Brit columnist: Blame Canada for luge death

Neate Sager

On the day of his memorial service in Canada, word is traveling that the late Georgian luger, Nodar Kumaritashvili, told his father that he was afraid of the lightning-fast track in Whistler.

This comes after a scathing column in which Martin Samuel of the right-wing The Daily Mail'(via CBC reporter Tom Harrington) made a direct link between the "Own the Podium" mindset and the 21-year-old's senseless death. There is some consider-the-source, since it's The Daily Mail, but still:

"Canada wanted to Own the Podium at the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. This morning they can put their maple leaf stamp on something more instantly tangible: the nondescript little box carrying the lifeless body of Nodar Kumaritashvili back to his home in Bakuriani, Georgia.

"Made in Canada, it should say. Made by the perversion of the Olympic movement for national gain; made by a culture of worthless aggrandisement and pride."

VANOC already had its work cut out for it trying to make the general populace forget Kumaritashvili's death and get on with the Games. Samuel was topped by The Guardian's Richard Williams, who came up with a historical comparison for VANOC that is usually out of bounds:

"For such a gifted and graceful people – think of Leonard Cohen, Robbie Robertson and Mary Margaret O'Hara – the Canadians have committed a grotesque error in their approach to the Winter Games. Quite apart from that lethal luge track, their 'Own the Podium' programme constitutes the most egregious show of superfluous aggression by an Olympic host since ... well, let's not cause undue offence. Oh, all right, 1936. Olympic hosts are judged by the warmth of their welcome and the efficiency of their organisation, not by their medal count. London 2012 should take note."

Saying that the focus should be more on a young man who died than what people write about it will likely fall on deaf ears.

Canada is not just drawing denunciations from 10-dollar-word fetishizing Englishmen but also columnists in California who use the handle "Hacksaw." Lee Hamilton expressed concern over the need for speed.

Samuel, perhaps less so than Williams, wasn't simply venting at the former British colony for not knowing its place. Some Canadians would even acknowledge we are guilty of worthless aggrandizement (ever seen the world junior hockey championship?) by any spelling. He did, however, cast Canada's ambitions as part of a larger trend relating to the Games.

"Hosting major sports events used to be about just that: reaching out to the world. There was a generosity of spirit, a desire to welcome all. Now the process is so costly, so corrupted by commerce, that it has mutated into month-long exercises in flag-waving self promotion. Look at us, look how strong we are, look how fast we are, look how powerful. We will crush you with our sporting prowess.

"We knew what to expect from totalitarian China, but when Canada is so blinded by ambition that lives are risked in pursuit of glory, it is time to stop and take stock."

Please keep that in mind before shooting the messenger. What happened, and the reaction to it, should be cause for reflection. The Canadian sports hierarchy is getting a bad reputation with the international media and athletes, if not the bottom-line-driven IOC.

Just Monday, Aksel Lund Svindal, the Swede who won the men's downhill silver, took a "pointed whack" (in the phrasing of the Toronto Star) at VANOC: "Erik Guay gave me a great report on the hill here. I want to thank the Canadian ski team. It wasn’t them who kept me off the hill. It was VANOC and Own the Podium, or something."

It's not good. True, a lot of this is a chattering-class issue. Most people are more focused on the medals. It seems VANOC has a fire to put out.