‘It takes raw courage as much as endurance to compete, and this is what Canada’s female athletes have exemplified’
by Heather Mallick (commentary)
© THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Kaillie Humphries, right, and Heather Moyse, bobsleigh gold medalists, pose with the Canadian flag as they are introduced as the flag bearers for the closing ceremonies at the Sochi Winter Olympics Sunday, February 23, 2014 in Sochi.
This has been the Canadian women’s Olympics and I couldn’t be happier. “We did what had to be done, #lovemygirls” tweeted Hayley Wickenheiser, which was as true of the Sochi Games in total as it was of the women’s golden finish against the Americans this week.
I had been utterly certain that the Canadians would win the hockey game, even when they were down 2-0, and I based this on nothing more than pure female self-confidence.
And then there was the gold and silver in women’s ski cross — the sport that old fogeys say is too harsh for women — and Jennifer Jones’ magnificent curling gold and the women’s story went on and on.
Winter is tough. Women are tough.
The Winter Games are greater and more glorious than the summer version, even if summer is more popular thanks to geography and accidental planetary demographics. We are a winter nation, so we have learned the hard way that the Winter Olympics are terrifying. Any athlete can swim straight — and any fool can sweat — but can anyone leap off a mountain on a single plank, sail like a paraglider and survive?
I shivered in horror and I was seated, safely watching the CBC online. We have been transfixed by the Games while being cautious about venturing onto our own driveways in one of the fiercest winters in years: snow, sleet, rain and ice under a slate sky.
Yes, it has been a merry hell for the dedicated Olympic viewer at work, at home or, in a move that mystifies me, in Toronto bars at 7 a.m. this past weekend for dedicated alcoholics in the team speed-drinking event.
Ice is hard, skates are sharp, hockey sticks are scythes, and luge speeds would challenge a motorized vehicle. It takes raw courage as much as endurance to compete, and this is what Canada’s female athletes have exemplified.
I don’t mind if they don’t say this aloud out of team friendship with our great male athletes. But women have had to fight just to get into the Olympics and look at us now. Women weren’t allowed into the first modern Olympics, but edged into the second in 1900, when there were 22 women among the 997 athletes competing. We didn’t even make it into alpine skiing until 1936 and speedskating until 1960. We didn’t even show up in “ice” hockey until 1998, which seems unreal.
But it has been thrilling. How strong and targeted the Canadian and American women’s hockey teams appeared, shaking hands with each other rather than taking things personally. An American player was crying. Well, good. Male athletes cry, slump and go into a gloom until the next Games. It’s good to see women do it, too.
What’s especially pleasing is the sensationally good example this sets for Canadian girls, especially those watching at school. This tells them that there’s nothing women can’t do. It’s a terrific show for new Canadians from countries without snow, from countries where girls are seen as second-best in an even more severe way than in Canada right now.
The Olympics have to keep improving, ending the reference to “ladies” events and — please make this happen — giving up on the absurd figure-skating costumes.
The men’s costumes are bad enough but the women’s candy-cloth would embarrass a Las Vegas Barbie.
And since women aren’t skating underwater, why do they have the perpetual manic grins of the synchronized swimmers? Who mandates this, those weird coaches with expressions like nine miles of hard road?
Or maybe it’s us. We viewers are the centre of the Games in one important way, being the ones forced to sit through endless repeated commercials for products we have grown to hate. Be gone, Gaviscon.
We’re the ones who should speak up since the Olympics are held to please us as well as lure us into shopping. No more negligees for Olympic skaters, no more truncated evening gowns. It’s a sport — as Tessa Virtue’s carbon-fibre spine proved, not a beauty pageant of yore, which is the message girls should take from these Games.
The word “inspiring” is overused. But these women’s Games did that. #lovemygirls
Heather Mallick writes for Torstar Syndication Services