The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Olympic retrospective

I find a certain poetic justic in that it was the penalty called against Todd Bertuzzi that finally gave Russia the edge it needed to eliminate the Canadian team from the men's hockey medals. While I don't think he should have been solely and individually scapegoated having taken an action the entire N. American hockey industry tacitly supports: rolling over that support into a place on the Olympic men's hockey team rankled, and an Olympic medal would have rankled more.

That tale is ended. The women's hockey team shone. The speedskaters and skiers and skeletoners shone even more brightly. We now have very nearly the best population-to-medal ratio of any country in these games, after Norway. (And my heart goes out to all the fourth and fifth place finishers. Fourth and fifth in the world ! The lack of medal cannot but hurt, but we do know that this is far, far from being a failure.)

Brightest of all in these games, perhaps, a Norwegian skiing coach: who is for now and forever a part of Canadian Olympic legend.

By now everyone knows the story of how, when Sara Renner's ski pole inexplicably broke, Norwegian ski coach Bjørnar Håkensmoen handed her his own: and thereby restored to her the opportunity for her to earn her silver medal in the team sprint for Canada ... ironically at the expense of his own Norwegian team, which finished 9/10 of a second after the Finnish team to come in fourth. His pole was too long for her height, seven inches longer than hers had been: but it was a pole. Ten seconds separated first place from fourth. With her own pole, maybe she might have won gold (and maybe not, without the sudden adrenaline need ) -- but without it, for certain she would have been out of the medals.

Bjørnar HåkensmoenNorway is not doing nearly as well as it had expected in cross-country skiing: but despite the medal cost the Norwegian public has come out firmly in favour of Håkensmoen's action. In some parts of these Olympics at least, winning fairly is still more important than gaining a high medal count at any cost.

That is why we try to show our gratitude to you, coach Håkensmoen. Some of us write the equivalent of thank-you columns. Many of us sent e-mails, letters, bouquets of flowers to the Norwegian embassy in Ottawa, or to the Norway Post or any other Norwegian links we can think of. One newspaper suggested that any Canadian who happened to encounter a Norwegian, these two weeks, should buy him or her a drink. A tour company has given the coach a free week in the Canadian Rockies (airfare included). One Montrealer has started Project Maple Syrup, to give a free can of Canadian maple syrup to every Norwegian athlete and Olympic committee member. (Members of the public who wish to donate can do so at any of 300 participating Bell stores.) Renner sent a bottle of wine, which I understand is being saved for a family moment. The ski pole itself is destined for the Canadian Olympic hall of fame.

We are a quiet country, but some things should not be left unsaid. We appreciate people like you, Coach Håkensmoen ... and we want to say thank you: for giving us the chance at the medal, yes: but especially because in these games, you have exemplified the Olympic spirit.

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