By Jason Menard
We’re just days away from the start of the 22nd Olympic Winter Games and after hitting the slopes yesterday, I’m feeling pretty athletic (OK, I was tubing, not doing anything actually physical). Maybe that’s why my feelings towards the Olympics have somewhat softened.
I get nationalism. I understand it’s thrilling to live vicariously through athletes and revel in their success. We all know that Canada’s the greatest country in the world, so it’s nice to see it reflected on the medal podium.
Where I differ is that – win or lose – I really don’t care. And, to be honest, neither should you.
Sure, I’m all in for Olympic men’s hockey. And I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win gold. I’ll understand it, but I’ll be disappointed. And I believe I’m allowed to share in the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat because I invest my time and money into following these athletes on a regular basis.
Otherwise, I just want to see good competition and athletes performing at their best – regardless of which country they represent.
The wonderful thing about sports is that it provides us with a common, rallying point, around which we can gather. It helps to bridge gaps in age, culture, sex, religion, and nationality. It provides us with common touchstones – the “do you remember when?” moments of our lives.
But for the most part, when it comes to the Olympics, any ownership we claim is tenuous at best. The only investment we have with these athletes is the passports we share.
I enjoy watching sports. I can watch pretty much anything if it’s competing at a high level. Some sports, like Skeleton, are just crazy and fun. Others tend to run towards competitive paint drying. While I won’t go out of my way to watch the Olympics, I will enjoy the competition if I see it. And I will appreciate excellence no matter what anthem is played.
These are all athletes who have given their lives for their sport. Win or lose, they deserve our respect and admiration.
Unfortunately, all too often, all they receive is our derision and uninformed criticism.
It has become almost a quadrennial rite of passage in Canada — at best, it’s a lamentation that Canadians just aren’t competitive enough against our peers around the globe; at worst, it’s almost primal and visceral insults like “they suck,” or “12th place? What’s the point?”
The point is that these athletes spend 3.5 years performing in relative anonymity, competing in front of friends and family for the most part (on this side of the Atlantic; athletics is far more popular in Europe and Asia). There are regular competitions, but for the most part we don’t care until the Olympics are on.
For two weeks, we create superstars and unfairly brand others as goats. And then, a few days later, it’s all forgotten.
Sure, the odd athlete may get his or her Amazing Race-hosting moment. But for the rest, they’re back doing the same thankless training, working hard, and competing for a nation that’s quick to claim their successes or to judge their inferiority.
Whether we win 25 gold or leave Sochi with no medals, we should keep things in perspective. For the most part, we’ve invested no time, interest, or support in helping these athletes reach the stage they’re on. So win or lose, let’s admire their efforts.
Some may say this is encouraging the acceptance of mediocrity. I’d like to think it’s encouraging appreciation of excellence independent of where that excellence came from. But they would also be partly right. Only, it’s not about accepting our athletes’ co-called mediocrity.
It’s acknowledging our own, as so-called fans.