So much to write about today, but let’s start with the really important stuff. Yesterday’s victory by the US Olympic hockey team over Canada was a very big deal, indeed, for both North American countries. It marks the first time the US team has defeated Canada at the Olympics since 1960 – half a century ago.
However, the impact is arguably greater in Canada, where hockey is more than a sport – it is seen as a fundamental aspect of the nation itself, similar to the American trio of “Mom, baseball, and apple pie.” While the Canadian team does not always win gold at the Olympics, being defeated in the preliminary round by its larger southern neighbor hurts because it hits at issues of Canadian identity and the relationship between the two countries. In many ways, Canada functions as a sort of “little brother” of the US. Until now, Canadians could reassure themselves that despite many areas of US dominance, Canada was still better than the Yanks at its national sport of hockey.
And yet, as Canada begins a round of soul-searching, it is important not to overreach in drawing conclusions. Some in the US are already referring to the game as the “Second Miracle on Ice”, but this victory of experienced American NHL players over their experienced Canadian NHL teammates hardly compares with the 1980 US squad of college players defeating the seasoned Soviet professional team. (If the North American Olympic teams were still made up of amateurs, I would bet Canada would still have a decisive advantage over the US.) Canada remains in the medal hunt and is rightly considered an extremely dangerous and tough team.
It is also important to recall the disadvantage that Canada faces in trying to compete with the much larger and richer US in virtually any area. Given enough time and proper application of resources, it is practically inevitable that the US will eventually prevail.
But does this mean that Canada must be resigned to becoming the 51st US state, as it is sometimes jokingly called? Hardly. Ironically given the hockey result, the Vancouver Games have seen a tremendous flowering of Canadian patriotism. The Canadian crowds, known in the past for being polite and a bit reserved, have waved their flags and cheered their country’s teams as vigorously as the Americans do when the games are held in the US, to the point of reducing a Danish curler not used to the noise level to tears. And the Canadian athletes have responded by ending the country’s gold medal drought on its home soil. In fact, at a Canada curling match yesterday with the game on the line at the end, the crowd spontaneously broke out into the national anthem “O Canada” and inspired their curler to throw the winning shot – an occurrence that is without precedent in Canadian history.
In fact, there are still plenty of areas where Canada can hold its head up high in comparison to its neighbor to the south. Canada rightly prides itself on its success in preserving its amazing natural resources and wildlife. It also enjoys a much more admirable record of respecting native peoples and honoring its agreements with them. Canadians enjoy a reputation around the world as a kind, generous, and friendly people. Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Calgary all ranked among the top 30 cities in the world in quality of life in 2009 (all higher that the top-rated US city, Honolulu), reflecting a worldwide perception that Canada has quietly managed to achieve a nice balance of factors that make it a very desirable place to live – just ask the approximately 250,000 people who every year give Canada one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world.
So, while the US may well be singing the lyrics of the Irving Berlin song “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” to their Canadian neighbors in the wake of their hockey upset and their overall dominance of the Olympic medal count so far, the verdict is far from decided. Until the day when Canadian colleges and universities start recruiting hockey players from the US rather than the other way around, Canada will still be known as the home of hockey.