‘BoniBlog — Vancouver Olympics

This is the first of several ‘BoniBlogs — observations and comments by Sports Media Canada’s John Iaboni who, in concert with A.I.P.S., will provide support for the large media contingent covering the Games.

John Iaboni

“February 2010 has finally arrived. The countdown to the XXIst Olympic Winter Games in Canada’s west-coast Province of British Columbia at the metropolis of Vancouver and the resort town of Whistler is down to just days, with the Xth Paralympic Winter Games following the Olympic Games.
This is Canada’s second time as host of the Olympic Winter Games and it has a major act to follow after the splendour and success of the XVth Olympic Winter Games at Calgary in 1988. Those Games were highlighted by luminaries such as Alberto (La Bomba) Tomba, Katarina Witt, Matti Nykanen, figure skating’s Battle of the Brians (Boitano and Orser) – with more than enough room for the heartwarming appeal felt worldwide for a bloke from Great Britain named Eddie (The Eagle) Edwards and the bobsled team from Jamaica.
From a Canadian perspective, the positive spinoff of the 1988 Games is expected to continue its ongoing legacy. In the Calgary Games, Canada earned five medals – two Silver and three Bronze. The remarkable facilities built for those Games and the pride instilled to inspire others boosted Canada’s performance in the ensuing years: Seven medals (two Gold) in 1992; 13 medals (three Gold) in ’94; 15 medals (six Gold) in 1998; 17 medals (seven Gold) in 2002 and 24 medals (seven Gold) in 2006.
Performances leading up to the 2010 Games indicate this country’s athletes are primed to add to those escalating unprecedented Canadian Winter Games podium achievements. The pressure is greatest on the men’s hockey team, a collection of gifted athletes from the National Hockey League.
Since 1998, players from the NHL have competed in the Olympics. Ice hockey is Canada’s national sport and nothing, virtually nothing from a sporting standpoint compares to its importance in stoking and maintaining national pride. Generations of Canadians grew up first playing this game on outdoor ponds from the Atlantic to the Pacific to the Arctic.
In modern times, the once male-dominated sport has seen an incredible increase in female participation as well. The Canadian landscape now sees parents taking their young boys and/or girls to the indoor rinks in frigid, snowy winter days. It’s a scene played over and over from well before the sun rises to well into night.
This is Canada; this is a land still noted – even with all reports of global warming – as a place of ice and snow, with hockey as its defining centre-piece.
The men’s hockey team for Canada isn’t merely hoping to claim Gold; it’s expected to accomplish that mission even though all contenders will be have rosters heavily comprised of the others representing the NHL’s élite.
Canada’s men’s hockey players head into Vancouver as the most recognizable of all Canadian athletes. From coming into the living rooms across Canada almost on a nightly basis where NHL telecasts are ratings giants, they now, once again, wear the Maple Leaf for a nation with the loftiest of expectations.
Yet, since NHL players have competed in the Olympics, Canada was shut out of the medals in 1998 at Nagano (where Czech Republic won Gold) and in 2006 at Torino (where Sweden emerged as champions). Canada did win Olympic Gold in men’s hockey at Salt Lake City in 2002 – its first Olympics men’s ice hockey championship since 1952. Making the Salt Lake Games even more memorable in the sport was the Gold won by Canada’s women, making the nation doubly proud.
Perhaps unfair and to the detriment of athletes in others sports, hockey – and in particular men’s hockey – will command much of the stage at these Games. Some purists don’t like the idea of paid pros being part of the Olympics but there’s no denying that superstar power is a television and marketing winner.
The men’s hockey tournament at Vancouver begins with this daunting question: Will this be the last Olympics featuring NHL players?
During Winter Olympic years, the NHL compresses its 82 regular-season schedule from early October to mid-April in order to shut down in the middle of each campaign to release its stars for national duty. The league believes it makes other significant sacrifices, including the risk of injuries, with such obligations. The notion is that by participating in Games in North American time zones such as Salt Lake City and Vancouver, there is a benefit to such exposure but not when Games take place in other time zones. The NHL and the NHL Players Association have yet to determine whether they will compete at the Sochi Olympics.
Rather than an all-out elimination of NHL involvement in the Olympics perhaps some consideration might be given to the manner in which football (soccer) is part of the Summer Olympics program. Olympics football is contested by players 23 years of age and under and allows for three overage players.
IOC president Jacques Rogge hopes FIFA maintains that approach although football’s governing body is floating the notion of a change to players 21 years of age and under or total elimination of the three overage players.
Here in the Great White North, future NHL inclusion isn’t a hot-button issue but rather a topic for another day and for other Olympics. NHL presence at the Vancouver Games is a certainty and rest assured the nation will be glued to Canada’s exploits from start to finish. Should Canada’s men’s hockey team reach the Gold-Medal match on Day 16, expect Canadian households from Atlantic to Pacific to Arctic to be tossing parties and huddling around big-screen TVs in the cozy, fireplace settings cheering on their heroes.
It’s 2010 … it’s winter … and Canada’s ready for the Games to begin.”