Over the weekend, Canadian Olympic ski-cross racer Dave Duncan was arrested after allegedly stealing a Humvee to ferry his party back to the athletes village following a night of drinking. According to local reports, one of the accused told police the group was “cold and wanted to go home.”
It has been a long three weeks and Canada is feeling a bit tired and emotional. We’ve been through a lot here, including a complete personality makeover.
Until Pyeongchang, Canada was America’s shy friend, the one who tags along to the party and hangs out near the punch bowl.
But success has changed us. We’re loud and pushy and like to be the centre of attention. We pick fights and tell other people what to do. We’re mostly harmless, but occasionally a nightmare to live with. Also, we win a lot, which doesn’t endear us to anyone but ourselves.
Canada wraps up the Pyeongchang Olympics with the most medals at a Winter Games ever. Take a look back over the Games and relive Canada’s medal moments.
Somewhere, in the last few days, Canada became the new America at the Olympics (because, apparently, Norway passed on the job.)
Duncan’s alleged criminal frolic is a case in point. It’s what we used to call a Very American Mistake to Make at the Games.
After his name came out, people compared Mr. Duncan’s situation to Ryan Lochte’s taxicab shenanigans in Rio, but that doesn’t fit.
At worst, the American swimmer was guilty of being criminally dim about telling a lie.
Mr. Duncan’s accused of doing the sort of thing that sees a regular person breaking rocks in the hot Korean sun.
Befitting Canada’s new status as a heavy hitter, Mr. Duncan was sprung after a few hours.
He released an apology so opaque it ought have been chiselled on a stone tablet.
“We are deeply sorry,” said Mr. Duncan and wife Maja, the apparent Sundance to his Butch. (Willy Raine, Alpine Canada’s high-performance director, was charged with impaired driving). “We engaged in behaviour that demonstrated poor judgment and was not up to the standards expected of us as Members of the Canadian Olympic Team or as Canadians.”
Zero mention was made of what that “poor judgment” might be. The statement header referred to an “incident in South Korea.”
So I would also like to say sorry. What about? Never you mind.
You’d think Canada would be better at producing this sort of meaningless gibberish since we’ve had some practice here.
Duncan’s apology came a day after hockey player Jocelyne Larocque released a similar one, fairly begging forgiveness for opting not to wear her silver medal after Thursday’s women’s final. In another role reversal, it was the United States who jumped to her defence.
We’ve assumed control of America’s former swagger, and they’ve co-opted our empathy.
Ms. Larocque’s mea culpa was filled with small, authentic touches, such as choosing to namedrop five corporate entities, including the Pyeongchang Olympic Organizing Committee, before getting to her teammates.
Sadly, it is the slip-ups rather than anything accomplished on the field of play that make the most lasting Olympic memories. Flubs are mentally stickier.
So what will Canada remember of Pyeongchang in a year’s time?
At a guess, and in order, Mr. Duncan, Ms. Larocque, being bad at men’s hockey, worse at curling, Rachel Homan’s burned rock and every sad sack on the planet trying to figure out if Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are an item.
How many of these things actually matter? None. That’s why we care so much.
Canada also did sports at the Olympics, but good luck trying to remember how that went exactly.
Right now, most of us still dimly recall who won the first couple of golds (the figure skating team and moguls skier Mikaël Kingsbury). I’d bet real money you cannot name the people who won the 10th and 11th.
Unfairly, Olympic stardom is in part a matter of timing. If you achieve it at the end, when everyone’s exhausted, few will take note.
In the past, that calculus didn’t come into it. It’s been easy to pick the headliner out of a Canadian team because she/he was the only person who did anything.
Now that Canada is good at everything, the hive gets the plaudits while the individual worker bees become remote. Who was the ur-Canadian of the Pyeongchang Games?
Perhaps Ms. Virtue and Mr. Moir, though they were already well-known commodities. Or speed skater Ted-Jan Bloeman, though we can’t take any credit for developing him. Or Mr. Kingsbury, though he is too retiring a person to accept the role.
