12.27.2005

games

Various observations on sport this morning.

I see that the Winter Olympics is much bigger here in Canada than in the US - which completely makes sense. I have a lot of mixed feelings about the Olympics in general. I'm turned off by all the nationalism, the IOC is notoriously corrupt, and the presence of professional athletes exposes a strange farce. Yet despite all that, it's fantastic to see people compete at that elite level, especially (for me) in sports that enjoy little or no widespread recognition.

In Canada, where the winter sports are much more part of the national psyche, and where nationalism isn't as offensive to me as it is in the US, I'm ready to get caught up in hockey, skiing, speed skating, and all the rest, even the crazy luge and skeleton.

I'll also be watching to see how much coverage, if any, Canadian media gives to the country's Paralympic athletes. The Paralympics, the Olympics for athletes with physical disabilities, is where the true flame of amateur sport burns brightest. (It's also one of the things I write about.) Coverage in mainstream sports media in various countries ranges from nothing to extensive. I'm very curious to see what it is here.

(Did you know there is a wmtc reader who is a former Olympic athlete? Cool, huh?)

Last night we saw - for the second time - the Corner Gas where the town holds its annual curling tournament. (So far it's my favorite episode.) I saw curling for the first time in the last winter Olympics, when there was supposedly a huge spike in interest in the sport in the US.

I found it strangely mesmerizing. There are some comparisons to baseball, my One True Sport - the arcane terminology, the stop-and-go pace, the long periods of quiet. And I like how curling is related to other games that people play all over the world, some of them very old, such as boccie, boules, petanque, or lawn bowls - ingeniously adapted to a winter climate. I'm going to try to watch it during the Torino Olympics.

Last night we also saw a bit of the first game of the World Junior Hockey Championships. I had been under the mistaken impression that the Juniors were kids, a la Little League (which also has an exciting World Championship). I was surprised to learn the players are up to 20 years old, and already professionals. I noticed several Canadian players come out of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), which is on TV in my area all the time.

I'm sure someone reading can fill me in. Are the OHL and similar leagues the equivalent of minor league teams in baseball, functioning as a farm system for the NHL? Or are they independent professional leagues operating in their own sphere, the way baseball once had a Federal League, a Pacific Coast League, or the surviving Northern League and Frontier League?

And finally, there's a CBC hockey ad - not sure what it's for, maybe Hockey Day? - that shows two usually invisible hockey players: women, and sled hockey. Sled hockey (called sledge hockey in Canada) is an amazing sport, something you have to see to appreciate. I've never seen it at the elite level - I've only been to summer Paralympic games, never winter (yet) - and I'm hoping the CBC or even TSN will cover some of it in Torino.

24 comments:

James said...

I'm not sure why, but I've always been more interested in the Winter Olympics than the summer, especially downhill skiing, figure skating, and curling. The freestyle skiing and snowboarding, which are fairly new, were also fun last time.

Personally, my favourite winter sport to engage in is cross-country skiiing (to go with cycling in the summer), but it doesn't translate well to TV.

Off topic -- our traditional Boxing Day dinner with a friend and his friends was a little more dramatic than usual, as one of the regular guests is a manager at Sam the Record Man, who had, half an hour before, come out of the Sam's basement to find everyone in the store lying on the ground thanks to the shooting across the street.

Another of the guests works for CBC Radio news, and had to leave earlier to help with the coverage of that story before doing a segment on Maher Arar for BBC4.

L-girl said...

I saw Sam's in the background in the shooting story last night. That must have been quite a first-hand story! Sheesh.

X-country skiing - great exercise and fun, but no, not much of a spectator sport. Kind of like marathoning that way.

I'll regard figure skating as a sport when the participants start dressing like athletes instead of Barbie dolls. I wish they could do their beautiful work without the sexist get-ups.

James said...

I'll regard figure skating as a sport when the participants start dressing like athletes instead of Barbie dolls. I wish they could do their beautiful work without the sexist get-ups.

