Still basking in the glow

For three and a half years out of four, I care nothing about hockey. But then the Olympics comes.

And suddenly, I care deeply that we (Canada) win.

When the "Own the Podium" battle cry was beginning to feel embarrassingly underachieved, I consoled myself, and anyone who needed to hear it, that we were pretty much assured gold in women's hockey, we had darn well better medal in mens' hockey, and we'd likely medal in both mens' and women's curling. And those predictions did materialize to almost the best possible outcome.

Scott Russell of CBC suggested out that Own the Podium was misinterpreted to mean things it wasn't intending. In an article entitled "Own the Podium: Lost in Translation," Russell argues that OtP was mean to encourage the very ideals the Olmpics are supposed to represent -- the struggle to do one's best, and the participation in competition together -- as envisioned by the modern Games' founder, Pierre de Coubertin. It was not a slogan for jingoistic grasping.

In any case, harsh judgement of the initiative in that first week was unfair. I confess I'm guilty of cynically repeating what at times has seemed to embody our efforts on the world stage: "we stand for mediocrity." (Another admission: I'm no less average than the next Canadian, myself.)

But as Rex Murphy mused on Crosscountry Checkup at the midway point of the Olympics, when the difference between taking first and coming in fifth is a couple hundredths of a second, can we really look down on those who didn't reach the podium? Furthermore, can we even express disappointment at our athletes who may have come in 10 or 25th? How many of us can claim to be 10th best at anything in our own cities, much less on the world stage? There's a reason we're inspired by Olympic athletes and their stories, whether they're Cindy Klassen in Turin, taking home an unprecedented medal haul with grace and humility, or Cindy in Vancouver, coming back from double knee surgery just happy to make the team at all and not getting near the podium -- but still gracious and humble.

In the end, all the handwringing was for naught, and my own cynicism was disproved. Often, our place closer to the top than the bottom of the medal charts is reserved by our list of barely grasped bronze medals; this time we actually led the world with gold (14), and even our silvers (7) outweighed our bronze (5).

Which brings us back to hockey. The number of facebook status updates that contained references to the men's hockey game in the hours that followed was quite amazing. Even international friends were caught in the euphoria of the Canadian win in the men's game. The pride and excitement of what we accomplished, not only on the ice, the slopes, and the track, but in hospitality and spirit continues to burn in the chests of Canadians even after the hordes of visitors have vacated the delta region. Strange how this display of athlete prowess and cutting edge technology from the most elite athletes has such an uplifting effect.

But, perhaps, I wonder a bit less at those who fear the potential idolatry of sports. Alongside amusement at receiving updates on the score of the semi-final mens' hockey game at a church business meeting last week, there is uneasiness at the celebration of national pride in a place of worship. My ancestors would have been horrified, and I can't dismiss their concern as utterly unfounded. Amid the excitement and triumph of this one moment in history, how does a citizen of another kingdom reserve true glory and worship for the One who most deserves it?


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