna win.  Remember, you're an American!  You're the best!"  A collective of groan came out across our living room.  Then we all looked at the floor.  Those Americans are so vulgar.  All they care about is winning.  But maybe if we were that way, we'd win more.

Like a wallflower living next door to the world's prom queen, Canadians roll their eyes at the national naked ambition of the US.  We wouldn't want to be like that anyway, we think, and it's true.  But we're still jealous of the accolades and the attention, even if the last thing we really want to do is call attention to ourselves.  We just want to be noticed for our good manners, overall cleanliness and our willingness to play nicely with others.

All kidding aside, this year's Olympics may mark a turning point in this regard.  An organization charged with making the home team win is called Own the Podium, which sounds downright competitive.  And Vancouver is the least typical of large Canadian cities.  I mean, how can a place that downright gorgeous not know it, even if it's been very well brought up?  It's used to feeling special, and now it's making the country look that way.

Debi Thomas, you may remember, flamed out spectacularly in her long program, and Elizabeth Manley had the skate of her life, coming within a fraction of Witt's score and taking home silver.  It was a sweet moment for her, a nice girl from Ottawa, and for her country.

I've lived in Texas for thirteen years and am proud to call it home.  I don't ever anticipate going back to Canada, although never is a long time.  The winter Olympics really is the only time I cannot cheer for the US team, at least not if there is a serious Canadian competitor, especially in the most of important of sports.  As Canadian musician and author Dave Bidini said in a quote to the New York Times this week, "God bless the lugers and the bobsledders, but at the end of the day, it's a hockey tournament."

There's an old, sad joke that goes, "Did you hear about the Canadian who won a gold medal?  He was so excited, he had it bronzed."  I really hope the next sixteen days put that joke to rest for good. 


  1. I'm a proud American – proud to be your friend. You made me laugh out loud this morning. I love, love, love the winter olympics. There's just something extra special about these games (always), but I'm particularly excited to see our Canadian neighbors "show their stuff."

  2. Sue, you write so well, and, yes, you made me laugh too! And made me proud that I can sort of kind of claim to have a link to Canada.