Is it really sexists when the guys wear sequins too? :)

Sure, the outfits are generally goofy, but there's more to sport than the design of your tights.

Trivia fact: Toller Cranston used to live at the end of my block.

L-girl said...

Is it really sexists when the guys wear sequins too? :)

Yes. :)

I know they are very talented, but I just can't stand the spectacle. Too much theatre, not enough sport. Plus, no real scoring - too subjective.

Just IMO of course!

James said...

I know they are very talented, but I just can't stand the spectacle. Too much theatre, not enough sport.

Hey, it's the first sport to routinely feature openly gay atheletes -- that's gotta count for something. :)

Plus, no real scoring - too subjective.

You exclude freestyle skiing and gymnastics from being sports too, I assume? :)

George Carlin had a great routine about what's a real sport. For example: ping pong wasn't a sport, so nothing similar to ping pong is a sport. Volleyball isn't a sport, since it's nothing but racketless team ping pong played while standing on the table. Soccer wasn't a sport because it had dots on the ball. "Hey, this is my routine, my rules. I say, no dots on the ball!"

Hockey wasn't a sport because it was three distinct activities: skating around on the ice, playing with a puck, and beating people up.

L-girl said...

Plus, no real scoring - too subjective.

You exclude freestyle skiing and gymnastics from being sports too, I assume? :)


Hee hee.

Of course I'm half-kidding about it not being a sport. If people call it a sport and the participants think it's a sport, who am I to judge.

However, sports with largely (or only) subjective criteria, as opposed to points scored, might be called something else, or put in a separate sub-category of sport. It doesn't make them any less worthwhile or difficult or beautiful or whatever. But I don't see how something that's judged on beauty, grace or style can truly be a sport.

But what do I know. :)

James said...

However, sports with largely (or only) subjective criteria, as opposed to points scored, might be called something else, or put in a separate sub-category of sport.

I realize that these wrtance, but this kind of reminds me of the "don't call it a marriage unless it's between a man and a woman" argument... I think it puts a little too much emphasis on nomenclature.

But I don't see how something that's judged on beauty, grace or style can truly be a sport.

Well, that depends on what you consider the defining aspect of a sport: ease of determining the winner, or athleticism.

Of course, it's intuitively obvious to me that figure skating is a sport but ballroom dancing is not, even though, on reflection, there isn't that much difference between them. So the whole business of "this is, that isn't" can be pretty hazy.

Not to mention that poker -- which does, after all, have objective means of determining the winner -- is now apparently a sport, which seems completely silly to me.

L-girl said...

I see what you're saying.

I think many things that require athleticism are not sports. Ballet, for example, is tremendously athletic. I suppose a cadre of judges could judge a ballet as they do figure skating?

Poker, however: no. Is not, cannot. Poker is a game. It may require all kinds of skills and gamesmanship, but it does not require any athleticism. Just because they show it on ESPN/TSN (ad nauseum!!!) does not make it a sport.

If poker is a sport, then so is chess, Scrabble, backgammon, and every board game people play competitively. (Which is to say every game ever invented.)

James said...

I think many things that require athleticism are not sports. Ballet, for example, is tremendously athletic. I suppose a cadre of judges could judge a ballet as they do figure skating?

Isn't that called "gymnastics"? :)

If poker is a sport, then so is chess, Scrabble, backgammon, and every board game people play competitively. (Which is to say every game ever invented.)

As CSI pointed out recently, there are some who claim competitive eating is a sport. Consider gurgitator Jim Reeves (34, 275 lbs) who's known for eating 13 pounds of watermelon in 15 minutes. He recently earned himself a seat in the Alka-Seltzer US Open.

The world record for hot dog eating is heled by Kobayashi Takeru, at 53.5 hot dogs.

I wish I was joking.

Amateur said...

I'm a bit ashamed to link to a nine-month-old post, but regarding the Paralympics: there will be a bit of an unfortunate conflict of schedules between the (Winter) Paralympics and the Commonwealth Games, which are a summer sport games but are being held in Australia this time.

It turns out that the Commonwealth Games are not going to be broadcast on TV in Canada -- at least, the last I heard -- which is good news for winter athletes with a disability. On the other hand, the Commonwealth Games are actually quite progressive in terms of their inclusion of athletes with a disability... so that's not good news for summer athletes with a disability.

Amateur said...

The OHL and its two equivalent regional leagues (the QMJHL and the WHL) serve roughly the same role to the NHL that the NCAA plays to basketball and football ... minus the education. Some players will move from the junior ranks directly to the NHL, but many will go to the minor professional leagues like the American Hockey League.

L-girl said...

The world record for hot dog eating is heled by Kobayashi Takeru, at 53.5 hot dogs.

And he's a little skinny guy, too, if I'm thinking of the same person.

There's a hot dog eating contest in Coney Island, Brooklyn (original home of Nathan's Famous hot dogs) that gets local air time every year, so we would see those nuts regularly.

There's also a very funny "King Of The Hill" episode in which Bill discovers his hidden talent for competitive eating.

It turns out that the Commonwealth Games are not going to be broadcast on TV in Canada -- at least, the last I heard -- which is good news for winter athletes with a disability.

Cool. I'll be curious to see if the Paralympics are visible here in Canada.

On the other hand, the Commonwealth Games are actually quite progressive in terms of their inclusion of athletes with a disability...

That's good news. How so? Got any links I can look at?

Thanks also for the hockey league info. :)

L-girl said...

I'm a bit ashamed to link to a nine-month-old post

Not at all! Thanks for this, it's very informative. Glad to know you care about such things.

G said...

CBC usually airs the ParaOlympics when they are held ... it is too bad that the Commonwealth Games conflict. What is good is the three all-sports stations do a great job of recapping these events on a day-to-day basis.

Winter Olympics are actually often a bigger deal in Canada than the Summer Olympics ... namely because so many of the winter sports (hockey, curling, skiing) are a part of the Canadian culture. That and we often do better in the winter ones, too. ;-)

As for hockey, the OHL is a minor system, but not affiliated with any of the NHL teams the way baseball farm teams are. Essentially, the OHL, QMJHL (Quebec) and WHL (Western Canada) are the highest ranks hockey players aspiring to make the NHL can achieve. Those three leagues comprise the CHL (Canadian Hockey League), and compete for the Memorial Cup.

OHL players range from about 17 years old to 21 years old (overage), and cannot play in the league past age 21 (rosters in fact have set limits as to the number of "overage" players allowed). Most of the North American players drafted in the NHL are drafted from either the CHL or the Canadian and American University leagues (CIS and NCAA, respectively).

The minor league affiliates for the NHL, where players are called up and sent down, exist primarily in the AHL (American Hockey League), with a few other levels existing also, such as the ECHL. Some draftees are returned to their CHL teams when they don't make the NHL team, which gives the CHL leagues a neat blend of aspiring amateurs and newly-crowned pros, which is reflected in the World Junior Championships, where generally half the players belong to NHL clubs, and the others have yet to be drafted.

What else ... oh yeah, Hockey Day. This is an annual CBC event tied into Hockey Night In Canada. Each year, they pick a town from which to host a hockey special. During the course of the all-day special (except a two-hour break for news programming), three games are shown featuring the six Canadian teams. What better way to celebrate Canada's sport than by broadcasting three all-Canadian matchups? It's always a fun event, and some of the special programming related to hockey in the local communities is quite excellent.

Longwinded, but I hope that helps answer some of those Qs!

:-)

G said...

More info:

CBC Hockey Day 2006

L-girl said...

I hope that helps answer some of those Qs!

Thanks G! It does, and confirms some things that are already in this post (winter Olympics bigger than summer; Hockey Day).

I'm heartened to hear the Paralympics get good coverage here. I can't wait to see for myself!

Amateur said...

