Monday, March 1, 2010

Beer stain tarnishes Canada’s golden girls

It may be small beer in comparison with the stories of triumph and tragedy that have been created over the past fortnight, but the celebrations that followed Canada’s victory over the United States in the women’s ice hockey final left the gold medal- winners with nagging hangovers.

More than half an hour after their 2-0 win yesterday morning, the Canada players ambled back on to the ice, still clad in their uniforms and armed with cans of beer, bottles of champagne and cigars. One player, Rebecca Johnston, tried to drive the ice- resurfacing machine.

More damagingly, Marie-Philip Poulin, the scorer of both goals, was photographed with can in hand. Given that she is 18 and under the legal drinking age in British Columbia, which is 19, it is clear that the Canadians were a little too open in toasting their success.

Many people will think that the IOC is making a mountain out of a molehill by even looking into the impromptu party, but Hockey Canada moved quickly to save face. It issued a statement saying: “The members of Team Canada apologise if their on-ice celebrations, after fans had left the building, have offended anyone. In the excitement of the moment, the celebration left the confines of our dressing room and shouldn’t have. The team regrets that its gold-medal celebration may have caused the IOC or Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) any embarrassment.”

The IOC seemed unsure yesterday whether it would be investigating the matter. Mark Adams, the IOC director of communications, said the body would look into it but it was not an investigation, while Gilbert Felli, the executive director, said there would be an investigation. Either way, a slap on the wrist is the likely outcome.

The IOC is drafting a letter to send to COC requesting an explanation, but Adams said: “There was a quick apology from the athlete and I think we have pretty much drawn a line under it.”

Public opinion seemed split between those who viewed the players as setting a poor example and those who felt the players were entitled to let their hair down.

Probably, the most pertinent comment came from Steve Keogh, the COC spokesman, who said: “It’s not exactly uncommon in Canada.”

Just hours before Canada’s gold-medal triumph, Jacques Rogge, the IOC president, suggested that the female version of the game may be axed unless it becomes more competitive.

Unless, in other words, the women become more like the men. The cigars and beer cans may be regarded as a step in that direction, and defenders will point to alcohol often playing a part in celebrations in other sports.

If anyone requires a dose of perspective as they damn the drinkers, they might choose to look at the feats of Joannie Rochette, who won the best bronze medal of these Olympics in the figure skating. Rochette began competing here only two days after her mother, Therese, died of a heart attack. It made for a gripping free programme, with every onlooker willing the 24-year-old through.

An early mistake drew gasps, but the Canadian recovered to take a medal in a competition dominated by the graceful genius of Kim Yu Na, the Toronto-based winner from South Korea. She set a world record of such vertiginous standards, beating Mao Asada, of Japan, by a massive 23 points, that she must surely rank alongside the likes of Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Roger Federer in the pantheon of greats. And she is 19.

Having decided not to speak until the end of her competition, Rochette opened up about her traumatic Olympics. “Even though I was trying to be an athlete focused on my goals, emotions just took the best out of me,” she said. “I didn’t know if I could skate. My legs were shaking. I didn’t feel like it, but I’m glad I did. That’s what my mom would have wanted.

“Sometimes she was a pain in the a**, but she was my biggest fan and my best friend. She was with me every step of the way.”

Today’s highlights

Skiing Men’s slalom (6pm)
Speed skating Men’s team pursuit finals (8.51pm)
Bobsleigh Four-man final run (10.40pm)
Curling Men’s final, Canada v Norway (11pm)


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