Sunday, August 05, 2012

In This Country

This week we have family flying in from BC and then we're heading north for the biennial (roughly) family reunion up at Goulais (or as it was known over a century ago, the other side of the moon). Should be a fantastic time. My liver is already begging for mercy. It slipped a note under the door the other night. Poor fucker. He's a dead man. / drinks

Its going to be a whirlwind trip, here, there and everywhere. Just pile on the exhaustion. We've barely returned from the annual trip out east and I'm a bit worn out. Better to be worn out from a couple of weeks of eating and drinking and laughing with family and friends than from the daily grind though, right? Right.

This was our eighth time driving to the Island and back. It went about as well as it could in that everything we could not control came up roses. The weather was unbelievable. One rainy afternoon the entire time. On the way there we made fantastic time, probably the best we ever will. On the way back we did very well, made good time indeed. Luck was on our side. We even saw four deer and (for Jenn a first) a pair of moose, luckily (there it is again) on the other side of the moose fence in New Brunswick.

 And of course we had the opportunity to once again enjoy this wonderful country. We wandered Charlottetown for our anniversary and had a terrific meal and night at an old Inn in the city centre. We spent a few days out at Wood Islands, laying in the sand, swimming in the cold water of the Northumberland Strait, digging clams. I went out to the Montague River for an evening with my man in PEI, Mr McLeod, and we drank beer and ate steak and caught up on the past year as we do every year. And we trekked out to Greenwich and walked out to the dunes, past the land my wife's family farmed for nearly two centuries, now a national park.

 Good times.

 We left a little earlier than usual and drove over to St John to visit Jenn's sister and we had a great time there on the banks of the St John River. And on Saturday we followed the river north (saw our moose), skipped by Riviere De Loup and sped west along the St Lawrence, pressing into Montreal, finding our hotel at 4pm. The kids have never been to what is my favourite Canadian city and so we walked down Peel and St Catherine and down to Old Montreal. We ate crepes and wandered the cobblestone streets and the kids took it all in and made us promise that we would return for a longer stay next time.

 Smart kids.

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It took me a few days to get into the Olympics this year, partially, I think, because we were on the road for its first weekend, partially because we will be away (and on the road) for a great part of the second week, partially because of the time difference and the fact that I am at work when 'everything is happening!!!!'

 But I've become invested in them, as always, we love the Olympics in our household, always have. Its been an enormously satisfying first week, uncharted territory really. When I was growing up watching the Olympics meant watching Canadians get their heads handed to them by the Eastern Bloc juggernaut and the Americans and, well, everybody. We'd win a handful of medals, maybe a gold or two, maybe. Our teams, if they made it, were run out of the rink or off the fields or courts. Our individual athletes would finish in the thirties and forties and it was all very pleasant and everyone was happy to be there.

 When did things change? 1984 in L.A. I think. It was the year the Soviets boycotted and without the state supported, super doping juggernaut in California, Canada soared. Of course many of the medals would not have happened if the godless Commies had been there but nobody was going to beat Alex Baumann or Victor Davis and other Canadians were class and what happened, I believe, is a couple of things. A lot of Canadian kids got inspired (don't believe it - look at how many Canadian speed skating veterans, the Hughes generation, talk about Gaetan Boucher) and money began to slowly trickle into the system. Success began to beget success and so you had more medals in both winter and summer sports and suddenly sports which had been disasters for years suddenly became powerhouses - rowing and speed skating come to mind.

 Even with that success (which increased after the collapse of the Soviet Union) there has been still a strange relationship between the Olympians and the media and fans back home. The media hypes the athletes and part of the hype is anointing favourites and the problem is, as usual, the fact that they over simplify things. So a guy who won a medal at the Worlds the year before is a gold medal favourite even though he has done poorly this year and is coming off an injury and then he falls short and all hell breaks loose.

 Read or heard something very smart the other day, can't remember where. A commentator said that unless you're an absolute sure thing being a gold medal favourite means pretty well nothing. So you have the American medley relay team, Chinese divers and after that its a crapshoot. ;) Not quite but even Michael Phelps won a race in Bejing by a fingertip.

