Sunday, 14 February 2010

Half-baked thought after our first medal

Did Jenn Heil "win" silver or "lose" gold?

Yes, this matters. Because this is being touted as "our year." We're investing millions to "Own the Podium" and quite possibly, gloat over the results. The voice-over to the opening ceremonies was full of ominous "us vs. them." foreboding: "They come here not to celebrate us, but to defeat us."

But even a casual scan of the reader comments on most coverage this morning shows that not all Canadians have bought into this notion. A lot of comments expressed anger at reporters for asking Heil if she was "disappointed" that she had "lost gold."

Remember, though, for these Games we've chosen to play by a different set of rules. Officially, we've chosen to compete with the best, to prove ourselves the best.

But what I don't think we've grasped yet is that the multi-million dollar investment Canada has made to "Own the Podium" is just table stakes now. The competition out there is still fierce. Those dollars help us compete with the best. They don't guarantee results. On any given day, with the margins for error so slim, a gold medal is never a sure thing.

So when a focused, poised Heil puts in a near-perfect run that on any other night would win gold, yet loses out by less than half a point to her American rival, how should we respond? How should we feel?

I was disappointed as all hell for Heil at the result. It takes years of training, focus and commitment to get where she is, not to mention the wear and tear on your body (one of the TV commentators mentioned she had taken time off to have her hip bones realigned). So see her finish less than half a point shy of the country's first Olympic gold on home soil and her second in her event in as many Olympics was heartbreaking. 

And if you compared her obvious jubilation in Turin (captured so perfectly in the official "I Believe" theme song video) to her more muted expression once Kearney's results came up, it was obvious - at least for that instant - that she was heartbroken, too.

I think many are expecting reporters and by extension, other Canadians to simply celebrate our athletes' efforts and sportsmanship. To applaud the way they carry themselves, regardless of the outcome. 

That's fine. But I think if Canada continues down this path, then comments like "let's just celebrate our efforts GO CANADA" won't have the same comforting tone they did before. Thing is, for those who buy into this approach, you can't have it either way. Once you choose to be more aggressive, to be more brash - to be "more American," then you need to expect these kinds of questions.

Officially, we want to beat the world, not just hang out with it for a while. And it's exciting to see our athletes compete with the world's best and be "the ones to beat" in so many events.

But if Canada wants to continue down this path, we're going to have to redefine - at least where sports are concerned - what it means when we say we're "proud to be Canadian." And we're going to have to be ready to hear more reporters asking our athletes if they're "disappointed" to "lose gold."

No comments: