Zooming In

February 23, 2006

Good Sports

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this Olympic edition: Norway's newest ally; a controversial Indian luger; and a Swedish miracle.

David Goldenberg

Zooming In
Paul Antonson
Some of the most insightful writing from outside the U.S. comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders. For this week's edition, Gelf is sticking with the Winter Olympics.

Norway: Norwegian newspapers have been overwhelmed by the responses from Canadian fans after good sportsmanship from a Norwegian coach helped the Canadian women take silver in the cross-country team sprint competition. After Canada's Sara Renner broke her pole in the middle of the race, Bjørnar Håkensmoen, standing near the course, handed her a new one. With Canada back in the race, the Norwegians settled for fourth. In appreciation for the help, a group called the Independent Communications Dealers of Canada has mounted a drive to send 8,000 bottles of maple syrup to the country and another Canadian group is organizing a petition to award the Norwegian team an honorary medal (Aftenposten). The editors of the Norway Post and the Aftenposten both printed a selection of letters from grateful Canadians. One example:

In a world gone mad... with even the simplest of misunderstandings leading to violence the world over, it's heartening to see that we can still be human. The selfless act of Bjornar Hakensmoen, the Norwegian cross-country ski boss, in handing a new ski pole to Canadian Sara Renner, during the heat of competition, without thought as to how the outcome might have affected his own team, stands alone in my mind as one of the brightest moments I can recall in this, or any other Olympics.

Jamaica: There is no Jamaican bobsled team in Torino, marking the first time since 1988 that the immensely popular squad has failed to qualify. But a former member did win a medal when Lascelles Brown, now a brakeman for Canada, claimed silver with teammate Pierre Lueders in the two-man competition. Brown gained his Canadian citizenship two weeks before the games started (Jamaica Gleaner). Dudley Stokes Jr., the president of the Jamaica Bobsled Federation, recalled discovering the former butcher at a fair in 1998. "He was doing handstands ... a lively character with a sharp mentality," he said. But Stokes, a member of the inaugural squad, isn't happy with Brown's decision, claiming to the Jamaica Observer that the Jamaican team has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing Brown and should be compensated for its loss. "They are going to be sucked out of your programme if you are a poor nation," Stokes says. "That is the reality of life as it is today." A report in the Houston Chronicle suggests other reasons for Brown's transfer, citing fiscal mismanagement in the Jamaican Bobsled Federation.

United Kingdom: Lindsey Jacobellis's ignominious entry into the collective memory of sports fans around the world has rebuffed comparison attempts. Numerous writers have tried to equate her late stumble to Leon Lett's famous fumble while prematurely celebrating a touchdown in Super Bowl XXVII. On Salon, King Kaufman offers up Billy Conn, the former light heavyweight champion who would have bested Joe Louis for the heavyweight crown had he protected his late-round lead instead of going for the knockout. But perhaps the best parallel comes from the Scotsman's Mark Stanisforth, who writes that Jacobellis most reminds him of Devon Loch, the Queen Mother's horse who appeared to have captured England's 1956 Grand National before belly-sliding 40 yards before the finish line. Here's an article from The Guardian about that spectacular flop.

India: For the third straight Olympics, luger Shiva Keshavan represented India. Though Keshavan finished 26th overall, he made waves well before he took the ice by boycotting the opening ceremony in which he was supposed to be the flag bearer. He was protesting his treatment at the hands of Indian Olympic officials, who he said "always discouraged me from continuing the sport and disclaiming responsibility for any training and travelling expenses and eventual mishaps and nonetheless shamelessly showing up to the Olympic village upon my qualification" (Indian Express). "It's the same old story in virtually every sport in India," writes Bobilli Vijay in the India Times. "Politicians, bureaucrats and other government servants find a lucrative game and hitch a ride. For life. They rule over them like their personal fiefdoms, never giving even an inch to the players or the sport itself. Every day, we probably lose a thousand potential champions to this anarchy; every moment, another sports dream dies thanks to their apathy and shortsightedness."

Sweden: Sweden's victory over the US in the women's hockey semifinals will likely go down as the biggest upset in the history of the sport. After all, neither Canada nor the US—the sport's two superpowers—had lost a game to any other team in the history of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Ever. But does this mean that parity has finally come to the most lopsided of sports? Hardly, says the Globe and Mail's Christie Blatchford: "the gap between the top four and the rest of the world is still enormous, unsurprising since most of the women who play hockey play in North America. If it is fair to say the Swedes have gone some distance to enlivening the women's game, they have hardly saved it." The Los Angeles Times's Helene Elliott concurs, adding on one important tangent. "The myth is that the rest of the women's hockey world is catching up to the U.S. and Canada, that the Finns and Swedes are no longer just cannon fodder for the sport's two major powers and can actually compete with them," she writes. "The reality is that although the Finns and Swedes might have taken a half-stride forward here, the U.S. has regressed." During the course of the Games, Canada—which dominated Sweden in the gold-medal game—outscored its foes 46-2.

Korea: Four years ago, US short track star Apolo Anton Ohno was perhaps the most hated man in Korea after his protests cost Kim Dong-sung the gold. Now that Korean skaters have finally bested Ohno in the rink, Brian Lee of the JoongAng Daily hopes that Koreans can let their anger go. "Anti-U.S. sentiment and the fact that Ohno is half Japanese caused the whole shebang to be magnified out of proportion," he writes. "For the next few years Ohno didn't visit South Korea because he felt it was unsafe. Shame on us. Who is not nationalistic when it comes to international competition? The question is when to draw a line between game time emotions and reasonless hatred."

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Article by David Goldenberg

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