Things have gone south up north, but Canadians aren't crestfallen

February 25, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

O, Canada, it wasn't supposed to go down like this, was it?

All that "Own the Podium" talk at the Vancouver Winter Olympics - how's that worked out so far?

Not so good, eh? The men's hockey team's 7-3 rout of Russia in the quarterfinals Wednesday night notwithstanding, I see that according to the latest medal standings, Canada is in fourth place with 15 medals.

"Blown the Podium," one Vancouver columnist called the disappointing haul. "Own the Odium," another columnist wrote.

Hey, Canada might be getting its butt kicked in things like Alpine skiing and speedskating. But it's got some newspaper people up there who can flat-out write.

Should we even bring up Canada's disastrous 5-3 loss to the U.S. in hockey?

The one that plunged the entire nation into mourning and kicked off an unprecedented wave of Labatt binge-drinking?

How does Canada lose at hockey? Canada is hockey. That's like Japan losing at sushi. Or Switzerland losing at chocolate.

In any event, I spoke to a bunch of Canadians living here in Maryland to see how they're handling these Winter Olympics of diminished expectations.

And the answer is: They're handling it just fine, the way Canadians always do.

None of them seemed shocked to see Canada's medal count not living up to the hype. Besides, most felt that whole "Own the Podium" business smacked too much of the kind of chest-thumping you'd find in, well, the U.S.

And they're right - we Americans practically invented crass self-promotion. But left in the hands of polite, low-key amateurs like Canadians, it can bring bad karma.

That's why when the country rolled out a $117 million program to train and equip its Olympic athletes and boldly chose to call it "Own the Podium," Canadians like Jimmy Patterson didn't think: Hot damn, here comes a boatload of medals!

Instead, they wanted to lock themselves in a closet.

"Oh, I just cringed!" said Patterson, a retired musician and sports publisher living in Bethesda. "I thought: What are you doing? And it's unusual. The Canadians don't brag. They don't boast.

" 'Own the Podium' - that's just begging the Fates to kick you in the [butt]."

"My mother keeps track of how many medals we didn't get," said Monyka Berrocosa, a Montreal native in Baltimore. "Now that's Canadian. And we're always really happy for the other team."

I spoke to Berrocosa by phone, so I don't know whether she was making little air quotes with her fingers when she said "really happy."

But it wouldn't surprise me. That would be Canadian, too.

Mykel Nahorniak, who owns an online company in Baltimore, chose to look on the bright side of the medal standings, as Canadians often do.

"I think it would betray the Canadian spirit to count medals the way they're counted in the U.S.," he said. "To think a country with a fraction of the population of the U.S. is in [fourth] place overall - if you consider it a place - is admirable."

Then, proving that 12 years of living in the U.S. had rubbed off on him, Nahorniak sounded a tad defensive about Canada's mediocre showing in Vancouver.

"People think that because Canada gets cold, it should dominate the Winter Olympics," he said.

Absolutely. And because it gets hot in Aruba, it should own the Summer Games. I don't know what's wrong with those Arubans, either.

If there was a defining moment for Canada in these Winter Olympics, a moment when 34 million people looked at one another and wondered for the first time whether the sun would come up the next morning, it came during the soul-crushing loss to the U.S. in men's hockey.

As required by law, every Canadian not viewing the game in Vancouver was parked in front of a TV for the entire debacle.

"I was just howling the whole time!" Patterson said. "I was laughing and screaming because I just know what's going on up north. There's no joy in Mudville. They're dying up there!"

And that's when many Canadians first wondered whether "Own the Podium" might be putting too much pressure on Canadian athletes.

How do you "Own the Podium" if you don't own hockey?

On the other hand, at least one Canadian I talked to seemed to feel the slogan should stay on as an inspiration, no matter how Canada does in these Games.

June Piper Brandon, a Realtor in Lutherville, said, "Canadians are standing up and saying: 'We're winners. We're not second best anymore.' "

Actually, in this case, they're fourth best - at least in the medal standings.

But I didn't want to point that out to Ms. Brandon because she seemed very nice, just like almost every other Canadian I've met.

That's why I think their Olympic slogan should be: "OK, Could We Please Own the Podium for a Few Minutes?"

Sounds way more Canadian to me.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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