 Now for some fans this isn't enough, James Mirtle and I were conversing on Twitter the other day and he said that based on comments on the Globe website there was a lot of disappointment out there. I don't read comments on websites anymore, I barely even read them on blogs anymore. The stupidity and vitriol makes me sad. And to read some couch jockey complaining that someone has fallen short after years and years and years of training, well, nothing is more laughable. Its like the couch jockeys who call Tom Gilbert or Ales Hemsky pussies when either man plays through pain that would put the average Bud Lime Light, nacho eating fat spraining average Joe in bed for weeks, shitting himself in agony.

 Is it disappointing that Jessica Zelinka and Dylan Armstrong didn't medal, for example? Sure it is. I doubt that anyone is more disappointed than they are at falling short though. One only has to see how heartbroken Paula Findlay was to see how much it matters to these kids.

 Sorry, I am all over the place. Here's the thing. Times have changed. They changed in Vancouver. Well, really they changed in LA and its gone from there. The Olympics are the same every time. You have disappointments and you have surprises and you have those who meet expectations. The thing for Canada is that more and more we have athletes who are so good that they have expectations and more and more they meet them. Success has brought more success and wait a decade and we will see the gymnasts inspired by Shewfelt and more kids on the trampoline and bicycles and swimming and diving and in bobsleigh and crosscountry skiing and on and on. And the money is flowing from the government and companies and suddenly, strangely, we're an Olympic power in the winter, one of THE powers there, and a solid summer competitor and what the hell, when did that happen?

 And this Olympics we haven't even gone through the handwringing that happens every Olympics because there hasn't been the usual slow start and the media and fans have seen medal after medal until a week in we are nearly where we were in Athens at the completion of the Games.

 Crazy.

 Tyler has a nice writeup on the Games and he touches on the patriotism and I talked about that in the Vancouver Games as well. The country has changed, Canadians have changed, and this has happened in the last thirty years. We are more confident, less deferential, a little more patriotic. For the most part this is a good thing I think. We live in a wonderful country and we should be proud of it and as long as we're not mindless about it (and this is where the danger lies) I think its a nice change from when I was young when people, in a lot of ways, had a negative attitude about Canada.

I'm not talking about not questioning your government or your national mythology because these are good things, God knows a lot of countries' citizens (hello 'Merica) could use a little more self awareness, it helps make your nation a better one if you recognize your weaknesses and do something about them. I'm talking about just a general 'Canada is shitty' attitude. It used to be pretty prevalent. The idea that Canada can do no wrong is not something we want either but the prior attitude, now history it seems, was garbage too.

 I'm a big history guy and I have a half baked theory about the World Wars and the carnage they wrought. Now this was a different time, back in the day. Unlike the last few decades when wars have been fought by the poor and the scions of rich families ducked the draft in Vietnam, in 1914 and 1939 (or later if you were a Yank) if you were a young man you went to war. So an heir of the Molson family was killed in Belgium (Percy I believe his name was) and 'One Eyed' Frank McGee, the great hockey player, died on the Somme and Talbot Papineau was killed at Passchendaele.

 It was our best and boldest and bravest who went to war. Read Pierre Berton's Vimy. Canada was a different country a hundred years ago. Its soldiers were known to be the toughest, the brassiest, the wildest men in the world. And these frontiersmen and builders and entrepreneurs died in France and Belgium and a quarter century later the sons of those who did not die fell in Italy and France and Holland and Hong Kong and drowned in the North Atlantic and were shot down over the burning cities of Germany.

 And those who survived, well, many of them were the cautious ones, the careful, deferential ones. Certainly those who did not survive could not be replaced.

 Half baked, right? lol /drinks

 Anyways /drinks/ if anyone says anything bad about any of our Olympians, especially Rory Cichrane, God Bless him, you'll have me to deal with. /drinks some more

 Actually I don't think young Cochrane needs my help, Christ, did you see that lineup of women with the bare flat bellies proclaiming their love for him at the pool. Methinks his Olympics may be over but his orgy is just beginning, the bastard.

 Go Canada.


8 comments:

bradr98 said...

Seems to me the last few years have produced bench strength. We had one or two favs in the 80's and 90's but if any one of them fell short there was no "next".
Now we are building teams more like Aus and GB. Multiple competitors in multiple events so that a first time 30th place in 2012 becomes a top 10 or a medal shot in 4 or 8 years. Bench strength.
The truth of the matter is that preparation and not failing are really the key. To come to the biggest meet of your life and perform the best you've ever performed on that day, in that minute...well fuck, that separates an elite athlete from the rest of us. And by quite a measure.
They have all done us proud, and those who sit and judge (from the couch as you aptly point out BD) just prove how little they understand about sport, and likely about life.

