While Vancouver’s Winter Olympics provided us with no shortage of winners and incredible performances, the British and Canadian press corps – or, rather, parts of them – emerged as clear losers.
It began with a few attacks launched by a variety of Britain’s best and worst newspapers.
Canada’s Games were attacked on any number of fronts – the weather, the food, the “glitches.” But it was an article written by Lawrence Donegan in the Guardian that fired up the Canadians.
Donegan wrote – on day four of the 17-day Games – that altogether, the meteorological and logistical failures threatened to make these Olympics the “worst Games ever.” It was, to be fair, a fairly absurd piece of writing by a journalist desperate to either find a scoop, or make one up as best he could. So Canada’s media would laugh it off and forget about it, right?
Wrong. It’s debatable which was worse – the original (silly) article, or the amount of attention it was given in the Canadian press. Virtually every major newspaper in Canada felt the need to fire back against the Brits in general, and Donegan in particular, for having (almost) claimed our Games were the worst ever. Not even the Daily Mail’s sublimely tasteless piece, which condemned Canada’s “lust for glory” as the cause of a young Georgian athlete’s death on the day of the opening ceremonies, drew so much fire. Neither side came out looking particularly good.
All things British were attacked. The CBC ran a scathing video segment on London’s 2012 Olympic preparations and cost overruns, forgetting that Vancouver’s own haven’t been silky smooth. The Globe and Mail took time off from commenting on how sexy female curlers were to mock British athletes in their Saturday editorial for only having garnered one medal. Olympic spirit, indeed.
The height of absurdity came when the Toronto Star published a lengthy piece by Bob Hepburn which took huge umbrage at the suggestion that Vancouver’s Olympics could be the worst ever. He fired back, counter-accusing London’s 2012 Olympics of being “truly on track to earning the title of the “worst Olympics ever.'” Take that, Britain! If you can prematurely damn our Games two weeks before they finish, we can damn yours two years before they even begin!
It wasn’t just the cross-Atlantic sniping, or the mischaracterization of foreign coverage as having been universally negative (not even the Brits hated us that much). The rush to pump out articles for the Internet left more than a few of them with glaring typos or factual errors. The aforementioned Daily Mail had Robert Hardman pump out a 2,000 word rambling masterpiece on the Olympics, which, among other things, claimed Whistler was nestled “deep in the Rockies,” which is geographically speaking about as accurate as saying London is located deep in central France.
It wasn’t all bad though. The oft-maligned American media actually emerged as the best source of English-language coverage of the Games. The Games went on to be considered a remarkable success. But the damage had been done. Journalists in both countries allowed themselves to be drawn into an absurd long-range pissing contest. It’s enough to make anyone tired of this kind of coverage, and want to put it all behind us.
Or maybe not. On Day 15 the London Times wrote “Canadians have come across as a bunch of mean-spirited, chippy, unsporting losers.” And popular wisdom has it that Canadian writers are already sharpening their quills, ready to savage London 2012 as soon as it starts. Let the Games begin!