After four years of waiting, the big moment is almost here. The eyes of the world will be focused on Rio next week, as the planet’s greatest athletes gather and the ceremonial torch is lit for the 2016 Summer Olympics.
Do the Games start next week? I’m not actually sure. Look, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t sound as excited as I should be. Please understand that I have a pre-existing condition: I’m Canadian. And to be clear, we like the Summer Olympics just fine. We watch them. We’ve even been known to win a gold medal or two. But they’re not really our thing, you know? At least not in quite the same way that they seem to be for a lot of you.
So I thought I’d take a shot at explaining why that is. Here are eight key reasons why any Canadians you know probably aren’t quite as hyped for the Summer Games as you might expect.
1) It’s not the Winter Olympics
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way first, if only because it’s not as big a factor as you might think. Yes, Canada tends to get far more into the Winter Olympics. That makes sense; we’re a country of snow and ice, so we do better in events that take place in the environment we’re used to. We dominate hockey, we’re pretty good at speedskating, and we’ve had our moments in figure skating and skiing. None of those events, you may have noticed, work all that well in August.
But winter sports aren’t all we can do. Despite what your stereotypes may have taught you, we do have summer here in Canada. It lasts for three weeks, and ends with 30% of the population having been carried off by mosquitos, but it does happen. And over the years, Canadians have had Olympic success at traditional summer sports like track and field, swimming, diving and rowing. We may not be an international powerhouse, but we have our moments.
So no, it’s not just a winter/summer thing. There’s a bit more going on here.
2) We’re just not all that good
Look, let’s call it like it is. People like to watch their country win, and Canada doesn’t win all that much in the Summer Games. When they show you the medal table, you typically have to scroll a few pages to find us. There’s a few reasons for that, including a relatively small population and a culture that would rather spend money on things like healthcare than making sure everyone can jump really high. But the bottom line is that we try hard and have fun, and sometimes that’s about it.
And again, we do win sometimes. And when that happens, it’s a big deal. We break out into a little national party whenever somebody medals, especially if it’s an unexpected upset, which it probably is. But that all adds up to a steady stream of occasional nice moments, not a flood of non-stop glory. And we’re fine with that. It’s just kind of tough to get too worked up over finishing 36th.
3) Even when we are the best, we get screwed in weird ways
One of my earliest childhood memories involved staying up late to watch Shawn O’Sullivan and Willie DeWitt win boxing gold at the 1984 Games. But neither did, because they got screwed by the judges. And that tends to happen kind of a lot, in both the Summer and Winter events. Sometimes it’s on purpose, because shadowy forces conspire against us. Sometimes it’s by accident, because somebody pressed the wrong button. Sometimes we even lose based on rules everyone knows, and sometimes it’s based on ones that nobody has even heard of.
The point is that Canada having success at the Olympics is often viewed as some sort of weird glitch, and the world has a tendency to respond by taking the cartridge out and blowing on it until everything works again. That kind of thing wears on you after a while.