There's an eerie calm that settles over the spot you're standing on just before a certain kind of summer storm wallops you. Sunlight disappears, replaced by a yellow-brown, translucent glow; the air gets suddenly thick, breathing takes on a quality of gulping warm liquid oxygen, notwithstanding such a thing doesn't exist. In that eye of the maelstrom moment, the wind dies down, everything becomes still, a slight ozone smell begins to replace whatever came before it and you know one thing for certain - all hell's about to break loose.
Summer storm or Canada's Olympic mood, it's about to break loose again.
Call it citius interruptus , premature evacuation or simply Canada's national knack for winning aluminum and pewter in a race that stops awarding medals when it gets to bronze, but these Olympics, CAN-A-DA's Olympics, are spreading discontent from sea to sea to sea like a wave of cheap red mittens.
While likely a case of over-amped expectations, the root cause of much of the anguish can be laid at the door of the ineptly-named Own the Podium program. Smacking of uncharacteristic bravado, OTP attempted to leverage the kind of attitude former Crazy Canuck Ken Read brought to Alpine Canada when he took over that moribund program in 2002. Borrowing a page from Vince Lombardi's playbook, Read worked hard to shatter the placid Canadian belief that simply showing up and doing your best was good enough. "We're here to win," was the spirit he instilled throughout the ranks of the program. OTP picked up on that.
That spirit was reflected in the pre-Games press conference held by a handful of Canadian hopefuls. They swaggered in and told the collected media scum, er, scrum what everyone wanted to hear - their collective performance was going to make British Columbia's last gold rush look like a midnight raid on a downtown dental office. They came to win.
Unfortunately, so did everyone else. Week 1 of Canada's Games put the boots to any hopes of the Great White North owning the podium and gave rise to the taunting sobriquet, Loan the Podium... which, being polite Canadians, we did... to every other country, so it seemed, but particularly to the U.S. In the ultimate twist of identity-trashing irony, the U.S. team simply went about their business - dominating many of the competitions - quietly, almost humbly, while Canada's athletes, press and particularly Canada's "fans" came off as boastful, loutish and, in many cases, downright obnoxious.
The bizarro-world identity switch was complete when, flipping channels, I discovered NBC's coverage, particularly Bob Costas' commentary, more even-handed, less jingoistic and, truth be told, a great deal more entertaining than CTV's vacuous, nationalistic, tub-thumping. The only coverage that lived up to its admittedly low expectations was CBC's also-ran, sour grapes, everything's-swirling-the-bowl commentary. Peter Mansbridge is truly Canada's national icehole.