It was the best Olympics, it was the worst Olympics

It’s easy to throw out the hyperbole. Newspaper columnists need to have some sort of opinion about the Vancouver Olympics in order to feed the beast, satisfy their readers and their bosses. Depending on which one you read, it was either the most friendly, welcoming and well-organized Games ever, or it was a non-stop glitch-fest that will forever be marred by the death of an athlete.

CBC summarizes some reaction from around the world.

Internationally, it seemed how countries thought about these Olympics had everything to do with whether the number of medals they got met expectations.

NBC, which laid on the love for Canada pretty thick (or maybe we just thought it was thick because we’re so unused to international praise), continued afterward, with Brian Williams sending a thank-you note. Jim Caple of ESPN went the opposite way, poking fun at the northern neighbours but still with the attitude that these games were awesome. (He even made fun of Canada’s men’s hockey team after the U.S. beat them in round-robin play, with some jokes he probably regrets now)

For Australia, which won only three Olympic medals, it was still the best winter games ever, screamed headlines from Australian Associated Press, the Australian Olympic Committee and the Australian minister for sport.

On the other hand, Russia was a disappointment at these games (a disappointment that forced the resignation of the head of the Russian Olympic Committee), and Pravda went on a rant saying simply that Vancouver is not fit to hold the Winter Olympics. On the day of the closing ceremony, criticisms read more like conspiracy theories about how organizers and officials unfairly hurt Russia to Canada’s benefit.

And then, of course, there’s Great Britain, which managed only a single medal at these games. But in their defence, the criticism came long before that result.

Lawrence Donegan of The Guardian was the most cited, calling it the worst Olympics ever. His words were repeated by his peers.

Of course, that prompted a lot of defend-Canada pieces from Canadian media, who quoted Olympic historians, members of the IOC and VANOC attacking that view and rating these games highly. Other columnists and editorial writers took it upon themselves to defend Vancouver 2010.

The truth is that the Vancouver Olympic Winter Games were somewhere in between. The people were friendly, but they could also be dicks sometimes, especially when they let their national pride get the better of them. The organizers were beset with an avalanche of problems, but reacted quickly to them. The opening and closing ceremonies were well choreographed, but … well, I won’t get into another debate about that.

And as for the athletic performances, there were plenty of triumphs and disappointments (or, in the case of Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Ohno and the Canadian men’s speed-skating teams, both in the same week). There was the tragedy of Nodar Kumaritashvili, the heartbreaking disqualification of Sven Kramer in the 10,000-metre race, the childish reaction of Evgeni Plushenko after failing to win gold in men’s figure skating, and of course Joannie Rochette, who stole some of the spotlight away from an incredible performance by Kim Yu-Na.

I spent most of these Olympics in front of my TV, and will remember quite a bit of them. I’ll also remember quite a bit from the 2008 Games in Beijing, and other Olympics before them.

But to suggest that the Vancouver Olympics were the greatest ever (better than Lillehammer? Lake Placid?) or the worst ever (worse than Munich? Atlanta?) is probably pushing it a bit much.

The next games are in Russia in 2014. And even though it’s four years away, it’s already being denounced as the worst ever.

11 thoughts on “It was the best Olympics, it was the worst Olympics

  1. John M

    Totally disagree with you. In terms of Olympic spirit they were the best and that is what counts. They brought a lot of unity to all of Canada and that even includes QUebec (!!), showed the resilience of athletes (Joannie as example), and was probably one of the most open Olympics ever. Having huge outdoor venues where anyone could go and gather just to watch games and share the event with anyone else was brilliant.

    Anyways, opinions are like a**holes, everyone has one and they don’t think their’s stinks…

    1. j2

      Thanks for raising the level of discourse with that one, John M.

      Honestly I’m not happy with this jingoist movement in Canada, of which these Olympics have fanned the flame. I was much prouder of our quiet dignity rather than becoming Americans. That the medals, i.e. this Olympic Spirit, was _bought_ also sits wrong in my craw.

