By CATHAL KELLY
Saturday, February 17, 2018
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA -- For a decade now, when it suits us, Canada exists between two blissful Olympic states.
On the one hand, we are still the pre-Vancouver lovable losers.
Everyone likes us because all we want is to join hands around the world and make friends.
On the other, we are the postVancouver killers. Our eye is constantly on the podium and we will walk over bodies to get there.
That dual act worked for a long time. It's finally got difficult here in South Korea in the most Canadian place possible - at the curling venue.
On Friday, Canada did something ruthless and just a teensy bit unsporting. And where in years past everyone else would have said, 'I'd rip these guys if they were Russians. But they're Canadian, so ...' that excuse no longer works.
Somehow, Canada has made an enemy of Denmark.
On the one hand, it's worrisome. On the other, it's Denmark.
We don't like to think of ourselves as one of those countries - the United States or China or what have you. The ones who will do anything to win.
But we are. And the rest of world has noticed.
At issue is what in curling is called a burned rock - a stone in play that has been inadvertently touched by an opponent.
Canada's heavily favoured women's curling team was in tight against the Scandinavian lightweights. One of the Danes brushed a rock with her broom.
The touch was glancing. As with golf, curling is a sport of ornate gentility, and the Dane owned up to it.
Canada was down at the time.
It had several options under the rules of the sport. The most extreme of them was eliminating the Danish rock.
The Canadian thing - dare I say, the Curling thing - to do would have been to carry on. But Olympic Canada chose the extreme measure.
"I think that was a rash move to take it off. ... It doesn't look good on you," CBC analyst Joan McCusker said softly as it happened, which in curling terms is like firing a pistol into the ceiling.
Canada was down 4-2 at the time, and it resulted in a fourpoint end for the good guys (socalled). I'm sure you've read some fairy tales. How do you suppose that ended?
The 9-8 loss was Canada's third in a row. A lot of people who don't know a thing about Buddhism, including the Danish skip, used the term "karma."
A month ago, Rachel Homan's Canadian rink was being talked about like the 1927 Yankees. After a few days in Pyeongchang, it's the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight.
Forget about gold. If Homan & Co. make the Olympic playoffs, it'll be a small miracle on ice.
Losing at curling to Denmark was already a humiliation, which happens in sport.
What surprised was what came back next - Denmark, with a vengeance.
Before Friday's game, we were all friends here. Especially us and the Scandinavians - social democracy, cradle-to-grave, enjoy binge-watching Borgen and all that. They could never hate us, right?
Apparently, they do. They really, really do.
It'd be one thing if the Danes started knocking over cameras in a mixed zone. Instead, it was media ju-jitsu. Denmark turned Canada's passive-aggressive tendencies into offence.
"I wouldn't have done it, but we're different in that way," said Danish skip Madeleine Dupont of the decision to burn the rock.
"I'm not going to be mad about it.
She can choose to do whatever she wants."
Then she accused Homan of touching a rock in play and ignoring it.
Then Dupont went for the rhetorical kill: "I think we were just happy to be there and they were just afraid to lose."
Ouch. Really, Denmark? Really? Is the Second World War that long ago?
As with hockey players, Canada's curlers work on the primary aphorism of good sports PR - better to close your mouth and look stupid than open it and remove all doubt.
That policy is great when you're winning. It gets ridiculous quickly when you're turned the other way round.
Not understanding that she'd already lost the argument, Homan attempted to read the rulebook aloud by way of explanation.
"Obviously, we [burned rocks] in the past and they just happened to do that then. So it's just the rules, I guess," Homan said.
I'm not sure what that means, but I suppose it was meant to sound knowing. In this context, it just sounds silly.
By evening, this exchange was the talk of the Olympics, not because it was a big deal, but because it was such a small one.
"Canada and Denmark in a curling death match." How cute.
For us, it's a slight embarrassment. We'd gone several Olympics without the smallest misstep, and put up a perfect record of comportment and manners.
Homan's team notched a very rare Canadian failure in that regard.
It's not a big deal, but since we are us, it is notable.
This is what happens when you turn your Olympic program into a victory factory. Athletes who could once let things slide no longer can. That is especially true in curling, where Canada's three options here are gold, gold and witness protection.
If you create the expectation of winning, people will eventually do a lot of things to get there.
Apparently, other countries have noticed.
You see a lot of Canadians out and about at the Winter Olympics. Fans, family, athletic colleagues, randos in red and black.
They might be the largest foreign contingent in Pyeongchang, save the United States.
Like the United States, they're loud. They're not abrasive, but they make themselves known in the venues and around town.
Like the United States, Canada comes to the Games to celebrate wins, whereas we used to come to an Olympics to celebrate, fullstop.
When you have that many Olympic things in common with the United States, at some point people at the Olympics are going to start treating you like them.
That's what happened here.
Canada used to be the good guy nobody could hate. Now, Homan and her 200-odd teammates have become the big guy a few people can't stand.
Canada takes a rest during a curling match against Denmark in Gangneung, South Korea, on Friday. The Canadians lost 9-8, the team's third loss in a row.
NATACHA PISARENKO/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS