Thursday, February 18, 2010

Favourites


So far so good for Canada at these Olympics, although not for the organizers. Oh well.

I think I rarely loathe the media as much as I do when it comes to the Olympic Games. And my day to day esteem of the fifth estate is pretty low, let me tell you.

But at the Olympics, well then the laziness, the incompetence, the hype, the fearmongering about Canadian results, everything just seems to be magnified. It makes me crazy.

How do you think the Canadian team is doing? Wait, first of all, let me ask you this? In Bejiing did you expect Kyle Shewfelt to win a medal? Do you expect Cindy Klaussen to win an individual medal here? Because if you answer yes to either of those then it might be best for you to move on from these here parts.

Kyle Shewfelt broke both of his legs the year before the 2008 Games. Both of his legs. Think about that. Now somehow (well because he's an elite athlete with the heart of a fucking lion) he was able to rehab, rehab, now, not train, to the point where he was able to make the Olympic team and his showing was pretty reasonable, if I recall, maybe top ten. And yet there were many on the message boards and in the letters to the paper who called him, get this, a choker.
You see here's the deal. If you are one of the best athletes in the world and you cannot train properly then you are not going to win a damn thing.

Cindy Klaussen had double knee surgery a year ago. She basically just started competing recently. She's not going to win a medal here, an individual one anyways. I'll bet when this happens that there are those who will say that her results are disappointing.

The margin of error at the Olympic level is miniscule as in there is no margin for error. One of the short trackers missed the final yesterday by one one thousandth of a second.

If you have not been able to train properly or you are injured in a way that effects your performance you are probably not going to win. (Colour me skeptical about Lindsay Vonn's injury then. She may have been hurt but either it was not that bad or it healed fairly quickly. You don't blow out the field if you're really hurt.)

What's frustrating for me is the bubble that the media live in when it comes to projections. Not all of them but many of them, you know, the ones who either never cover the sports (which is everyone outside of Randy Starkman, who is a must read for accurate material by the way) or, at the least, who do not do the research on them.

On the first Saturday of the games a reporter on the CBC talking about Canada's likelihood of winning four golds that day.

Four.

Jenn Heil - yes, definitely, she was a favourite.

Osborne-Paradis - a contender but unless you are head and shoulders above everyone, like Vonn, there are no shoo ins to medal in the downhill. Only one of the past six five or six gold medallists in the men's downhill had any real pedigree as a downhill skier with quality results. Most had one or two career victories. Mancuso, the womens' silver medallist, had not been on the podium for two years before Wednesday.

Osborne-Paradis was a contender but no shoo in. The downhill is a crapshoot.

Hamelin - Hamelin should win two medals and has a good shot at three. His event on Saturday was one that he has won two career races in. He was a longshot.

The fourth on this woman's list? Someone so far beyond that I cannot even remember who it was.

And yet there were people on Twitter and elsewhere calling Hamelin a choke artist. Who wondered why Groves only won a bronze in the 3000, despite her only winning one medal, a bronze, in four races this year at that distance. Why? Because the media proclaimed her a gold medal favourite at that distance.

Here's the deal. And don't get me wrong. When someone who is expected to do well fails, it is disappointing to me, although I don't chew the cushions with rage. I suspect that these kids hurt pretty bad when they fall short and don't give a damn about how someone sitting on their couch pouring back another beer feels. But as I preach quite a bit around here, context is everything. to survive the constant bombardment of hype we need to consider:

The athlete. A medal at a world cup or world championships does not a contender make. Maybe it was a poorly attended race in Bulgaria, maybe all the favourites were missing or hungover or trying new wax or just jacking around because it was a minor event in Bulgaria. Not to say that a guy like Robertson or a kid like St. Gelais won't come out of the pack, because it is one race, after all. But saying that Joe Schmoe is a gold medal favourite because they won one event two winters ago is nonsensical. It happens all of the time though.

The sport. Some of this shit is mental. Short track, snowboarding, downhill. Crashes happen constantly and in a lot of ways its a crapshoot. Now often the cream rises - Vonn, Ricker - but sometimes everyone crashes and you end up with Bradbury.

The athlete II - Referring to Vonn and Ricker, Shani Davis, The Flying Tomato, Jenn Heil, Begg Smith and so on.