      John M, your definition of open is unclear. Do you mean the outdoor venues, y’know, like how they used to have public hangings? Those were open. Perhaps you’re referring openness about distribution of funds? Maybe you forget the way that people were harassed at the border and doctors and their families were harassed by police based on fear of what they might say? I’m glad you caught that outdoor venue.

      1. John M

        Open in terms of accessibility to everyone that wished to partake in the spirit. Didn’t realize I had to spell it out in very clear letters for certain readers. I made the basic assumption that if you found Fagstein’s site that you would also have some semblance of understanding context. Guess I missed that one as I sure didn’t mean to give any connotation to lynchings, harassement, etc.

        If your pride in being Canadian is preferred to remain in the deep dark corners of the mind then so be it, stop trying to ruin for the rest of us who are, and always will be, proud to be Canadian and don’t care if it is now brought to a different level.

        Hope you resolve those US hatred issues, because that shit will eat you alive….

        1. j2

          So it’s open as long as you don’t criticize, cause if you do, you, your families your friends will be harassed at by the CBP and the Police. That sounds open to me.

          I don’t hate americans, I hate being led around by the nose and being told how to feel. I’d feel a lot prouder about being Canadian if we didn’t have to subvert Canadian values in order to hold the Olympics.

          Go ahead, stick your head in the bright red and white sand. Actually, I’ll backtrack: I don’t know you, maybe you DO campaign for things that you believe in (besides “Canada” as a marketing device I mean) as well as jump around in a maple leaf. But don’t think that the latter is a substitute for the first. None of us should forget that.

          1. Antonio


            I agree with everything you said except for the part about Canadian values. What Canadian values are there and how are they different from American or Western values?

      2. Josh

        But every host country tries to *buy* medals! China had “Project 119” for its games in 2008, and the UK has “Mission 2012” for the London games. Italy won less than half as many medals in 2010 (5) as they did when they hosted in 2006 (11). That’s not a coincidence.

        Own the Podium was no different from what many host countries have done leading up to the Olympics.

  2. Fassero

    It was Calgary with more medals (especially gold) and fatal accidents. ‘Nuff said. Unfortunately, domestic media is more of a pom-pom brigrade thanks to more corporate ownership and concentration since ’88. But, in general, I just find the Winter Olympics more entertaining than the summer. The main reason is it’s so much easier to follow (fewer event categories and events.)

    Not that foreign media is any better. So the British and Russian press were critical of the Games? Is that fact or are they just padding things over before their own countries show what they can do with organizing? Ummmm……latter?

    But the saddest part will be in Canada itself. Maybe Quebecers will be the exception to the rule but, 10 years from now (maybe even four….or less), the only thing that will be remembered about Vancouver is, just like Salt Lake City, the mens’ hockey team winning the gold. Yeah, okay, on home soil this time but basically in a tournment no more historic than the 1977 Canada Cup.

    1. Kakei

      It reminds me of how the non-asian media, including Canada, cannot hide their pleasure in dissing the Beijing Olympics.

  3. Emile

    Canadians are so ridiculous; constantly worrying how we may be perceived. Olympic games are almost uncomparable to each other for each has taken place in a different context of history.

    Were they the best ? No. Were they the worst ? No. Do any of these questions matter ? No.

    Let’s just take the Olympics for what they were – a big party. Sure, there wasn’t enough dip to go around, and the music was at times not quite to my liking, but overall, I’m glad I came. Can’t we just be happy and proud for once ?

    …and those Russian articles are just plain bizzare.

  4. Hugo Shebbeare

    We will always remember Sid’s goal, but most importantly Joannie’s wonderful performance from the heart – did you notice how the U.S. media was all over that – RAW emotiion and a true professional. In the States, they thankfully peel off our dumb CDN husband/wife bickering about language and look at what the person did – not where they are from/which side are you on stuff/who got slighted BS. Something we should try and strive to move on from.
    Jaysey Jay Anderson also showed how Canada KICKS ASS (continuing Ross’ [Rebagiliati] tradition)!
    Let’s not forget that QC atheletes did VERY, VERY well – funny how well we can all perform, dès qu’on travail ensemble comme les frères et sœurs qu’on est d’après tout. Vive le CANADA!


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