Loxy said...

As my Australian boyfriend admits, money wins you medals. They poured it into their athletes ahead of Sydney and now the expectations are so high they keep having to do it.

I noticed this comment on my facebook feed about three days into the games: (grammar aside) "well, were not really owning the podium so far :("

That concerns me. Expectations.

As someone who competed against the Jessica Zelinka's, albeit years ago, I saw athletes who were becoming world-class. And 7th is just that. Or 5th. Or 11th. Or just being at the Olympics.

I get really frustrated by "a medal is the measure of success" aspect that Canadians (maybe especially here in Vancouver) took on during 2010.

Go out and compete in the trampoline and then say it's not a real sport. Pick up the shot put and show how much better you would do. Finish a triathlon.

I'm proud of the Canadians no matter where they finish and my expectations aren't just for the podium.

Black Dog said...

Good comments Brad and Erin. I love the medals, I can't lie, but the Olympics are about competing and doing your best and people who make it all about the medals are missing the point.

EasyOil said...

Great post Pat. It's an interesting subject.

I'm British and living in Britain. With the Games being held in Britain, and following Britain's success in Beijing, the expectations here are ridiculous. Like expecting Jordan Eberle to be a 90 point player this year after defying the odds to have a career season last year ridiculous. Now the fact that we actually seem to be on pace to beat our Beijing record notwithstanding, the bar is so high that last month a BBC Radio program actually predicted we would win 96 medals this Olympics to top the medal board. Insanity.

For me, as much as I have been glued to the TV and my laptop sometimes watching 3 events at the same time hoping for medals and revelling in TeamGB's success, I am just as interested in every other athlete.

Yes the athletes who finish on top of the podium are the great success stories, I just as much enjoy seeing various athletes do personal bests and just generally taking part. What's not to like about footballer Adam Gemili who only took up athletics in January and ends up coming 3rd in an Olympic 100m semifinal, or Djibo Issaka only taking up rowing 3 months ago and training in an old fishing boat and being roared home by the crowd no matter what his place in the standings? Every athlete, from whatever background, has an amazing story to get where they are today, and that's the best thing about the Olympics. Seeing Oscar Pistorius' face after he completed his first able-bodied Olympic race was awe-inspiring.

Most people I know agree with me, but I do know some who ask what's the point in bronze and silver when gold is all that matters, but I argue that the margin between the winner and the non-medallists a majority of the time between a majority of the athletes is so minute that they absolutely all deserve to be there, and more than deserve to enjoy the crowds.

Can you believe some media type here in the UK actually said he didn't like the British crowds cheering every nation at the medal ceremonies instead of just Britain? You can imagine where he was told to go. I wasn't able to get tickets to the games, but even on TV and just the general mood of this nation right now, the atmosphere of this games is like no other I've seen.

kanadienkyle said...

Well fuck. An article about Canada, the Olympics, WW1 and 2.

Thats good writing, but now I am homesick.

Black Dog said...

Thanks Kyle and sorry. Com ehome, we miss you.

EasyOil - thanks for the comments, very interesting. We had Vancouver just two years ago of course and there's nothing like home Olympics in the information age, its really something.

The Canadian media wasn't as harsh as the British media but a lot of the self loathing bitterness was on display in Vancouver as well, at least until Canucks started winning medals.

And as you note, the margin between success and failure is so tiny its just unbelievable. Seems to get lost sometimes though.

spOILer said...

Hate war and take no pride in it.

And patriotism is the last refuge of government scoundrels.

And the shine has come off the Olympics since I grewed up. Now it's just a money machine (and what the fuck is up with all the Illuminati/Masonic references any way? That's just plain weird in this day and age... isn't it?)

But it's hard not to cheer for the teams and individuals. And not to appreciate the joy and the heartache the Games bring to the competitors.

The Scott's are close family friends and I have some idea what a person has to go through to get to the Olympics. Becky is a driven woman, as are her parents, and I assure you that despite being the most talented jock this side of the Ottawa River, I am far too fucking lazy to have ever been an Olympic athlete.

But watch I will.

spOILer said...

And the older I get, it seems the more I use apostrophe's inappropriately.