Thursday, August 28, 2008


Can we all just get along?

Calgarians and Edmontonians will put aside their hatred of each other to co-host World Juniors in 2012. Ahhh. Isn't that nice?

*cough. flames suck. bertuzzi. cough*


Tuesday, August 19, 2008



**Man, what it would have been like to be at the triathlon venue when that pack of four guys came in front of the grandstand, neck-and-neck with maybe 300m to go -- when any one of them could have won gold, or nothing. I think if I was there and actually had a stake in it (friend or family), I might have had a heart attack. As it was, I was bouncing up and down in my chair and yelling ("Go! GOO!"), while at the same time just shaking my head at the physical capacity of those guys.

Besides the obvious, the highlight for me would have to be when, after calling the finish of the majority of the field, the broadcast crew threw it back to Ron Maclean, and he said something about the "incredible expertise" of analyst Barrie Shepley...

Bwaaahhh-hahaha. Look, I've been "angrier", or more exasperated, with a colour commentator in my life, but has there ever been one who was more wrong more times than that dude was last night? Every time he predicted what was about to transpire, the exact opposite thing happened. And not only that, but he couldn't even accurately describe what was going on in front of our eyes!

Whitfield indeed started to lose touch a handful of times, but in each case, Shepley sombrely pointed it out after Whitfield had subsequently made back half the gap, or more. And his assessments of who looked comfortable (and uncomfortable) in the run were laughable... cripes, dude, when an athlete's head is cricked and moving around like he's a Butabi brother, he's struggling!

**How about that Nastia Liukin? That bitchy facial expression she wore most of the time is just fantastic. She looks like an early favourite for the cast of Mean Girls 2, although particularly with that name, I can also see her glaring into a POV camera saying naughty things.

**Might as well finish this month's quota of Objectifying Women out of the way now... I can't get quite as excited about women's beach volleyball as some do. Yes, the athletes are extremely fit, but even the ones who aren't flat-chested are mostly butterfaces. That said, I think Misty May's backside is pretty much perfection. Also, I think it's oddly charming that beach volleyball players have "jersey numbers", but they only have 2 choices. (Well, one of them does.)

**Great to see Warren Cheswick lookalike Alexandre Despatie win the silver this morning. Also, I have quite enjoyed 2000 medallist Anne Montminy as the analyst alongside Steve Armitage ("That was a-maay-zing, Steve!"). Armitage teases her a bit for predicting 10s when none come, but the fact is that she nails the general quality of every dive at first glance, so there's never any shock when the judges' scores pop up. Surely this is the most critical skill of anyone who might sit in that seat.

**And this may be hard to believe for anyone who has read the comments here over the past week or so, but there is a bigger armchair Olympian than P-Ow (btw, check out his site, he's got lots to say).

The legendary Crazy Canuck Jungle Jim Hunter has been the guest Olympics analyst on the FAN960 every afternoon, and while his anecdotes have been occasionally enjoyable, he has improbably managed to combine the worst elements of motivational speaking and sports analysis.

He is just all over the place. At times he'll praise to high heavens an athlete's comments about controlling what they can control; the remainder of the time, he seems intent on convincing us that being better than everyone else with identical aims is one of those things. It's brain-hurting.

**This evening:

Monday, August 18, 2008


Too grand

Soooo..... since we last chatted, athletes representing Canada have been on a nice little run, to say the least. Going off of the previously mentioned SI predictions, Canada "should be" at 1 gold and 6 bronzes. Those same 7 athletes/teams in fact won 2 golds, 3 silvers, and 1 bronze, with 4 of them outperforming their anticpated results, and but one failing to win a medal (the women's 8, who finished 4th). On top of that, a couple of lightweight rowing crews and Ryan Cochrane won bronze when no medal was predicted.

So it would appear that the Why Can't Canada Come Through When It Matters? folks have been silenced, presumably for about 18 months but not longer. Now, the principal remaining discussion topic for call-in shows and the like is We Need To Do More To Support Our Athletes, where "We" = "your tax money, like it or not". I know where I stand on this, but rather than lay out a complete (and coherent) manifesto against the Government of Canada Happy Funding Firehose, I'd rather just pass on some semi-disjointed thoughts on the matter.

