Accentuate the positive

In 1944, Harold Arlen wrote the music and Johnny Mercer the lyrics for a ditty called Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive, which Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters recorded on December 8 that year. The song became so popular it stayed on the Billboard magazine chart for 13 weeks.

The song begins: “You’ve got to accentuate the positive/Eliminate the negative/Latch on to the affirmative/Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.”

For whatever reasons, a few British journalists have failed to heed the advice contained in the song “to accentuate the positive” when reporting on the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. Instead, they have latched onto the “negative.”

Of course, the Brits have every right to their opinions, although some comments have been downright nasty and mean-spirited.

Martin Samuel of the Guardian wrote an article entitled, Canada’s Lust for Glory is to Blame for this Senseless Tragedy, a reference to the tragic death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. But, he’s not alone, as other media outlets have levelled similar opinions.

Samuel said the luger died, “because he was making only his 26th practice run on a dauntingly fast track that, it transpired, was technically defective.

“Almost half of these runs had been from the women’s, novice or junior starting positions because Kumaritashvili wasn’t that good,” he continued. “Canadian rivals, by contrast, have practiced upwards of 300 times on the course on Blackcomb Mountain. That is about what Owning the Podium is about. Cheating.

“Canada wanted to Own the Podium,” opined the caustic journalist. “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.”

Harsh criticism that is hardly justified. It is a stretch to say the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee (VANOC) intentionally set out to have a track designed to be a death trap, although Samuel implies this was the case.

Samuel also didn’t mention that the same track had been successfully used for the Luge World Cup in February 2009.

“Owning the Podium should not mean placing competitors in jeopardy, particularly in a sport in which fatalities have occurred, albeit infrequently,” the British columnist added.

“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.” 

We have became the new Red Menace (Canadians wear red jerseys and the Maple Leaf is red on the Canadian flag) in the eyes of some commentators. In fact, years ago with the end of the Cold War and the onset of a previous Winter Olympics, an L.A. Times newspaper columnist made this analogy. He gamely predicted American athletes would be hard-pressed to top Canada in the medal standings — in the same way that the U.S. and the Soviet Union vied with each other to dominate past Olympic Games.

We’re no longer Mister Nice Guy. 

Yet, what’s wrong with Canadian athletes striving to achieve Olympic success after countless hours of practice and competition abetted by Own the Podium — the $120-million funding program for training and preparation committed by the federal government in a prelude to the Games. 

The Brits shouldn’t be so surprised that Canadian athletes are no longer content to just compete in the Olympics and finish well down in the standings. After all, Britain pumps in significantly more money for its athletes, and the Australians commit substantially more than Canada does for their athletes. As such, British and Australian athletes have won proportionately more Olympic medals. The fact is, more money for athletes translates into more winning results.

The great sin for Canada would be for the government and private sponsors to forget about the athletes once the Winter Games are over, forcing them to return to eating Kraft Dinner and begging pocket change for training and competition from family and friends.

Own the Podium has been a Godsend for our athletes, allowing them to finally successfully compete on the world stage with nations that always in the past had better-funded athletic programs. 

There is some local dread of the image emerging in the world press about Canadian athletes. Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian and a member of the Canadian Olympic Committee, mused that the impression may be given that Canadians want the world to come to Vancouver, so “we can beat the sh** out of them.”

Yet, Kidd is a convert to the COC decision to declare war on the “just happy to be here and get a personal best”stereotype attributed to Canadian athletes in past Olympics.

The Globe and Mail editorial board came up with the comment: “Brash is so much more fun than nice.”

It is nice to win medals, especially gold ones.

But the criticism doesn’t just revolve around Own the Podium or the tragic death of the Georgian luger.

Postponed and rescheduled ski events have received their share of criticism from the world press, especially British journalists who have made bashing Canada a new Olympic sport.

The reality is that Vancouver has a mild Pacific climate and interior mountain venues have been plagued by unseasonably warm weather, generating rain and fog that has played havoc with some outdoor events. 

“Is this the worst Games ever?” one journalist asked International Olympic Committee officials during a press conference.

The reply was, “No.”

Did he expect a “Yes?”

What Samuel and his ilk should be worried about is what may go wrong when London hosts the Summer Olympic Games in 2012. After all, no Olympic Games in history have gone off without a glitch. Critics should know that the gods on Mount Olympus like to toy with us mere mortals.

In the meantime, everyone should accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative — and let the Games continue!