Oh, (selfish) Canada!

A few months ago, Stephen Colbert — whose Colbert Nation stepped up and contributed over $300,000 to the U.S. Olympic Speed Skating Team after it lost its big sponsor — berated Canada for refusing to allow U.S. speed skaters to test out the Olympic facilities. Actually, he initially begged and cajoled Canada. When that failed, he bad-mouthed them for their poor sportsmanship:

Colbert used his show to aim some pointed barbs north of the border, while picking up on complaints that Vancouver Olympic officials have been limiting international athletes' access to facilities for the 2010 Winter Games.

“Those syrup-suckers won’t let us practice at their Olympic venues,” Colbert said. “At the Salt Lake Games, we let the Canadian luge team take 100 practice runs.”

The issue of access to the Richmond Olympic Oval is one that resonates with the U.S. skaters, although they’re more diplomatic about it than Colbert.

“It’s the Olympics, the point of the Olympics is to bring the whole world together and by doing that they’re kind of separating themselves off from the world,” said rising U.S. star Trevor Marsicano…

Veteran Chad Hedrick feels the same way.

“I think everybody should have equal rights to train on the ice as much as they can,” the Olympic champion said.

Well, I now learn that Canada — desperate to win medals at its Olympics — has severely restricted access to “its” Olympics facilities for teams from other countries and other sports. Horrifyingly, Canada’s selfishness may not only have tilted the playing field unfairly in Canada’s favor but already claimed Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili’s life.

The course is ridiculously fast (and, hence, ridiculously dangerous):

Bobsled, luge and skeleton athletes who have tested the course at Whistler in the last two years have widened their eyes when talking about the speeds generated on the track. Luge sleds generally peak in the mid-80s at other tracks but have hit the high 90s at Whistler. After a luger went a record 95.65 mph at a test event on the course last year, Josef Fendt, president of the International Luge Federation, expressed concerns that the track was too fast. “It makes me worry.”

But, even worse, Canada granted non-Canadian Olympians minimal access:

One U.S. slider says that some blame should be placed with Canadian Olympic organizers for not granting international athletes more access to the course before the Games. The Vancouver Organizing Committee did add extra training time for the sliding course because of its difficulty, but U.S. athletes told SI that they had had only around 40 practice runs, while the Canadians had hundreds. “The selfishness of the Canadian sliding federations just killed somebody,” the athlete says. “We all know about keeping countries off the track [strategically], but at the world championships in Lake Placid [last year] they knew the course was difficult, so the track manager left the course open. We didn’t always like that, but no one got hurt.”

Even before Friday’s tragedy, course access was a bone of contention. U.S. bobsled driver Steve Holcomb, reigning world champion in the four-man event, said last week that the unequal practice time motivated him all the more to beat the Canadians. In November, Holcomb was training at Whistler in a two-man sled when he crashed for the first time in two years. It came on curve 13, which he and teammates have christened the “50/50 curve” because only half of bobsled teams made it through right side up during a training day in early 2009.

Beyond being unsportingly, Canada’s selfishness has proven lethal.

Posted by James on Saturday, February 13, 2010