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.