Canada is generally a fairly calm nation. As long as our beer is cold, our bacon is crisp, and somebody doesn’t try to order a breakfast sandwich in the Tim Hortons drive-through and make the entire neighborhood 45 minutes late for work, we’re a pretty laid-back people.
But there’s one glaring exception to that rule: hockey. We can occasionally get a little intense about that. And that’s especially true when the Olympics are involved, since there are only two possible outcomes for Team Canada — a gold medal, or a crushing, humiliating failure that ends with all the players being herded onto an ice floe in the Bay of Fundy.
Last week, Team Canada held its initial orientation camp, in which 47 potential Olympians were invited to get together in Calgary. Because of insurance issues, there were no actual on-ice workouts. The event consisted entirely of a friendly few days of team-building, walkthroughs, and photo ops. Needless to say, this plunged Canadian hockey fans into chaos.
And so, in what may need to become a regular feature around here between now and February, here’s a look at some of the Olympic-related topics that your neighbors to the north are currently in a state of abject panic about.
Patrick Kane is only 24 years old, but he's basically approaching middle age. The puckish puckhandler for the Chicago Blackhawks already has two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe to his name, giving him a level of experience that very few NHL players share, but it's not about that. Nor is it about making veiled commentary on his improving "maturity level" or the fact that his summer of celebration, in comparison to his 2010 post-Cup tour de belligerence, was downright benign.
Brazil might have done that before the Confederations Cup final. Although, from the crowd noise, it'd be difficult to pinpoint where the anthem stopped and the game began. It was only 90 seconds until Fred scored and laid waste to any hope Spain had of weathering the early onslaught of the atmosphere and settling into its game.
It never did. Instead Spain got pasted 3-0 and suffered its first loss in 30 matches. Spain apologists will point out that they had one less day of rest after playing an additional 30 minutes in more taxing weather conditions (86 degrees/55 percent humidity for the semi in Fortaleza) than did Brazil (79 degrees/44 percent humidity for the semifinal in Belo Horizonte). And even then, before Gerard Pique got sent off, Spain was about six or seven inches — in the form of improbable goal line clearance by David Luiz and missed PK by Sergio Ramos — from being down only 3-2 with more than half an hour to play.
But Spain doesn't need apologizing for. And anyone dancing on the grave the visitors dug themselves at the Maracană would be smart to take a look at what La Roja Jr. has done (and is still in the process of doing) this summer.
The Olympics are awesome, but they're run by a bunch of sanctimonious old men, who are so reactionary and so out of touch as to make Donald Trump look like I dunno, whoever the kids think is hip and with it nowadays. Which make the Olympics rather like soccer and college sports, you might say.
But these wrinkled, half-dead (I presume) Franco-Benelux pedants, satirized brilliantly and often by NPR's Stefan Fatsis as "blue-blazered international sportocrats" with a condescending attitude of "eet eez not possible," have come one step closer to correcting one of two massive mistakes they've made.
Yesterday, these sportocrats voted to advance baseball/softball, wrestling, and squash to a final round of voting for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics.
In case you were out demanding that Red Lobster serve you a never-ending pasta bowl, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
In a thrilling conclusion to the NCAA tournament, the Louisville Cardinals beat the Michigan Wolverines, 82-76, to win their first NCAA title in 27 years. Reserve forward Luke Hancock was named the Final Four's MOP after his 22-point performance in the title game. When asked if he saw his performance coming, Hancock responded, "I mean, how can you see a thing like this coming?" before Michigan's Trey Burke came up from behind to congratulate him on the win. Unfortunately, Burke's intentions were misinterpreted by a security guard, who immediately removed Burke from the stadium.
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino's good fortunes continued as he was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame's Class of 2013. Pitino, who'll be inducted alongside Gary Payton, Bernard King, and Jerry Tarkanian, among others, also saw his horse Goldencents win the Santa Anita Derby over the weekend. Pitino's great week didn't end there, as he was invited to two separate parties at the Louisville Discovery Zone this coming weekend, both of which are rumored to be supplied with both Pizza Factory pizza and Carvel ice-cream cake.
The NHL players' association, the league, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the International Olympic Committee met last week in an attempt to decide whether professional players will be competing at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. And while no deal was announced, the NHL is expected to once again end up sending its players to the Games. That would allow the league’s many Russian superstars to compete in their home country in what could end up being the greatest Olympic men’s hockey tournament of all time.
But which tournament would it have to beat out for the honor? And which tournaments were bad enough that Sochi can already be penciled in ahead of them by default?
I think we need to rank them. Let’s do this.
Hockey has been part of the Olympics since it debuted in 1920. (Note: I refuse on principle to refer to the sport by its official Olympic name, “ice hockey.” Apologies in advance if you’re a die-hard field hockey fan who finds this lack of distinction confusing.) In theory, we could rank every one of those appearances, but to be honest, the first few decades were pretty dull. Canada dominated until 1952, then the Soviets took over, but nobody paid much attention because back then there were only about 100 people in the world who knew how to skate.
So let’s arbitrarily call this a ranking of “modern” Olympic men’s hockey. I think 1976 seems like as good a place as any to use a cutoff, since Canada and Sweden (among others) didn’t even bother to send teams that year. So let’s rank all the Games from 1980 on, which gives us a list of nine to work with.
One thing: This list is coming from a North American perspective and has that bias built in. Consider yourself warned, my Nordic friends.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Robert Griffin III threw for 163 yards and ran for 72 more to lead the Redskins to a 17-16 win over the Giants. "At times like these, I really wish I knew some curse words," said Eli Manning. "So I could think them to myself and feel cruel for just a moment."
