More stories on sports

There’s a great article in today’s Globe and Mail on the Bilodeau family, by Ian Brown. It picks up the heartwarming story already familiar to us about how oldest son Frederic, who has cerebral palsy, inspires his brother Alexandre, Canada’s first gold medallist of the current Olympic games. But Brown pushes a little deeper — not to undo the inspiration, but to give it greater nuance, greater complexity. He asks, for example, if Alexandre also inspires Frederic. And he gives Frederic, now something of a celebrity himself, a presence for readers that includes but is greater than his disease.

I always enjoy Ian Brown’s writing, and here I appreciate — and also marvel a little — at how directly he pushes into Frederic’s reality, more boldly than many journalists might, I think. I’m guessing this is because Brown has a son with severe disabilities and is not, therefore, uneasy or afraid of him. I haven’t yet read Brown’s book, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son, which recently won both the Charles Taylor Prize and British Columbia’s National Award, but I remember the compelling honesty of the series in the Globe that became the book. (A good review of it here.)

Today’s story also reveals how much Alexandre’s win is affecting the family. The change doesn’t feel entirely good. The father, Serge, insisted two nights after the win that they have a meal as a family again. He didn’t want to let the media “steal Alex from us.” But, of course, he’s already been taken. When the family arrived at the hotel to eat, hundreds of people were there, clamouring for Alexandre’s autograph.

It makes me wish we could all just leave him alone now; he has his medal; we Canadians have ours. But as soon as I write this, I realize the irony. I’m feeling quite free to discuss him and his family, as if, in fact, they belong to all of us. This too is part of the complexity of sports.


Speaking of which, I’d like to draw attention to a comment by Leona written to my earlier post, reacting to Christopher Hitchens’ cynical view of sports. Comments add a welcome and unique dynamic to a blog, but I want to highlight this one in particular. It counters Hitchens’ grumpiness with a personal witness to the sporting event featured in the movie Invictus. Leona and her husband were living in South Africa at the time. Invictus is a good movie, and so is her story.

To Christopher Hitchens: Let it snow

Just when I was feeling downright cheerful over the hours I’d devoted to television this weekend — watching the 2010 Olympics opening ceremonies (wasn’t that W.O. Mitchell piece, with the kid running and flying over the prairies, terrific?) and the ski moguls and the figure skating, along comes Christopher Hitchens with “Fool’s Gold,” a rant hot enough to melt the remaining snow of Whistler, B.C.

Well, the man can certainly write and I enjoy seeing his skills in action as much as the manuevering of an Apolo Anton Ohno in speed skating. There’s a lot of truth to what he says as well. But I don’t think he’s the winner this round.

Patriotisms and loyalties of any kind can easily become excessive, even dangerous, and we all know that, and I have to say too that I’ve often wished broadcasters of the Olympics wouldn’t focus so much on the athletes of their particular country — just highlight whoever is great at what they do, no matter where they’re from. Certainly the chatter about the somewhat quixotic quest for Canadian gold might be tamped down here. But still, I think there’s so much more and so much better to the stories unfolding in Vancouver than the criticisms Hitchens lobs at them. To watch the Olympics is to watch one small and fascinating drama after the next, and to find in each some pleasure, or sympathy, or even inspiration.

Last night NBC, the American station covering the winter games, was running some minutes behind CTV, the Canadian station. After we’d watched the Alexandre Bilodeau win in the moguls competition on CTV, we turned to watch it at NBC, to see how they would “call” it. Would they focus on, and commiserate over, the American skier, now bumped to bronze?

No, they were equally excited with all the elements of the story, including the motivation Alexandre gets from his 28-year-old brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy and, Alexandre says, never complains, as well as the fact that this was Canada’s first gold on home turf. And, it was the most perfectly executed run of the evening! It’s a kind of performance art and it’s hard not to be thrilled about that.

I probably couldn’t ski my way down a bunny hill without falling, but I like to watch the Olympic games. I’m amazed at the dedication and training and keen spirits of so many athletes. I find the human dramas that unfold compelling, the skills on display simply remarkable. From me on my couch to Hitchens and his “Fool’s Gold” I say: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.