Thursday, February 19, 1998
U.S. sees Canada as the new red menace
NHL and CBS executives may be falling on their swords because of what happened here in hockey, but most everybody else is having fun with the great new Canada- TeamUSA rivalry that is getting good at the same time the great NHL Olympic experiment went bad.
OK. On Day 12 there was that little hockey happening where the United States, featuring 22 NHL players making $56.5 million, was beaten by the Czech Republic with half a team that doesn't even play in the NHL.
And the one-liners were flying in the bullpen in the main press centre.
"It's the first time a U.S. team ever got beat by a bartender,'' quipped Jim Kelley of the Buffalo News after Buffalo Sabres goalie Dominik Hasek stoned them.
Much had been made of alleged late-night visits made by American hockey players during their visit to Japan.
"At least they got eliminated before Happy Hour,'' one Canadian wag declared.
"The American lads turned into Uncle Sam Adams kids,'' offered Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune, referring to an American beer brand.
Then someone mentioned our marijuana medal.
The night before, the American women beat the Canadian women in hockey. For 20 glorious hours the United States was No. 1 in both men's and women's hockey.
MAKING A CHARGE
That game, it was being hoped, would be the turning point for the Americans to make a charge to stop Canada from winning more Olympic medals than the U.S. for the first time in history.
And maybe it was, despite the U.S. men being bounced from the tournament.
"Ah, never send a man to do a woman's job,'' an American writer quips of Mike Richter.
It would have been such a great day. The Americans won two gold medals and shut the Canadians out at freestyle skiing. And Americans Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski are well positioned after the short program in figure skating and Canada doesn't even have an entry.
Maybe the new Red Menace can be stopped after all.
That's what they're calling us - the new Red Menace.
Canadian chef de mission Brian Wakelin carries the Los Angeles Times clipping around with him.
"America, we have met the enemy in these Winter Olympics, and there is a new Red Menace out there, one disturbingly close to home,'' he quotes Times writer Mike Penner.
"The Russian Bear of old is in deep hibernation, supplanted by a toque-wearing moose with Molson Golden on its breath,'' he reads one paragraph.
"Wish the guy had used Labatt Blue instead of Molson Golden,'' said Wakelin. "We're sponsored by Labatt.''
He reads another line.
"The hammer and sickle have been junked and melted down, refashioned into a skillet now frying back-bacon somewhere in Manitoba. This year's Evil Empire, the insurgent threat to our very way of life atop the Olympic medals podium, is the same country that gave us Wayne Gretzky, John Candy and Neil Young, and where people are so polite and friendly that if you ask if they can change a dollar, they give you $1.35.''
Wakelin laughs. He loves it.
Canada's mission chief says he was interviewed yesterday by USA Today, the publication that used the line, "the Cold War now means Canada.''
This is much more fun than the medals race between Quebec and the Rest of Canada. Besides, Quebec isn't having a good Olympics. Four years ago Quebec athletes were winning everywhere. But it's been a large letdown this time around, with the freestylers coming up empty.
Until the short-track speed skaters won two bronze medals, Prince Edward Island was ahead of Quebec. If you're scoring it's now Saskatchewan 2, Quebec 2.
But this one is more fun. And the athletes are really into it.
"We are a winter nation which should be proud of its athletes, and sometimes as Canadians we are a little too conservative,'' says gold-medal-winning bobsledder Pierre Lueders of Edmonton.
"Our American friends are often more in-your-face and tend to boast a little more. I think it would be nice, at the end once, to make up for all those drubbings we always get from them in the Summer Olympics.''
Susan Auch, in her fourth Olympics, says it really has become a rivalry like never before. "We joke about it all the time. It seems to have managed to get out of control with the women's hockey team, though. They seem to be downright abusive to each other. and I think that is going way too far.
"But being a patriotic Canadian, I hope we come out on top in the medal count. Not to prove that we are better than them, but because we get so much less support than them. It's a real accomplishment to come out ahead when we see how much more they have to work with than we do.
"But it's also fun just to beat them!''
The Americans, despite the hockey game, have gained ground. At the end of Day 12, the U.S. had passed Canada in gold medals, five to four. Canada still has 12 medals, the Americans 10.
Four years ago in Lillehammer, Canada gave the U.S. a run for it and ended up tied at 13 medals. But the U.S. had more golds.
But it hasn't been anything like it's been here this year.
"It's been fun,'' says Mike Moran of the U.S. Olympic Committee. "We've always had a good thing going between the two countries at the Olympics. We let them use our copying machine and they let us drink their beer.
"This could really carry over and become something, four years from now in Salt Lake City.''