Women (and Women) First

First things first: I come not to bury the Canadians, but to praise them. Cindy Klassen made her fourth Turin medal a golden one in the 1500 metres and right behind her was another Canuck, Kristina Groves. I think it was Klassen that I heard interviewed – another of these wonderfully appealing, superb-role-model Canadian women – who voiced the thought that speedskating was the most beautiful sporting movement there is. And it’s true: all that power, all that glide, all that grace, all that rhythm and sway.

I can remember a small-town school gymnasium with a TV on a stand. It was September 1972, and we were watching game 8 of the series with the Soviets. I remember dancing and yelling like a fool — we all were — when Paul Henderson scored The Goal. I went on to spend thousands more hours in high school gyms as athlete and especially as coach, and the CBC television inset of Klassen’s old high school gym rocking as she rolled just about made me burst. Those kids will be walking on air for a week. Sport is good. Now, Bob Knight is no model for me as a coach, but I admire his mind and his resolve. And he said it true when he noted the value of sports in a school: “It’s pretty hard to rally around a math class.”

Yes, and the Klassens and the Groves and that sweet surprise gold in the cross-country sprint by Chandra Crawford (and silver in that crazy short-track skating relay), all these great performances by Canuck women are almost certain to be bumped aside by a rather predictable loss by the men’s hockey team. Stumbling through the round robin got them Russia, and the Russians were just better. I am an official member of the Alexander Ovechkin fan club, and not just for that enormous winner he scored. He’s electric  out on the ice, power and speed and skill. Whew! Sad to see our boys go down, but the Russians played not only a victorious but a beautiful brand of hockey.

And how’s this for analysis? Sam, my five-year-old, is learning to skate on our Tiny Perfect Backyard Rink™ and his hockey baptism is coming along nicely, but he’s never really watched a game before. He came in to watch the last few minutes of Russia-Canada, and though he had trouble finding the puck, he quickly began to be able to follow the game and knew which team was in red. He heard his old man moaning a bit, but he came up with this insight completely on his own: “Hey, don’t go in the corner, go to the net!” And on that wide Olympic surface, Ovechkin and company were regularly able to get to prime scoring territory while the Canadians spent most of their time in the offensive zone mucking in the corners. It was obvious even to a little sprout like Sam. Grinders ‘R Us, even with our best guys (?) on the ice. Sigh.

Competitive Greatness. Or Not.

First candidate for Howdy’s Handy Olympic Hitlist: snowboard halfpipe. Reason One: see “made for TV” comments from a few days ago. Two: “Look. Another guy did a 720. Wow.” They all look the same to me. Three: the athletes themselves don’t even care that much. With all their rebel, streetcore, skateboard-north cool, the Olympics are no big deal, and they’re determined to demonstrate it. Groovy. Go back to the X-games, then.


Damn! It happened to our man Jeremy again. Wotherspoon seemed to self-destruct in an Olympic race in which he was favoured, the long-track speedskating 500 metre sprint. It wasn’t quite a reprise of the Salt Lake Two-Step, but he must be bitterly disappointed. If he was a baseball player, we’d say he was gripping the bat so tightly it was turning to sawdust. In the great basketball wizard John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, the top block of the triangle is titled “Competitive Greatness”. It has changed a little to reflect more peaceful themes, but I like the original contents of the “CG” block: “Be at your best when your best is needed. Real love of a hard battle.” But beyond a certain level, you can’t coach this. I have no doubt that Wotherspoon wants this more than most elite athletes do. “Try easier,” I would have liked to tell him. (Yes, if Coach Howdy had been there, gold medals all ’round!)

Jerk that I am, I’m on my couch doing psychological assessments of this gifted and dedicated athlete, one of the great skaters in the sport’s history. This brings me perilously close to that most immature tendency of the sports fanatic: to resentfully criticize a homegrown athlete or my favourite team for their failure to make me feel better about myself. That can’t be good.