I wrote: On the other hand, the Commonwealth Games are actually quite progressive in terms of their inclusion of athletes with a disability...

L-girl responded: That's good news. How so? Got any links I can look at?

At the Commonwealth Games, the EAD events are not distinct from the rest of the competition program. The events are integrated into the games schedule and the medals awarded are regular Commonwealth Games medals (I think). Here's a link.

For those who don't know, EAD events at the summer and winter Olympics are actually not part of the Olympic Games; the Paralympics are a separate competition, held after the Olympics are finished. There are a few EAD events in athletics that are held during the Olympics, but they are "exhibition" events. As I recall in 2004 there was some minor controversy about the fact that the IOC didn't let the athletes participating in those events stay in the Olympic village. That really underlines the difference between the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games, I think.

L-girl said...

As I recall in 2004 there was some minor controversy about the fact that the IOC didn't let the athletes participating in those events stay in the Olympic village.

I don't think that happened. The IOC isn't involved with that - that's done by the city's organizing committee.

But there certainly have been huge problems between the Olympics and the Paralympics in terms of inclusion.

It varies a lot country to country. The USOC has really shit on the American Paralympic athletes. I wrote a long expose about this. The online magazine it was in no longer exists - the article doesn't seem to be online anymore. Russ Kick wrote about it here, for what it's worth.

In my experience, most athletes with disabilities don't want to see one huge event - too many people would be excluded. They want a separate event, but with parity. More of it, anyway!

Amateur, I'm curious, why do you use the expression "EAD"? Where does that come from? I'm not familiar with it.

L-girl said...

Hey, this is weird. I found the last page of that story - but nothing else.

I miss SportsJones!!! ESPN bought them out - then killed it.

L-girl said...

There are a few EAD events in athletics that are held during the Olympics, but they are "exhibition" events.

Yeah, they got everyone's hopes up when that started, I think in 1984. Then it never went beyond the wheelchair race exhibitions.

M@ said...

Just a little addendum on the whole Canadians-are-more-into-the-winter-olympics thing...

In 2002, I was listening to a radio call-in show (no CD player in my car at the time) where the topic was "what events are you going to watch?" IIRC, the approximate tally was:

1. Hockey
2. Figure skating
3. Curling
4. Women's hockey
5. There are other sports?

(I'll point out that the distinction between "hockey" and "women's hockey" was not mine, but the callers'.)

Anyhow, Canadians have only _really_ been into the winter olympics for a short time. In Calgary ('88), we won two silvers and three bronze. Which was our best showing _ever_ in a winter olympics. Which was, I should add, pathetic.

As for myself, I love the speed skating, especially the short-track speed skating. (Whatever depraved genius thought this sport up deserves a medal too.) I don't care for the fancy skating or other judged sports myself. I'll watch any international hockey game or curling match. And skiing, luge, skeleton, bobsled, cross-country, biathlon... I can watch 'em all.

But that makes me the exception, apparently. Oh well.

teflonjedi said...

Anyhow, Canadians have only _really_ been into the winter olympics for a short time. In Calgary ('88), we won two silvers and three bronze. Which was our best showing _ever_ in a winter olympics. Which was, I should add, pathetic.

Ah, but it was hard to not salute Liz Manley's figure skating efforts that winter! I think that back then folks still had to skate the compulsory figures (just to add to the is-figure-skating-a-sport discussion...to me, without the compulsories, I think not).

L-girl said...

Thank you M@ and teflonjedi - good stuff.

M@ said...

Teflonjedi -- I hope I don't sound like I was slagging Canada's 88-and-previous athletes. We've had some brilliant performances (and who seriously thought Manley would get the silver, going in?). Gaetan Boucher was such a sensation because he actually won two medals -- something we almost demand of our better speed skaters nowadays.

But the fact remains that pre-Chamonix, Canada's winter olympic efforts were half-hearted. Now that we have a couple of serious speed skating facilities and bobsled tracks, we'll continue to be the dominant power we always should have been. If we get our skiing program on track -- look out!