**Anything that makes being an Olympic athlete more like a government job is a bad idea, I think. If someone wants to make sacrifices as they get older to hang on to their medal dreams, or just because they love the life of being an internationally competitive athlete, then good for them. But it would be a shame if we had Olympians forestalling retirement because "the money's decent and it beats getting a job", or thereabouts.

**Heard Rob Kerr on the radio last week saying, roughly, "I think it's sad that our athletes have to spend time going cap in hand to get sponsorships etc.". I could not disagree more. There are probably 3 reasons for the Government of Canada to support Canadian athletes:

1) To bring glory to the homeland.
2) To identify, encourage, and develop people who can (a) (broadly speaking) be role models and inspirations for Canadians, and (b) go on to lead successful and exemplary lives in their own right.
3) The athletes aren't allowed to go and compete for Team Visa, so even insofar as one might be indifferent to item 1), it only seems fair to compensate athletes to at least some degree.

It's my contention that item (2) would be compromised by four-year-round full government funding, and is actually advanced by the current system, such as it is. Taking two hypothetical Olympians who retire at age 32, certainly the one who has simply cashed a government cheque every month will be at a disadvantage going forward to the one who has "marketed himself", developed extra-government relationships, and participated in voluntary exchanges of values. I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, but that's the way I see it.

**Shutting assholes like this up
I'm sorry but when we are paying for them to be there, we have the right to complain about the performance.

seems like a desirable outcome.

**No Olympic athlete wants to hear this, and indeed, I'd probably have trouble saying it to one's face, but their struggles and sacrifices are a big part of what makes them admirable and inspirational in the first place. And when I say sacrifices, I don't mean chocolate bars, or vodka paralyzers at 1130 on a Friday night. (Also: I'm intending to minimize the snark factor of this comment, but honestly, having to get a job and/or borrow money from your parents doesn't exactly make you part of the exploited underclass.)

Anyway, nuts to all that for now. Tonight is Despatie and Ross in the 3m springboard semis, and Simon Whitfield in the triathlon. Giv'em shit, SQW. This is a blog about hockey (usually!), but I'm quite happy to have its 2000th post devoted (eventually) to wishing you well.

Thursday, August 14, 2008


God hates what now?

**Maybe I should just stop trying to blow sunshine and admit that we've had a lot of underperforming disappointments, and that Canada has a choking problem. A partial catalogue:
Rau'Shee Warren and Gary Russell Jr. in boxing; Kristin Armstrong in the road race; the women's saber team; Alicia Sacramone; women's pair (rowing); shooter Bret Erickson; swimmer Katie Hoff and the women's 4x200m relay team; the Williams sisters. Plus still plenty of heartbreak to come in track & field, and let's not even think about what a disaster it would be to lose on the basketball court or the ball diamond.

Ahhh... you see what I did there? That's the American failures! Ha-ha! All athletes/teams who either were favoured to win gold and didn't, favoured to win a medal and didn't, or in the case of Alicia "No Relation to the Sopranos Guy" Sacramone, just blew chunks period. And that doesn't even include those who were (over)hyped by the national media as medal hopefuls, without actually being favoured, a scenario that Canadians are all-too-familiar with at the moment.

**Speaking of "no relation", I was taken aback somewhat to learn that Michael Phelps' middle name is Fred. I assume he's no relation to this guy, but if he's on the podium for medal #8 and unfurls a banner that says, "Thank God for 9/11", well... fair warning!

**And speaking of taken aback, here's the jarring headline of the Olympics so far:

Oh, so that's what, uh, he, has been up to.

**Pardon me for being part of the Maple Leaf Hype Machine, but here's what's coming up tonight/tomorrow (Day 7):
Goooooo, Canada.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


Les mots justes de les Olympiques

Fencer Scherraine Schalm of Brooks, AB:
"It's like I imagine being a man. It's like being kicked in the nuts repeatedly, that's how bad it feels. You feel like you want to curl up and die," Schalm, competing in her third Olympics, said after the loss.

"I'm trying to put it all in perspective. Immediately, it's not so easy. It's just really tough. You train so long and I feel like I disappointed myself, my coach, my family, my country, everybody.

