Opinion » Maxed Out

Maxed out

The fallacy of Olympic pride



Relax, Canada. Exhale. Smoke ’em if ya got ’em. Our pride is intact for the world to see. We shall not go gently into that good night with nary a medal to show for our trip to the Orient.

Heck, as of early Wednesday morning, we have a firm grip on twelfth place in the overall medal count. We’re number 12! We’re number 12! We’re number 12!

Sort of.

In the wheezy air of Olympic status, things used to be measured with a more blunt instrument, a golden one. Individuals won medals; countries counted gold. It was an easy equation, tracing its roots back to the golden age, the time U.S. athletes brought home the lion’s share of gold and the also-rans divvied up the more base metals. The practice survived the early days of Olympics as geopolitical chest thumping between the bear and the eagle and even managed to remain the reluctant gold standard when the “amateur” athletes from the Soviet army began to nudge the Olympic movement into full-fledged professional sports.

But losing to an upstart like China is something else altogether. Inevitable, perhaps, but unpalatable nonetheless. And so now, in a nod to self-esteem, the rankings are being touted on a total medals basis, thus allowing — again, as of Wednesday morning — the U.S. to claim a first-place tie with the host country, notwithstanding the fact China’s hoarding gold like King Midas while the U.S. is accumulating a very nice silver service.

But who cares what the superpowers are on about? Canada’s pride is intact. Oh sure, there might be enough other countries claiming a tie for 12 th to cobble together a barbershop quartet, but who are we to quibble? And while we might, in moments when we indulge ourselves in another deadly sin — envy — look longingly at the medal count of, say, South Korea or Ukraine, we can secretly, modestly, bask in the collective glory of knowing we’re puttin’ the hurt to North Korea, Kazakhstan and those misguided sheepherders from New Zealand. Oh yeah, baby; take that, Kiwis.

But really, honestly, deep down in our souls, is this actually the kind of thing we want to be proud of? I know, it hurts when you’re the only country in the world to host the Big Show twice and not win a single gold medal before hometown crowds but, like most disappointments in life, we’ve gotten over it. Of course, we had to indulge in major retail therapy to salve our wounded pride and we’re still spending like drunken sailors to make sure it doesn’t happen a third time the winter after next but we’re coping. It’s not like we’ve started wars, annexed territory, locked up prisoners of conscience for disagreeing with our sport strategy or generally slinked off to suck our national thumb.