- The Washington Times - Friday, February 26, 2010

Every two years, the Olympics crowns a new batch of heroes: Cinderellas on ice skates, flag-waving champions and gritty underdogs who capture hearts around the globe.

There’s also the blowhards, cheaters and sore losers.

With two days left before the closing ceremonies, the Vancouver games have been more inspiring than irritating, but like every Olympics, there have been some whiners among the winners.

To start with, Canada seems to have gone over to the dark side, going toe-to-toe with perennial bad guys Russia for the title of “Worst Sports, Nation Category.”

The unassuming Canadians, frustrated with gold-medal shutouts after hosting Olympics in Montreal ‘76 and Calgary ‘88, were determined that things would be different in Vancouver.

Giddy with the possibility of showing up the Americans (the Canadians chalked up an unexpected 24 medals at the last Winter Olympics in Turin, just behind the U.S.s 25) on their home turf, Canada put together the Own the Podium program.

The $117 million joint public/private effort ramped up spending, training and investment across all the winter sports, from traditional Canadian strongholds, like hockey, to sports like alpine skiing where the country was deficient.

Instead of paying off with more medals, the boastful program seems to have fueled opposing athletes and teams.

American snowboarder Nate Holland summed it up: The Americans don’t want to own the podium, he said, “We’re just going to rent it for the month.”

Even when the Canadians win, they lose.

The unstoppable juggernaut that is the Canadian women’s hockey team convincingly beat the U.S. women for gold on Thursday and celebrated afterward by drinking beer and smoking cigars on the ice. In front of spectators.

The partying gals on the ice included the one under-the-legal-drinking-age player on the Canadian team, according to one British tabloid.

Worst of all, though, clearly was the Canadian decision, before the games, to limit access to the Vancouver facilities for all competitors except the Canadian teams a decision that some say may have contributed to the death of a Georgian luger killed in an accident on opening day.

The Canadians have been slammed and deservedly so for that self-serving decision, but the Russians still took top honors for crassness, partly by taking the ice in the pairs ice dancing contest in a couple of the most preposterous costumes ever seen on skates.

The Russian couple performed an “aboriginal” folk dance in feathers, loin cloths and faux body paint that bordered on offensive and clearly inhabited ridiculous.

But the Russians, who host the next Winter Olympics, clearly surged into the lead when Prime Minister Vladimir Putin weighed in on, of all things, figure skating.

Putin was upset that Russian Yevgeny Plushenko, the reigning Olympic men’s figure skating champion, lost last week to American challenger Evan Lysacek.

The disappointed Plushenko, who on his personal Web site awarded himself the “platinum” for his performance, was sharply critical of the judges decision. Plushenko, known for his mastery of quadruple jumps, questioned the manhood of the American, who didn’t include a quad in his routine.

“Without the quadruple, I’m sorry, but it’s not men,” Plushenko said.

Lysacek, as graceful off the ice as on, pointed out the event is figure skating, not figure jumping: “If it were a jumping contest, they’d give us 10 seconds to do our best jump — without music,” he said.

Lysaceks skating teammate, Johnny Weir, was similarly restrained when he humorously responded to a jibe from broadcasters who mocked the flamboyant American skater and questioned his gender.

Weir showed up at press conference sporting a couple of days stubble, saying, “I grew my beard out a little bit just to show that indeed I am a man.”

Those two skaters reflected a poise and humility in front of the cameras that has been evident throughout the games in the American contingent, from party-boy-turned-thoughtful-dad Bode Miller to the funny and charming snowboard superstar Shaun White.

The only exception to the new American temperance, perhaps would be silver medalist Julia Mancuso, who ungallantly complained this week about how much “attention” was being paid to fellow American, gold-medal winner Lindsey Vonn.

Vonn, to her credit, took the high road and shrugged off the comment.

For Vonn and the rest of the Americans, dialing down the trash talk seems to be working at least during these games.

The U.S. is poised to win the medals count for the first time in Winter Olympics history with a record haul of what will end up being well more than 30.

And that may be something for the soul-searching Russians ousted from the hockey tournament and disappointed on the figure skating ice — to consider as they try to regroup for the 2014 games in Sochi.

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