SALT LAKE CITY - Normally, to be a Canadian at the Olympic Games is to go relatively unnoticed. We blend into the scenery, quietly celebrate our triumphs in trampolining or synchronized diving, and are no more noticeable on the big stage than the folks from Estonia or Sierra Leone.
There have been exceptions of course: the Ross Rebagliati affair in Nagano, which briefly, inaccurately gave us a reputation as the world's number one party country; and that little incident in Seoul when somebody or other tested positive for steroids.
Salt Lake City, though, has been our great coming out. First, the aggrieved, cutey-pie figure skaters became America's darlings. Then, the vaguely-sinister former vendors of negative-heeled shoes had great success peddling various fleecy items with CANADA stitched across the front. (Seeing a well known American sports reporter - who has written unkind things about us in the past - decked out in full, red Rootswear the other day seemed a true measure of our creeping hipness)
And finally, Wayne Gretzky stood up and put us in league with the planet's great powers and dominant cultures, suggesting that (in hockey at least) everybody hates us.
The day after the Great One's rant, a French reporter covering cross country skiing, spying the country name on the credential, wondered about that.
"If everybody hates you," he wondered, "why then do they buy all of these t-shirts with Canada's name on them?"
A fair question, one had to acknowledge, even coming from someone whose countrymen once upon a time managed to welcome with nearly equal enthusiasm the Allied liberators and the Nazis.
"It's not true," he went on. "We don't hate you. Really, we find you rather boring. Like Belgians."
That's fine. That's our comfort zone. By Athens, we'll be back in the woodwork. And until then, no autographs, please.