In Part II of Bill Simmons's mega Olympics mailbag, a reader named Scott Stone proposed the reintroduction of tug-of-war to the Olympic Games. So passionate was the response from Bill and others to this proposal, we wanted to give Scott a forum to dive deeper into the wonderful, hypothetical world of Olympic ToW. Take it away, Scott.
The thing about tug-of-war is that it doesn’t really measure strength — it measures effort. Once you reach some minimum level of muscle (just enough to avoid getting pulled off your feet at the bell), the winning side is the side that gives up last.
Take the tug-of-war on Battle of the Network Stars. I don’t know how much time is on the “Fuck It!” meter of a Telly Savalas or a Penny Marshall, but I’m pretty sure it can be measured in seconds. I’m not even sure Telly is pulling — he’s just sorta leaning against the rope. By contrast, Robert Hegyes (Epstein from Welcome Back, Kotter) practically suffers a full-body hemorrhage leading his team to victory. He also has a good “pull face.” Like a closer’s facial hair, this cannot be discounted.
So I took a second look at Simmons's tug-of-war team. And I realized someone was missing. Someone he hates. Someone who, even though this is probably impossible, would be able to demonstrate what the tug-of-war equivalent of “demanding the ball” might look like. Someone who is named after a city in Japan and a legume, but refers to himself in the third person as a deadly, venomous snake. Someone who lately seems unable to refrain from unnecessarily cussing when asked basketball-related questions by the media.
Another Olympics has come to a close, and we've had the usual barrage of doping controversies to mull over, varying from scurrilous insinuations about 16-year-old girls to justified concern over rehabilitated (and unrepentant) ex-dopers winning medals. So, what else is new? Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of this Olympics is how comfortable we’ve become with drug use in sport. It’s reached the stage where news of an athletics gold medalist testing positive for steroids barely merits the jaded raise of an eyebrow. Yet Nadzeya Ostapchuk is the only Olympian (so far) to have been stripped of a medal in 2012, which compares favorably with five medalists in Beijing, nine in Athens, and eight in Sydney. This has either been the cleanest Olympics this century, or, if you’re of a more suspicious frame of mind, the one with the least effective drug testing. Some people certainly suspect the latter; witness this extraordinary article on Ye Shiwen from the host nation’s most popular non-tabloid newspaper. But let’s put talk of genetically modified swimbots aside, and look at what’s actually happened in the world of swimming, because it’s certainly been noteworthy.
The long podless summer of your discontent has officially come to an end. Yes, the Blazers are back — freshly cleaned and pressed just in time for the start of the 2012-13 English Premier League season. But where to begin in this introductory Men in Blazers podcast? There’s really no other choice than to quickly consider the 2012 Olympic Games, hosted by motherland Great Britain. To the great surprise of the Blazered Men, there’s still life in the Old Dog yet.
But back to the football. In this week’s pod, the Men in Blazers delve into a thorough and mostly fabricated preview of the coming campaign, going team-by-team before looking deep into their crystal ball to offer bold predictions. Spoiler alert: It’s going to be a weird one.
Sunday 25 October 1914: Woken up during the night with orders — probable advance ... They treat us as if we were Infantry always forgetting that we have not got the gun powder which Infantry have.
— Diary of a World War I Cavalry Officer, by Brigadier General Sir Archibald Home
As the Olympics drew to a close, there was a lot of talk about greatness. There was a lot of talk about Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Ashton Eaton, the USA women's soccer team, and medal standings. There was no talk about David Svoboda on NBC. But according to Olympic legend, or at least according to NBC's website, the modern pentathlon winner was supposed to be the greatest of all, the representative of moral as well as physical courage: the cavalry officer.
The Beijing Olympics are avenged! Breathe easy and enjoy the conclusion. This weekend is a walk up the 18th fairway at Augusta with a five-shot lead, a triumphant kneel-down on the last play of the Super Bowl, and the leisurely last stage of the Tour de France all rolled into one. Enjoy it, and thanks for following along. Today's guide will be reduced in scope since I'm about to undertake a one-man drive from North Carolina to Maine (estimated 97 hours), so think of this as a collective group jog around the stadium with the flag draped around our shoulders. I couldn't be more thrilled about the Great London Triumph. Good Olympics, good patriotism, good job.
Explain this one to me: The Olympics organizers probably gave away $300,000 of revenue per basketball session by not having courtside seats, and yet they scheduled Friday’s men’s basketball semifinals so that
A. Spain and Russia played at 5 p.m. London time as the "early" game.
B. Everyone in the stadium then had to leave.
C. They cleaned the stadium.
D. America and Argentina played the "night" game at 9 p.m. for a new crowd.
Sounds super greedy, right? And yet they surrounded all four sides of the court with empty space? Don’t worry, it was even dumber in person. Speaking of dumb, I should probably mention that Spain nearly blew the semifinal because Russia said, "Hey, we're going to swarm the Gasol brothers every time they get the ball, do you have a Plan B?" In the first half, the answer was "No!" And then everything changed, shots started falling, an inside-outside game materialized and Spain banged out an eight-point victory (and the silver medal at worst).
I, Rembert Browne, have nothing to offer an Olympian with regard to the holding of hands, the making of love, the walking of aisles, or the having of children. Please do not waste time trying to convince me otherwise; I know it to be true and I am slowly coming to grips with that as fact. It's OK, though, because for the sake of the Human Race, I firmly believe Olympians need to mate with other Olympians, if for no other reason than to create super-offspring that will protect our kind against the Unknown when they attack Earth in 36 years.