No ice – why I’m not watching Olympic men’s hockey

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Gremlins got into this post and ate half of it; I didn’t realize it until today.

I love the winter Olympics. The games in Sochi, Russia are not without controversy – they cost billions and it’s probably more pain than gain for the average person living in the area. The Russian people will probably be paying off the costs of the venues for generations to come. Not that this is unique to the Sochi Olympics – it took Montrealers 30 years to pay off the stadium used for the 1976 summer Olympics and it’s basically been falling apart since it was finished. I am definitely not in favour of Russia’s anti-gay laws. As far as I’m concerned, the IOC should have slapped a big fine on the Russian government and flown the rainbow flag alongside the Olympic one.

Politics aside, there’s lots to enjoy about the winter Olympics. The majority of the events are exciting to watch – skeleton and short track speed skating, for example. biathlon, not so much, but I admire anyone who can cross-country ski and carry a rifle at the same time. While not everyone considers curling to be a spectator sport, but having curled (badly) for many years,  I love watching it played at the elite level. It looks easy, but I can attest to the fact that throwing the stone and having it do what you want almost every time requires a superior level of skill. Whether you’re a curling aficionado or think it’s the silliest sport ever, I highly recommend watching Sir David Attenborough’s nature-style curling video, put together by the BBC.

No small part of my enjoyment from watching the Olympics comes from watching Canadian athletes. Given that we’re a northern country, it makes sense that we would do well at sports that involve snow and ice. But we don’t have an institutionalized  sports system like many countries and the majority of athletes train and compete for years before they get private or public funding. It’s not easy and requires significant financial and personal sacrifice. The members of the Canadian women’s hockey team all put their jobs and families on hold for several months prior to the Olympics to move to Calgary and train. This is on top of the hours and hours of hard work it took each of the players to make the team and then prepare for the Olympic tournament. Obviously, it paid off – the Canadian women beat the Americans earlier in the week to won the gold medal.

The one Olympic event I won’t watch is men’s hockey. It’s not that I don’t like the game – M and I pass many evenings between October and April watching the Ottawa Senators play. And I don’t watch hockey just because M likes the game. I started watching Hockey Night in Canada when I was a child living in rural New Brunswick – we only got one television channel and there was only one thing on Saturday evenings. My issue with the men’s Olympic team is that all the members of the Canadian team are professionals. Multi-millionaires. The average salary of the Canadian men’s team is nearly $6 million per player. The total cost of the team is just under $150 million (the cost of the U.S. team, by comparison, is a measly $119 million). Yes, I’m sure it’s exciting for the players to play for their country and wear the maple leaf on their jerseys, but it doesn’t make the games any more interesting to watch. I can turn on the television most weeks and watch the same players battle it out on the ice. For me, excitement was watching Kallie Humphries and Heather Moyse win their second consecutive gold medal in women’s bobsleigh (they’ve got a great line in this video: “you don’t get a bobsledders body eating salad 24/7”)

I realize that this is probably not a popular opinion, given that Canada plays Sweden for the gold medal tomorrow. Thousands of my country men and women (including members of my family) will be setting their alarms on way-too-early o’clock tomorrow morning to get up and watch the game. The newspapers have been full of chatter over the last week about the team and the various games. Today’s edition of the national newspaper devoted 5 pages to men’s hockey and less than a quarter of a page to a story about the woman who scored the tying and winning goals in the women’s game. Coverage of the Canadian men winning gold in curling yesterday was buried even further in the sports section. If the Canadian men don’t win the gold, there will be much hand-wringing and prolonged national navel-gazing. As for me, I’ll be sleeping in tomorrow morning. Hopefully, later in the day, I can catch some re-runs of the 4-man bobsleigh.

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