Some of these guys are so good that they are guaranteed to win a medal and usually its going to be gold. Not always. Sometimes they get beat by someone who puts on the show of their life, like Bilodeau, who actually had only a so-so season up to this point. But these are the ones who we should have high expectations for.

Its a question of knowing your shit. Read Starkman. Don't believe the hype. Enjoy. We've had some terrific performances so far. Denny Morrison was a legitimate contender yesterday as was Roberge in short track, so their performances were a little disappointing, moreso Morrison, but other than that the team has been doing great, imo. Bilodeau and his teammates were awesome. Robertson and St. Gelais with their surprises. People like Edney and LeGuellec, who have done extremely well in sports that Canadians never do well in. Great stuff.

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Which leads us to hockey. The game against the Swiss will be a great measuring stick. Four years ago our sorry ass club got shut out by the Swiss and pretty well everyone else. The worst team, by far, of any club we have ever sent to a best on best, both in results and performance. This wasn't getting beat by a hot goalie like in 1998, although that Canadian club, coming at the end of an era when we had our greatest generation of players, when future hall of famers were left off rosters all of the time, was pretty well punch and judy when it came to its offence. Lemieux and Kariya did not play and Sakic was out for the fateful game against the Czechs. That club was solid but they didn't have a lot of firepower. And in 1996 we were done in by a combination of Richter and Cujo.

But 2006. My God what a disgrace of a team. Hubris, a lack of speed, injuries, too few puckmovers on the back end, too many dinks on the roster, a coach past his due date, the list goes on and on.

The game on Tuesday was a nice start against plucky Norway and first of all count me in as a guy who wouldn't mind the Oilers signing Thoresen to a one way deal for a few years to get him back from the KHL. Tuesday we saw it - a competitor, a guy who makes all of the plays, a guy who gets things going in the right direction. He's a better player than some of the options the Oilers have now, you bet.

Tonight is a different story and then of course the Americans, who are a tough nut. Winning the group and winning it big would be huge. They have the advantage already as some of the competition have won but not with huge numbers. A big win tonight and then a win over the Yanks would get them first or second seed and yes the first seed is preferable. Germany or the Swiss in the quarters would be preferable to any number of others and avoiding the Russians and Swedes in the semi would be nice too.

And of course right there I shatter my own argument because in 1998 and in 2002 and in 2006 nothing has really gone to form. In 98 it was the Czechs winning and the Americans not even making the semis and in 2002 Belarus shocked the Swedes and then four years ago Canada collapsed and the Finns nearly went all the way. So who's to say that one of the favourites doesn't start poorly and show up in the quarters?

Scott Reynolds put it nicely, Canada is the favourite which gives them a 25% of winning the tournament. Its pretty well short track all over again except Steven Bradbury (Norway) isn't winning it.

But tick off that list of goaltenders. Hillier. Kiprusoff. Lundqvist. Nabokov. Miller. Halak. Vokuon.

Any one of them can beat you in one given game. That's all it takes.

The Canadians have the best lineup top to bottom. Nobody has our depth up front, although the Swedes, Russians and Americans are pretty damn good. Nobody has it on the back end either but nobody ever does.

But even the teams I remember as the best in recent memory - 1991 and 2004 - two clubs that were barely challenged, imo, didn't waltz through their tournaments by blowing everyone out.

The games are going to be close. A misstep against the Swiss tonight or Miller and the Americans on the weekend and suddenly they have a tough tough road.

They're the favourites. They should win a medal. But they are Maelle Ricker. In Torino she was a favourite and crashed out of the final. Here she won it all but had some nervous moments in qualifying. Nothing is guaranteed. They look good (had to like the size and speed and elan of the club on Tuesday) but they are no sure thing.

There are very few of those.

12 comments:

rubbertrout said...

My favorite media moment thus far has been on NBC. The interviewer asked the Dutch speedskating medalist what country he represented and what his name was just minutes AFTER HE WON THE FREAKING GOLD MEDAL.

Some footage of his discussion about this with a Dutch journalist is found at this link:

http://withleather.uproxx.com/2010/02/i-love-you-sven-kramer#comments

Brad said...