"I wish none of you ever have to go through this feeling of loss and feeling of disappointment, and the only thing that I can say is it's definitely not going to kill me, so it will have to make me stronger."

Now that's devastation. I'm actually charmed, no joke. Next, Lord Bob in the comments of yesterday's post:
Looks like the Chinese are going to have to close the pool for a while to clean it, because Despatie and Miranda just blew their brains out.

Hiyoooo!! Bill Houston makes a trenchant observation at Games on the Box:
Commentary on sports talk radio rarely reflects the sentiments of normal people

Not sure why he felt the need to add the "but", but whatever! Well said. And my favourite of the day is Brent Hayden, hoping "Canadian fans will continue to support the team's efforts in Beijing":
"I have been cheering for the Canucks for how long and they still never have won a Stanley Cup," he said. "I still love them.

"I hope Canadians can think of us the same way."

Yes, everything does come back to hockey in the end.

So, as yesterday's post implies, I'm not really on board with the Something Must Be Done! crowd that is worked up by the zero next to Canada on the medal tote board. However, more annoying than them (at the moment) is the Why is Canada Underperforming? crowd, because it sure seems like pure perception bias. A good example is Houston at the link above.

If someone is expected to make (say) a swimming final (though not win a medal) and is eliminated in the semis, that must be balanced out by the next guy who was expected to be eliminated in the semis, but instead made the final and finished 6th. Mustn't it?

For as long as I can remember, Sports Illustrated has been doing medal predictions for the Olympics: gold, silver and bronze for every single event. It's not perfectly informed -- how could it be -- but it's about a dispassionate standard as you can hope for looking at medal expectations. They predicted that Canada would win 15 medals in total: 2 gold, 4 silver, 9 bronze.

Wondering how far behind the pace they are? Here's today's trivia question: how many medals was Canada predicted by SI to win thus far? The answer is comment #1.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


2 Minutes for Abuse of Orwell

"The Olympics reflect the human condition -- though not in the sunny way we pretend. We have inherited from our primate ancestors an inborn, evolutionarily learned desire to segregate ourselves into tribes, now known as nations. And since most of us are too fat and lazy to participate in tribal warfare (even of the mimic variety) ourselves, we have outsourced the job to those few physically spectacular national champions fit enough to enter the ring." -- Jonathan Kay, National Post, today

"Violent ground acquisition games such as football are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war" -- Derek Lutz (Robert Downey Jr.), Back to School (1986)

Every time the Olympics come around, a bunch of columnists burp out a lame-ass piece like Kay's today. The common bond is that the columnist either fails to appreciate, or pretends not to, why the people who actually like the Olympics like the Olympics. It's a sub-genre of what generally speaking is the absolute lamest genre of opinion pieces:

"I don't understand why so many people like X. Here are some reasons why I think people like X. I'm not sure if they're true, because again, I don't understand it, but I'm using them because they're the easiest reasons to mock and rebut. Although 'easy' is a relative term; I still have to cherry-pick my anecdotes, facts, and statistics to make my argument. Which I'm not really sure why I'm making, because as a purported conservative, I ought not to rail against what harmless things people enjoy in their spare time, and did I mention I don't understand it. Anyway, X sucks!"

I like sports, most of them anyway. I like them even better when they're being played by the best of the best. Even better when the stakes are high for the competitors. I think it's inspiring to see (mostly) young people who have worked harder and sacrificed more than most of us competing at the highest level, and it makes me kinda proud to see them achieve their goals.

No, I haven't watched swimming in 4 years, or women's soccer ever. So what? Does that mean I just imagined the enjoyment I experienced over the past several days? I also root for the Canadians, but it is not, as Kay believes, out of "just a crude sense of tribal loyalty", and certainly not because I have outsourced my desire for tribal warfare.

I share things in common with most of these kids. We have the same kind of money in our pockets. We learned about the same things in school, and chose from the same kinds of cereal for breakfast. And now, I've learned who they are and how they got there -- yes, Jon, there are human beings under that "laundry"! There's a connection there, which is why I'm especially proud when a Canadian athlete succeeds. Maybe that is crude tribal loyalty, but if so, it begs the question of when (if ever) is it acceptable to be proud of the accomplishments of others. Only if you had a direct hand in it? Only if you've been following their progress for several years? Only if you're independently interested in the field where they reached their accomplishments? What?

