The ire within

My Olympic hangover.

PLEASE, PLEASE make it stop. My head is pounding, my eyes are dry as sandpaper, and there's a constant buzzing coming from deep inside my ears. After two weeks of sitting in front of the tube watching the Games for 12 hours a day, subsisting on a diet of microwave popcorn and Extra Strength Tylenol, I've had it. Every four years, this former figure skater turns into the beast that refuses to budge from the futon couch. But after this parade of suspect judges and poor-sport nations, I don't care anymore. I'm utterly depleted, and I've paid the price at home for my selfishness (my baby now responds more to Jamie Sal頡nd David Pelletier than to me). I immersed myself in anthems and instant replays, hoping bottles and diapers could wait for the commercials. And what do I have to show for it? Besides bags under my eyes, I left the host country—my country—behind in favor of Canada. Pretty bad, eh?

This was supposed to be the Red, White, and Blue Olympics, but I defected. After sampling NBC's predictably bland helpings of patriotism, I switched to Canada's CBC network: They broadcast live (really!), their bright-eyed athletes had the sharpest uniforms (see also their corpuscular speed-skating suits), and they were brought up to revere any competition having to do with ice.

CBC hosts Ron MacLean (daytime) and Brian Williams (prime time) delivered feisty doses of pro-Canada vernacular while alternating between blazers and sweaters. (No Bob Costas turtlenecks beneath sport coats here; pride in the Maple Leaf dictates that hockey coverage, like church, requires a coat and tie.) MacLean and Williams guided us through complicated rules and interfederation scuffles with paternal gravitas. I harrumphed along with Ronnie and Brian as they rationalized Canada's less-than-stellar medal accumulation, and nodded sagely as they assumed my graduate-level knowledge of power plays. I giggled at die-hard fans amassed at hockey theme restaurants in Ontario, cheered along with the sea of flapping maple leaves when two Canadian women aerialists captured the silver and bronze, and, despite not understanding why the ice-rink equivalent of darts is an Olympic sport, shook my head when Vancouver's Kelly Law lost in the semifinal curling round to Great Britain. Add to this the network's constant variety of in-depth segments—"The Olympians," "Olympic Living," "Canadian Trail," "The Olympic Connection"—that had NBC beat.

Even the unseen color commentators, household names to Canadians from Port Coquitlam to Red Deer, kept me watching. For example, while NBC's group addressed the situation at the men's half-pipe with safe cries of "Great amplitude!" the Canadians shouted exuberantly, "He pimp-slapped that one!" Dude, you could almost hear the high fives. Conversely, during a rather tense semifinal in two-man bobsleigh, the CBC guys showed notable restraint when the Canadian duo had a two-zillionths of a second lead and the Swiss obliterated their chances for the podium: "Ah, too bad." As the Canadians took their lumps along with their medals, they ended up being less smug and more endearing. And so I rooted for the team with the red Roots jackets.

Even on NBC, Canada was the story of the Olympics. Canada's early protest of the pairs skating final spawned South Korean and Russian protests and threats of withdrawal from these and subsequent Olympics held in North America. (See? When Canada speaks, the world now listens.) Their snazzy red-and-white jackets, sweatshirts, and headbands flew out of the souvenir stores more than other items. And on the last day of head- to-head hockey competition, an initially tentative bunch of Canadian NHL stars beat out the U.S. No longer the less interesting cousin to the home of the brave, Canada has arrived. Funny how its coming-out party stole the spotlight from the host country at the height of our patriotic frenzy.

But it's over. All decisions have been made, medals have been awarded, and everyone is back home in their own countries where the judging always goes their way. Now I must earn my way back into my family and get my presentation scores up (a shower? Real pants, not sweatpants?). There's just one little problem: I can't seem to get "O Canada" out of my head. Since I don't know all the words, it makes my daughter cry when I sing her to sleep. Make it stop. Make me stop. Please.

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