Realize that for all the pressure we put on these guys, the tearjerk moments to a gaudy soundtrack, I think for most of the athletes, the Olympics is a high-profile meet. If they bust out here, their careers do not end. Yes, if they perform well they can in the short-term improve their financial situation, however, it's just a meet.
All the rules that govern the world cups and other events are in place. All the same judges come out to judge.
Most of the same competitors compete.
The IOC has some very special rules when it comes to sponsors though that can affect things. Last year at the Speed Skating world championships in Richmond, they had to use 2 timing devices for each race. 1 was the normal world cup device, 2 was the Olympic timing device - different manufacturers.
Putting all that aside though, any medal is special, one on home soil probably more so. But let's keep in mind, we barely support our amateur athletes between games (I'm not advocating for or against more $$ for these folks btw), so when someone doesn't do well, if they aren't that choked up about it - it doesn't really upset me.
For an average joe to watch a Canadian win a gold at the olympics is awesome...just awesome.
For those that don't, I hope they can leave it behind and not carry it with them in a negative way. It's one moment in time, and sometimes (Paradis) it's just not going to be. And that's OK, no matter who tells you that you needed to 'own the podium'.

Baroque said...

Single biggest thing I hate about the Olympics (and it's the media who does it) - the asinine medal count at the end of each day to see who is "winning" the Olympics. It's a freaking bullshit relic of the cold war as far as I'm concerned and should be dumped entirely.

Although if the competition is going to be "most medals wins" instead of "biggest nuclear weapons wins" I can get behind that 100%, but still ...

I hate that kind of scoreboard. I don't always cheer for Americans just because I'm an American, because sometimes someone else winning is a better story. I don't care how many total medals my country has or any other country has. It's stupid.

//end cranky rant

Black Dog said...

rubbertrout - that was a beauty

brad - I think you're right and a little wrong too; I don't think that they look at it as another meet at all - Olympic gold trumps all - but having said that I think that they understand that, as you said, you don't win them all. We have no understandign of what it means to be an elite athlete, Paradis said he made a tiny mistake and that cost him everything, they know how slim the margin and they accept it

baroque - yeah I agree, here its actually lessened my enjoyment somewhat, the incessant media talk about Canada's medal count and how they're on track or not. I've put it out of my head and am just trying to do what we should all do, enjoy the Games and cheer on the athletes, Canadian, American, whomever

Bruce said...

BDHS: Largely agree with your take on the media. William Houston writes an interesting column on sports media, and i LIKED his take on the Olympic broadcast team.

Bruce said...

I don't always cheer for Americans just because I'm an American, because sometimes someone else winning is a better story.

Hear, hear, Baroque. While there are unpleasant aspects to it, the stories don't come much better than this.

Petra Majdic is my newest hero.

quiltmom said...

There are so many factors that influence the success and failure of athletes. It takes a tremendous amount of practise (some say as much as 10,000 hours)to achieve mastery- but there is still the X factor- can the athlete manage the physical,mental and emotional factors as well as perform in the high pressure environment of the Olympics on home soil.
I congratulate each and every one of our Canadian athletes. Win or lose- they deserve our respect and thanks for their individual efforts. Together the athletes have contributed to increased pride and celebration of what it means to a Canadian.
I refuse to get hung up on whether we have the most medals- its not the only thing that matters. The Olympics is so much more than who wins or loses...

PDO said...

Just gotta say that Hollingsworth interview was tough to watch. Poor girl... and idiot interviewer for not just letting her leave.

And it's followed by the elation of watching Montgomery win it all, and charging through downtown Vancouver, with a police escort, a gold medal, and a pitcher of beer.

Damn.

I like the medal count, but that's probably because I only pay attention during the Olympics and am pretty patriotic.

Black Dog said...

Bruce - yeah I like Houston too, I'm going to try and put a post together that's going to riff on this thread a little and will address some of that stuff

Quiltmom - of course you are absolutely right, I find it discouraging when I read Canadians disparaging these kids when they don't do well. Its pretty sad I think.

PDO - that Hollingsworth situation broke my heart. She had that medal and then as she said one mistake, same as the Latvian made on his run.

As for Montgomery, your man could make millions if i chose to I think. He's a hoser through and through and i mean that in the best way.

Baroque said...

Heck of a story, Bruce - I knew she was injured and still raced, I didn't know she was that badly hurt. Tough, tough woman.

And I've become a fan of Aleksandrs Nizivijs for some completely unfathomable reason (17 on the Latvian hockey team). He's so quick and energetic and spunky, even on a spunky team he stands out - it's like the Latvian version of Martin St. Louis.

I always cheer for the guys who remind me of feisty little terriers. :)

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