Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Relations

My husband and I, having been married shortly after our return from Korea, are living with my parents on Vancouver Island. We're not tragic victims of the recession, not yet anyway, nor are we starving students. Our reason for this arrangement is based largely on our different nationalities and indecision as to where we should live.

My mother has taken to calling us 'the young, international couple', which makes us sound a whole lot more interesting than we currently are. "So, what's new in the life of the young, international couple?" she asks every day. Nothing is new with us. We wait endlessly to hear back about jobs and PhD applications, and have nothing to say in response. But this last week has jazzed things up a bit. The Winter Olympic Games have come to Vancouver, and we are participating in the revelry.

We may also need to book a marriage counselor. My husband's smug smile every time team USA wins another medal is beyond irritating. Of course they are winning loads of medals. With their enormous population to draw from, and excellent funding for athletes, this is to be expected. Except it's still annoying, especially in the face of Canada's 'Own the Podium' programme, which gives the mistaken impression that our athletes now have an advantage over other countries. "It's a good idea in principle," says my cousin, "but I don't think people realise how seriously underfunded our athletes were in the first place. Now they've just moved up to a level playing field and everyone is wondering why they aren't winning everything." Maybe keeping up these expectations is what we need to do. It certainly works for the Americans. My husband never seems surprised by all those medal wins... but then again, he never seems as pleased by them either.

When we go to Vancouver to take in the atmosphere and visit my cousin we find ourselves lost in a sea of red, white and maple leaf. I enjoy myself, but find it awkward to have him by my side. He does not stand out like the other Americans, in their stars and stripes and Uncle Sam hats, but neither does he wave my flag. We are there together, but it is not a shared experience.

Later that evening, four of us get together at my cousin's to watch the ice dancing. The Americans perform nicely and are in the lead. Then the Canadian pair take to the ice, and it is exquisite. It is poetry in motion, ballet on ice. Three of us have tears in our eyes, and as we wait for the score we clasp hands, scarcely daring to breathe. GOLD! We hug and cheer. Across the room, my husband smiles and shakes his head. He doesn't get why this is a big deal. "The Americans did really well too," we say to him, "silver!" He shrugs and says a medal is a medal and hopefully they'll all add up to the USA coming first in the standings.

Therein lies the difference. A medal is not a big deal because it is expected of American athletes. Though it is clear the competitors themselves think it a wonderful thing, the spectators don't cheer with the same fervour. They cheer with confident (sometimes arrogant) anticipation, not with hope. And because of this, I'm not surprised my husband didn't understand our emotional outburst for a sport in which, up until that evening, none of us had really showed much interest.

If we keep up the funding, and keep expectations high, perhaps Canada will continue to improve. But in doing so, it is important not to lose the hope, the heart that goes into supporting our athletes not just for medals, but for the athletes themselves. It should always be a big deal, because the flags, the crowds, the red and white and maple leaf are wonderful to behold.

As for my marriage, you ask? Not to worry. My husband and I have decided to model ourselves after the Olympic spirit of sportsmanship and diplomacy. We now watch the events on separate TVs.

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