I live in Seattle, about 3 hours south of Vancouver, BC. I am married to a Canadian. I consider myself an honorary Canadian. I regularly root for the Canadian team – except when it is competing against God’s team, which of course would be the USA (After all, the song goes “God Bless America”, not “God Bless Canada”). So it is all that more upsetting that I have to ask the Vancouver Olympics Organizing Committee, “Vancouver Games, have you no shame?”
Oh sure, just about every Olympic Games in the past century has been fraught with some degree of scandal. Who could forget any of these dubious moments?
Berlin games, 1936: Jesse Owens misinterprets Adolf Hitler’ apparent refusal to shake his hand after winning four gold medals. Truth is Hitler was just really shy and was embarrassed that his English was not very good. He really was Jesse’s biggest fan.
Mexico City games, 1968: American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their black gloved-hands in what many misinterpret as a militant “black power salute” on the medals podium during the American National Anthem. In reality it was intended as a playful, impish way of saying “Take that, White honky”.
Lillehammer, Norway games, 1994: Tonya Harding secretly hires some lowlife character to ask rival skater Nancy Kerrigan for her autograph, who then accidentally smashes her on the knee with a crow bar… three times. Sadly, Tonya never did get Nancy’s autograph.
Turin, Italy, 2006: Italian downhill racer Silvio Vespucci, in a desperate attempt to prevent his Austrian rival from eclipsing his time, runs out onto the course and tosses a big white sheet over his competitors’ face, temporarily blinding him and causing him to crash into the fence. This shameful incident will forever after be known as the infamous “Shroud of Turin”.
This list does not even count the myriad of performance-enhancing drug scandals that have surfaced at just about every Olympic Games. The truth is scandals and malfunctions have always been a part of the modern Olympics. But Vancouver takes the gold medal. The more I research this year’s games, the uglier the story becomes. Oh sure, you may have watched as the fourth pillar would not rise during the final moments of the Opening Ceremony at this year’s games. A “technical malfunction” for sure. What you may not know is that this pillar was manufactured by Toyota and currently is the subject of the largest Olympics torch pillar recall in history. Nice job picking Toyota, Vancouver Committee. At least it was better than your first choice, LEGO Corporation.
There have been all sorts of complaints about weather-related delays on the downhill events. First there was not enough snow (snow actually had to be shipped in from the Rockies). Then there was too much. Then it was too foggy. Personally I found the humidity in the bleachers at the snowboarding park at times to be uncomfortably elevated, but you don’t see any news coverage about this fiasco. Clearly the organizers should have planned for these weather uncertainties and built climate-controlled domed enclosures for both the Downhill course and the snowboard park with retractable roofs. They chose to cut corners instead, using the hackneyed excuse that it would cost roughly the GNP of Norway to build such domes. Lame.
Even the indoor speed skating competition was delayed on two consecutive days when the ice-resurfacing equipment broke down. My anonymous sources tell me the equipment was sabotaged by disaffected French Canadian speed skaters who complained bitterly that the numbers on the scoreboard were not translated into their native French. Those French Canadians can be so sensitive. What I meant to say is ces Canadiens français peuvent être si sensibles.
And don’t get me started about the Canadian curling team. Curling – otherwise known as housecleaning on ice – is the third most popular sport in Canada (after hockey and moose racing), which should tell you all you need to know about the bleak, dreary existence that most Canadians endure in a nation that has almost nine months of darkness every year. One of the Canadian curling team members is a woman who is five and half months pregnant. If you ask me, it’s an outrage that they let this person on the team. Since when did they allow women into the sport of curling?
There have been widespread complaints by competitors from other nations that the Canadian athletes were allowed to do training runs several days before anybody else, to which the Canadian team spokesperson, in an effort to stem the controversy, replied, “It’s a bitch ain’t it when you’re not the host country, eh?” Or as those Quebec speed skaters would say, “C’est une chienne n’est pas cela quand vous n’êtes pas le pays d’accueil, eh?” But the truth is actually much darker. Not only did the Canadians get a three-day head start on training runs, but under new highly controversial rules announced at the last minute, all the non-Canadian skiers are required to have their skis retrofitted with tire tread bottoms, ostensibly for better traction on turns. And all non-Canadian speed skaters must skate backwards for the first lap of each race. That seems outrageously unfair to me, but then who can understand the sinister Canadian mind?
Canada has long had the much deserved reputation for being a nation of rude, arrogant, boorish “we’re better than everybody else” loudmouths, in stark contrast to the quieter, more introspective, modest nature of their neighbors to the south. But the Canadians do not have a lock on all the bad behavior. The US hockey team flagrantly violated the rules against putting commercial slogans on their uniforms when the American goalie, Ryan Miller, put the words “It’s Miller Time” on the back of his helmet. Another teammate had the temerity to put the following crass message on his helmet: “Support our Troops.” Wisely, the Canadian Olympic Committee forced him to remove this highly offensive commercial endorsement which showed blatant favoritism towards our troops over other troops.
I have to wag another finger of disapproval at NBC television for its shamelessly bad coverage of the games. I echo the complaints of so many others who have rightly pointed out that NBC dropped the ball by:
- Tape-delaying coverage of many key events when they should have shown the events live
- Running live coverage of many key events when they should have shown the events tape-delayed
- Showing way too much figure skating, snowboarding and curling
- Showing not nearly enough figure skating, snowboarding or curling
- Not covering just the events I want to see when I want to see them and eliminating coverage of the ones I don’t follow. I was a Nielsen household once in 1995. NBC should know by now that I really like watching the luge coverage but think the two-man luge is boring.
But back to laying the blame on Canada. The fact is the list of blunders, screw-ups and bad decisions by the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee is higher than the peak amplitude of a Shaun White Double McTwist 1260. They were even planning on having Tiger Woods light the torch at the opening ceremony using a 9-iron, until someone at the last minute suggested it might be better to choose Mr. Hockey and Canadian legend, Wayne Gretsky instead. About time you got one call right, Canada.
The Games have gotten so out of hand that even the politicians are making a mess of things. Just this past week, in a spirit of bipartisanship, President Obama invited several Senators and members of the House of Representatives to watch some of the Olympics coverage with him at the White House. At one point, during a hockey game, he jumped up and shouted “Go USA!” Four Republican Senators immediately jumped up in protest and angrily shouted “HEY, HEY, Switzerland”, further proving that there is nothing President Obama can be in favor of which Republicans won’t oppose.
You can blame Canada. I know I do.
That’s the view from the bleachers (where it’s really cold out. Does anyone have cocoa?) Perhaps I’m off base.
© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2010 – 2011