This is the first half of Kay's concluding paragraph:
All societies need circuses. And this Big Top event will continue on the strength of the eternal human appetite. But let us not pretend it is anything more than that.

Indeed, Mr. Kay, let's not. I'll start by spiking the post I had planned calling the Olympics a "giant exercise in petty nationalism" and a way "to stir up nationalistic blood lust without actually going through the bother of military combat". What are your plans?

Coda: no really crappy column is complete without a laughable disservice to the reader involving numbers, and naturally, Kay's has (at least) one.
Other nations -- China, most notably -- have frog-marched thousands of athletes into sports that are unpopular and obscure at home, but which seem a safe bet for a massive medal tally. According to a recent New York Times article, Beijing's cynical effort in this regard is called "the 119 Project" -- named after the number of medals available to be won in particularly event-heavy sports -- such as rowing and kayaking and sailing.

We'll leave aside the issue of how various inner Mongolians were induced to become national team rowers; while I'm quite certain that neither death threats nor actual frog marching were involved, there may be room to debate the ethics of whatever carrots and sticks were used. We'll also leave aside the question of whether it's possible for a country to spend its way into "a safe bet for a massive medal tally" in any sport. Here is the New York Times article in question, italics mine:
Eight years ago, as China was vying to win its bid for the Olympics, officials like Cui began a government-financed effort called the 119 Project. Its purpose was to improve performances in the medal-heavy sports — track and field, swimming, rowing, canoe/kayak and sailing — in which the Chinese have been weak. The plan was named after the 119 gold medals awarded in those sports at that time.

Oh my, how cynical! Not only was the host of the Summer Games attempting to torque their medal count (gasp), but they were focusing on (A) the sports where all the medals are (B) in which they weren't already dominant! Including the unpopular and obscure disciplines of swimming and running! As it happens, there are now 41 medal events between rowing, canoe/kayak, and sailing; there are 81 between swimming and track & field. Not to say that Kay neglected to mention those sports because they didn't suit his argument though! I'm sure it was space considerations.

**Tonight's event to watch: the men's 4 x 200m Freestyle Relay. I really like our chances of a silver or bronze medal; this Hayden fellow seems to be peaking at the right time. Go Canada.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Olympic potpourri & link dump

Despite Canada's failure to win a medal thus far, or come close to doing so, I'm enjoying the Olympics a lot so far. I'm with the majority, I suppose, in agreeing that the Men's 4 x 100m Freestyle Relay was just enthralling; the swimming as a whole has been very enjoyable.

I remember writing some uncomplimentary things once about the Steve Armitage/Byron Macdonald announcing duo, and now I'm not sure why: Byron has an eye for detail that has provided legitimate insight so far. (Everything bad I've ever written about Armitage still stands... of all the creepy camera shots that flash by during an Olympics in China, the creepiest is still the shot of those two guys last night: Macdonald sitting down with his papers in front of him, and Steve standing behind with his hand gently placed on the back of Macdonald's neck.)

**What's up with Canada? Jeff Little has an excellent post running down the events where Canadians have a medal shot; it just happens that most of them are later on in the Games.

**The biennial "winner" of Canadian Woman I Had Never Heard Of Before The Olympics But Now Have A Crush On: Kara Lang! Canada takes on Sweden tomorrow at 5:45AM MT and needs at least a draw to advance. Also, I'm probably too old for these crushes now. Sorry for bringing it up.

**The G&M's William Houston has a good blog going: Games on the Box. Come to think of it, he has a good gig going; I've watched 12-16 hours of Olympics per day for two weeks for free in the past!

**If you're trying to check out results or schedule in any detail at all, I definitely recommended bypassing, Yahoo! Sports, TSN, CBC, and the rest of them in favour of the official site. Organized, and complete.

