Like millions of other Canadians, I am debating what strategy to take tomorrow. Do I rise with the birds at 5 a.m. (or probably before the birds, who are sensible enough to still be sleeping) to watch Canada vs. Sweden for the Olympic gold medal? Or, do I do the sensible thing, sleep till about 7 a.m. and watch it on PVR? What to do, what to do?
If I admit to leaning toward sleeping, does that make me a bad Canadian? After all, it IS the gold medal game, and as a Canadian, is it not my duty to wake up (or stay up) to watch Our Boys play Our Game for Our Medal? My sons, much younger, much more accustomed to late hours, are leaning towards staying up late, maybe taking a little nap, and watching it live at 5 a.m.
To be honest, my enthusiasm for the game is somewhat dampened. Seriously, this has to be the most anticlimactic gold medal game in history. Yes, gold is what we go to the Olympics for. And it’s true that if Canadians were given the choice between winning every possible gold medal except the hockey medal, or winning only one gold medal in hockey and nothing else, most of us would choose the hockey medal. Such is the hold hockey has on this nation. It’s kind of pathetic, really.
But Sunday’s game, for all its importance, doesn’t have the Win or Die feel that the game would have had if we had played the Americans, or the Russians.
Take the women’s medal. If Canada had played any other country, the gold medal would have been more like a medal-shaped piece of chocolate wrapped in gold foil. There are only two countries that have any chance of winning a gold medal in women’s hockey, and it was pre-ordained that Canada and the U.S. would meet in the final. If we had played Switzerland, for example, we would have won 10-0. The women would have been awarded the same gold medals, but millions of Canadians would not have stopped what they were doing to watch the game. Beating the Americans — and in particular beating the Americans in the most dramatic and unlikely way possible — elevated the game to One for the Ages category. Any other opponent, and it would have been a ‘meh’ game.
It’s not quite that bad for the men’s gold medal game. If we played the U.S. — Canada’s 21st century mortal enemy on ice — there would have been no question about watching it live. I might not have been able to sleep the night before anyway. On Friday when I awoke, the first thought that popped into my head was that it was hockey day. I had to work for the last two periods of the game, which actually didn’t bother me that much. I was happy to be free of the stress. In the dying minute of the game, my son was giving me play-by-play over the phone. As the clock was ticking down, he said “This isn’t fun anymore”, which is exactly how I would have felt.
Playing Russia — our 20th century mortal enemy on ice — would have been required live viewing. Some of us who lived through the 1972 Canada-Russia summit series (the Greatest Sporting Event of All Time) probably still feel that the Russians are the ultimate enemy. I would still love to beat them, but not quite as much as I used to.
But Sweden? They’re a distant third on my hate list (the term ‘chicken Swede’ still resonates) but the days of Swedes being hatchet men and divers are over. Oh, I want to win, but if we lose to Sweden, well … I could tolerate that. I wouldn’t be happy, mind you. But I wouldn’t be suicidal either.
After all, it’s not just how you win — it’s who you beat.