The choice of flag bearer at the closing ceremony is meant to give us guidance in this regard, but the Canadian Olympic Committee had so many standouts to choose from it went for ethnography over performance. Though she didn’t win a gold, speed skater Kim Boutin satisfies the key criteria – being recognizably Quebecois.
Hockey Canada owed Quebec a solid after entangling itself in a deeply silly fuss over the pronunciation of French player names at the hockey venue.
You know when Anglo-Canadian civil servants should be telling Franco-Canadians how to say French names? When they’re itching to be fired.
The COC stepped in to smooth things over. It was the quiet (as well as loud) power behind everything that happened here. In fact, it – monolithically – was the real Canadian star of Pyeongchang.
There was an unfamiliar smugness to all of this. Canada’s new Olympic marketing pitch – “Virtue and Victory” (featuring TV ads with snowboarder Mark McMorris as Jesus Christ) – was bizarrely presumptuous. What does virtue have to do with victory? And what sort of country claims to have a lock on both? I’ll answer that – the sort you don’t want to get stuck in a car with on a four-hour drive.
The COC began the Olympics by reading out an “athlete manifesto” and scolding Russia. It chose to end on the same high-minded note.
“Especially in light of [Russia’s] second doping offence, our position is that the [Russian] flag should not come into the closing ceremonies with the Russian team,” COC president Tricia Smith said Saturday.
You know who used to talk like that? America. You know who didn’t? Canada.
In the end, the IOC agreed. Russia got the bum’s rush into and out of this event. But when did minding our own business cease to be a national virtue?
In Mr. Duncan’s case and the earlier mysterious instance of a fight between a Russian and a Canadian in the athletes’ canteen, the COC proved it could ‘no comment’ all the livelong day when it suits it. It ought to have done more of that when it came to Russia.
When the COC wasn’t wagging its finger at everyone else, it was strutting around trying to keep its cool about being so awesome.
“From a country chasing the top nations, we are now proudly in the top group,” Smith said at the COC’s final presser. She went down a laundry list of things Canada had won and ended with, “… but it really isn’t about the medals.”
Yes, of course, how could anyone get that impression?
Canada attained 29 podiums here – a national record in a non-boycott Games – and made damn sure everyone knew about it.
On Saturday, there was an almost-too-perfect interaction with an American reporter, who asked if Canada “has any advice for your neighbours to the south.”
COC CEO Chris Overholt had the sense to punt on that one – “We have no advice for anyone, obviously” – but all the bigwigs up on stage squirmed with delight. Canada, past treasurer of the Olympic math club, is now giving dating tips to the high-school quarterback.
Near the end, the rest of the world had started to notice that Canada was no longer the kind of milquetoast pipsqueak who is off-limits to criticism.
International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel – a Swiss guy, for God’s sake – took a run at us over the weekend. Someone wondered if a shootout is the best way to end an Olympic final (it is not) and Mr. Fasel lost his patience.
“You cannot let the team play the whole night,” Mr. Fasel said. “Maybe the Canadians can practise a little more the shootout.”
Olympically speaking, that’s more than a shot across the bows. It’s a shot right into the bows. Whatever the bows are.
Mr. Fasel could feel the winds shifting, even if we haven’t yet fully twigged to their new direction.
On the ground, out at events, it’s wonderful that Canada is in the “top group.” There are only so many set-a-personal-best-and-finished-12th stories anyone can take.
It’s fun going to Olympic events you are only vaguely familiar with, but feeling fairly certain that a Canadian, or several Canadians, will be very good at them.
Creating a culture of excellence is the reason the COC exists and it has demonstrably done its job here. So high fives all around.
But every yin has its yang. Becoming the new America feels great when you’re winning.
It may not always feel so hot when everyone else is looking up at you, just itching for an opportunity to put you back in your place.
The Globe and Mail, February 25, 2018