Disown the podium

Exactly what are Canadians getting from the Olympic experience?


Are you sick of it, yet?

The tub-thumping nationalism, the craven pumping of individual achievement, versus community health, the colossal waste of dough, to say nothing of the trashing of our national dignity – it’s all part of the 2010 Olympic experience.

Our nation’s dignity took a hit from the moment the opening ceremonies began last Friday. I’m not talking about all the things that went wrong – the disastrous flame-lighting gaffe, the empty VIP section, that’s all human error.

I’m talking about what went right.

All that stuff about a nation forged out of the tundra just reinforced the stereotypes of Canada being a country of igloos. Then they trotted out the First Nations to do their traditional dances. Doesn’t anybody realize there’s an entire movement protesting the use of indigenous peoples’ symbols and traditions at sporting events?

I get that the whole idea was to show respect. And I know the native community in BC is divided about how to participate in the Olympic. But from a representational point of view, it looked like a pathetic token gesture, made more repulsive by the fact the ceremonies cost a fortune. I mean, really, natives dancing while cash-strapped reserves reel under sketchy power supplies, alcoholism and a distressing suicide rate among teens. Time for a reality check.

As for the games themselves, exactly why am I supposed to be rooting for the Canadian competitors? We’re being asked to show our approval for the nearly 50 million dollars spent to create – if we’re lucky – 25 sports stars. This is rugged individualism gone crazy. Leave the winning is everything mentality to the Chinese and the Americans.

Speaking of winning being everything, Canadian Maelle Ricker took the gold medal in the snowboard cross event. She nearly killed herself in a crash at the Turin games four years and underwent eight – count ’em – eight knee surgeries before copping Olympic gold this year.

I’m not impressed, I’m horrified. Ricker’s commitment is right up there with those athletes who’ve said they’d rather win gold and die at 30 than be a loser and live.

The focus on elite athletic individuals is all wrong. It’s that elitist obsession that led the IOC to encourage the 2010 games organizers to build the fastest, most dangerous luge track ever. The result – one dead Georgian. I thought the idea of the games was to bring people together to compete on a level playing field. They race against each other, not the clock, so why construct such a treacherous track?

The answer is that Olympic competition has become more spectacle than sporting event. Keep this up and pretty soon, the luge, the downhill ski race and other dangerous but not necessarily fatal pursuits will become more like NASCAR racing – a sport that attracts nutbars who fork over their dollars to watch the crashes. Gee, with any luck, someone might get killed.

What if everything that went wrong at the Olympics went right and there weren’t any more egregious errors and problems? What if Wayne Gretzky carried the torch on a float with security instead of on the back of an unsecured pick-up? What if the zamboni had not gone missing in action during the men’s 500 m. speed skate? What if the outdoor cauldron were in an accessible green space? What if the weather was picture perfect? Would we be any better off?

As we poured money into the Own The Podium initiative, designed to breed medal winners at these games, school swimming pools were being closed down, women and men were fighting for ice time on our precious few local rinks and the obesity crisis among poorer teenagers grew worse. Had we thrown one fraction of the dough spent on the Olympics at those sports and body-related issues, we’d be a better, healthier country.

Remember when the Russians and the Americans won everything and our reporters – instead of themselves carrying the Olympic torch all over Canada or playing Canadian cheerleader while covering the actual events – dutifully reported on all those Canucks who came in 26th?

Those were the days.[rssbreak]

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