**The most disappointing aspect of the Olympics so far: the total lack of good TV ads. The WonderBread ad with the kids was briefly precious, but has run its course. That's it. Compare to Athens, where Bell had two ads that remained entertaining for the entire duration of the Olympics. There was "Pause Live TV", where the Olympians twiddled their thumbs (the weightlifter was flirting with the judge) while Joe Sixpack returned a beer rental and grabbed a snack. And there was "Instant Update", where the guy kept finding Olympians (in full gear) in various places around the house: synchro swimmers in his shower, a kayaker next to him in bed, etc.

**And finally, recommended reading. Jim Henley is one of my favourite bloggers, and way back in 2002 he wrote a rather brief piece that nevertheless is a fairly compelling and complete rebuttal to those who pine for the good ol' amateur days at the Olympics. He begins:
I remember the years of “amateur” Olympics - Mark Spitz and Eric Heiden and, especially, Sugar Ray Leonard, Maryland’s Pride. I remember the Miracle on Ice and even, prepubescently, Peggy Fleming. Oh the lost years of glory, before professionalism, sponsorships and the Dream Team, when athletes competed for the love of sport itself. Now NBA players and NHL players and money-grubbing pros have ruined the games.

Faced with that much crap, one hardly knows where to start.

Glory Days, then. At the time of the Olympic revival at the end of the 19th Century, “amateur” was how upper-class young men kept out the riff-raff. Championship-caliber athletes from working-class and poor backgrounds had to turn pro. By my childhood, “the amateur ideal” had morphed into affirmative action for socialist countries: corporate money and perks, bad; government money and perks, good!

Read the whole thing. And Go Canada.

Friday, August 08, 2008


A month's worth

**Metrognome and new FHF contributor Cynical Joe have been doing a terrific job looking at what to expect from the Flames roster next season. It is the best Flames blog out there, and I hope you're all visiting it regularly.

**Lefebvre had an interesting and encouraging bit yesterday about Kipper, including a note that Keenan and new goalie-development-guy Jamie McLennan popped in for a visit -- in Turku ("They wanted to come to say hi to me here").

**walkinvisible spent most of a week in late July at the Flames development camp, and had a series of good scouting reports (e.g. i take it all back(lund))

**Finally, the Five Hole Fanatics guys and Kyle as well have been ruminating on Darryl Sutter, present and future. Barring an unexpected step forward for the team this season, this is a topic that will be discussed much more this year than in those past. I think it's fair to say that the goodwill he earned from the '04 run has been mostly exhausted, and I know it's fair to say that here in August 2008, the mistakes that he's trying to correct or compensate for are his own. I may not post much else of substance in August, but Darryl Sutter in a Box will be one such effort.

Today is 8-8-08, which means two things: I turned 35 today, and the Summer Olympics are underway. Go Canada.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008


Hockey draft?

This is good stuff.

The good people at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation have done us a great service, and obtained (via FOIP requests) some early drafts, c/w edits, of City Shaping (the report from Edmonton's poorly named Arena Feasibility Committee). Pictured above is a hand edit from Northlands volunteer Lyle Best, deleting an unwanted reminder that the last four NHL arenas constructed in Canada were all 100% privately financed.

I don't think anything that the CTF found (release and wonderfully illustrative pdf links here) will come as a huge surprise to readers of this site. However, it's always good to be reminded just how narrowly the plan's proponents want to frame the debate, such as it is.

At left we have part of an early draft that attempted a higher level of intellectual honesty: telling us that the last 4 rinks were built with private dough, and then explaining why Edmonton, in 2008 and beyond, is different (what with modern creative financing models, among other things). The final report scrubbed the whole discussion of Canadian comparables, preferring to focus on U.S. cities (or to use the report's phrase, "U.S.-based cities") and facilities whose funding and development models more closely match the Mandel/Best/etc. vision. Surprising, no; disappointing, sí.

A filet mignon on a flaming sword goes out to Scott Hennig and the CTF for their instructive research here; you can support this and other similarly fine work by going here. Lastly, you should check out their blog; today Hennig introduces all this stuff, and also has links to the unreleased HOK Sport report ("heavily redacted") and the Convention, Sports, and Leisure International report, neither of which I've checked out yet.


Friday, August 01, 2008


Apocalypse, Please Come Now

Horror. Horror has a face...


Oh, thank heavens.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Keep on rockin'. And if you are so inclined, discuss: Bon Scott or Brian Johnson?

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