Sunday, February 21, 2010

Official Olympic Evaluation

Olympic distance runner takes a break while training in Arizona

The Vancouver Olympics have passed the half-way point and I’m reflecting on the whole show, as are many of you. And it is a show. I missed the opening ceremonies because I was working, but I hear they were spectacular. I’ve caught a bit of the action here and there and tonight I watched the last two periods of the USA/Canada hockey game. It could easily have been an NHL all-star game; one of the forward lines on Team Canada was a first line—intact—from the San Jose Sharks, and the names on both teams generally, were familiar from NHL season play.

There was a time when the Olympics were closed to anyone earning pay for performing his sport; we’ve come a long way, baby.

Canada lost the game 5-3. The announcer groped for a scapegoat. “Miller (the US goalie) outplayed Brodeur (the Canadian goalie); end of story.” I’m no connoisseur of hockey, so I don’t know if his implication that we could have won if our goalie hadn’t let us down was accurate or not. I guess nobody knows that for sure.

And I guess a lot of people care—deeply. The emotions across the country run high and I wonder how the “Own the Podium” people are feeling about now, when the USA predictably has an iron-clad lease on our podium, Germany has twice as many medals as Canada and we’re sharing 4th place with—would you believe—Korea. It seems to me a lot of people set themselves up for a big fall when they announced publicly that Canada had a good shot at topping the medal count.

I enjoy watching curling, especially women’s. It’s so intense, but yet civilized. My laptop behind me is tuned to the game between China and Canada; China is leading 3-0 after two ends. There have, however, been no fights, no injuries, no cursing and no one is sitting in the penalty box. Mind you, people who need to see contact in sports probably raise their eyebrows whenever curling is referred to as a sport. Let me suggest that sliding a rock down the ice is probably no less sporting than sliding your ass down an ice course on a baby sled.

Then there are the “sports” that are evaluated by subjective (arguably) judging, like figure skating or half-pipe snowboarding or gymnastics. Figure skating took a black eye some years ago when it was discovered that some judges had made their decisions about winners and losers before the contestants actually skated.

And then there are the timed-race sports. I watched a bit of the skeleton races the other day. You slide down the ice track 4 times and your total times are added. The slider who came in 4th was behind the gold medallist by less than a second in total time. That makes an average of less than ¼ second per slide. I don’t get it. How can being less than ¼ of a second behind the leader relegate one to ignominy? Seems to me they should all get gold medals for having the courage to slide down that track at 140 KPH; the medals should just get smaller proportional to their time behind the leader. Mostly, the differences in medal size using this formula would be indistinguishable.

China is now leading Canada 4-1.

In a few days, the Olympics will be over again and we’ll all forget about them, except for the athletes, sports pundits needing filler material, bean counters . . . and BC taxpayers.
Is what we’re seeing sport? Is it entertainment? Is it nationalism and sport and entertainment? Is it a smorgasbord of obsessive/compulsive neurosis without which no athlete could ever hope to reach any podium . . . anywhere?

I wonder.

(After 5, it’s 4-2; China has the hammer, and they know how to use it!)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

An Evening with Yann Martel

Scene from "The Keeper" coming to the Station Arts Centre March 3-14

It was a great evening; most people I talked to agreed. Yann Martel came to the Station Arts Centre and he and his wife and their baby mingled with about 50 or 60 of us in a fund-raiser to kick off the project to re-roof the library. The library board had done a great job; good food, some local poets reading and words from a great author. A summary doesn’t do it justice, of course. Two high school students read from their poetry and a member of our writers’ group enthralled the audience with imagery that literally pings off people’s experiences of life.

Martel’s wife, Alice Kuipers, read from her novel—about to be published—and then it was Yann’s turn. Yann has set himself a project to send Stephen Harper a different book every two weeks along with a letter suggesting why he—as Prime Minister—ought to read this book. Martel reminded us that when Canada’s political leaders were all asked what their favourite book might be, Harper chose Guiness Book of World Records, a book most of us enjoyed—when we were twelve! He read us several of his letters to the PMO.

Yann’s view is that fiction reading is essential to the balanced development of every person. He says that in the reading of the novel, one allows an alternative view into one’s consciousness and lives with it for a while. Sort of a walking-for-a-time in another’s shoes. What this provides is a moral, ethical exercise, an accepted invitation to reconsider one’s own worldview and an opening of the door to honest dialogue.

I agree. In a recent interview I did with the local paper, I said that I consider the art of the short story to be a natural progression from the parables used to teach in earlier times. Stories are not only that, of course. At their best, they also offer relief from the sameness of our days, recreation of our spirits and repeated reminders that the world is a whole lot bigger and provides many more possibilities than our day to day striving would lead us to believe.

In other words, a person who does not read voraciously and who doesn’t have a history of appreciation for novels and short stories can hardly be fit--in at least one aspect--to lead a nation. Something is bound to be missing, and it may be the most vital element of all.

If you don’t know Yann Martel, read Life of Pi, winner of the Man Booker prize of 2002. It’s scheduled to be the basis of a movie soon.