The old Olympiad

Ed Smith
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Note to readers: Due to technical  difficulties, this Ed Smith column did not appear in
Saturday’s Telegram as intended.

So the Olympics are practically over. And we can return to whatever is normal for us. As I write, there is still a week to go, but even now I feel as though I have spent a week in the athletes’ village with all the stress and none of the benefits. What benefits? Don’t be silly.

I don’t know where Canada will finish up with the medal count. Please don’t tell me it doesn’t matter because that irritates me something awful, and I know you don’t want to do that. I would love to have seen Patrick Chan win the gold but he really bothered me yesterday with one comment that he made.

“Right now,” he said, “I’m here only for myself.”

Many would empathize with that. Chan sacrifices a great deal to be in Sochi on the world stage of winter sports. No need to enumerate it all — some would be obvious, others are in areas we would never suspect. Certainly he had a large personal stake in how he performed.

But here’s the thing. I, as a person who pays income tax, have a fair-size financial investment in Brother Chan as an athlete. I help pay for his training expenses, his need for money to buy his daily bread and give him a bed to sleep in during the night. We all pay for his coaches’ expenses and travel and venue rentals. I’m also aware that the extent to which that is true depends on the athletes involved, but generally, that’s accurate.

I have no problem with that whatsoever. But Patrick Chan was at the Olympics, not only because of his own considerable sacrifice, but also because of the significant financial investment you and I have made in him. Therefore he represents us and our country, and not just himself.

Let’s move on to something vastly more interesting which will connect the various sports of the Olympiad, and the sporting activities of our childhood. I’m convinced we were much better prepared for these activities, and would have brought home more medals and glory than anyone dreams of these days.

Take the luge run, for example. I see nothing particularly skilful or courageous about sliding down a perfectly smooth hill with the sides built up so you can’t shoot off the path into the woods, and with a half dozen stalwart men waiting for you at the bottom to stop you in case you can’t stop yourself. They slap you on the back and beautiful women rush up and kiss you and there’s one hell of a goings-on about what a marvellous thing you just did.

Suppose that halfway down that shiny little hill they had met some old guy coming up on a horse and slide, as we often did on our slides on our hills. Sometimes we got advance notice that such a beast was on the way, so we listened for the sound of harness bells before we threw ourselves downhill at breakneck speed.

But there was one little obstacle remaining after the horse had passed by. There was always the possibility that the horse had decided to empty its bowels in the middle of the path. By the time you saw this as you careened around a curve, and the steam rising from it identified it to be definitely horse poop, it was too late. The front end of your coaster would neatly decapitate this lovely pile of semi-digested oats and hay, leaving the bottom to fall harmlessly under your coaster and the top half to smack you squarely in the face. Since, at that moment, your mouth was likely to be wide open in howling protest over what was about to happen, the results were inevitable.

Likewise, this thing they call the biathlon is a miserable excuse for a challenging event. You ski like mad for a few kilometres and fire a rifle that looks as though it came out of the 22nd century, at a career target. Now hear this: you are standing upright or lying down, but in either case perfectly still. The targets look to be about six inches across and likewise perfectly immobile. What’s incredible about all this is that quite often they miss.

I learned to use a Cooey single-shot .22 rifle standing in the bow of a 20-foot motorboat with that bow jumping up and down like one of those skiers coming down a mogul run and their knees held together with butterfly hinges. The target for us was normally a fat turr, but every once in a while we younger fellows would be told to shoot a bullbird just to stay sharp. Bullbirds are roughly the size of starved tom tits.

I suppose I should mention hockey. Team Canada is doing fairly well, but how much better would they be if they had had our earlier training? For example, if everyone wasn’t extremely vigilant on the pond, the puck would squirt out from among the players and head for the mouth of the brook. It took teamwork to make sure it didn’t fall over the edge of the ice.

When that did happen, one of us — generally the youngest and most easily intimidated — would be required to remove his coat, roll up his sleeve to the shoulder and plunge his arm into the freezing water. He prayed the water wasn’t so deep as to require further effort. It was called doing one’s best under trying conditions.

For conditioning, we took turns playing goal. If you didn’t make the save on a hard shot from one of the bigger fellows, you were required to skate the two or three kilometres (OK, not quite) down the pond and get the puck back there in a hurry.

I trust you find the foregoing interesting, enlightening and informative.

Why else would I bother?

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.  His email address is

Geographic location: Canada, Sochi, Springdale

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