The Winter Olympics are a tricky thing to watch in my household. As my wife is Canadian she is naturally concerned that things go smoothly for the "polite Americans". As things kicked off, however, I realised that these Olympics were hugely important to Canada's never-ending attempt both to impress and distinguish themselves from their southern neighbours, the USA.
It was a tense moment when a "slam poet" was announced at the opening ceremony. My wife gave a silent prayer that it wouldn't be too corny or "hokey" as she put it. A big fat man with a bear and a beret appeared on the pedestal and I winced. This wasn't looking too promising. He reminded me of one of the members of The Fast Show's Jazz Club. As it turned out, he wasn't too bad. Obviously, as a "slam poet" he was embarrassing, but that's just part and parcel of being a poet, "slam" or otherwise.
There had apparently been intense betting as to who would actually light the Olympic flame. The smart money was on Wayne Gretzky, the greatest living ice hockey player and, without doubt, Canada's favourite son. In the end, however, it was a typical Canadian compromise; not wishing to offend anybody they opted for everyone to light it at the same time. This meant that everybody was looking a bit nervous when some technical hitch left them all lit up with nowhere to go for a while. Since then, there have been constant hints on the television coverage that the organisation of the Games has left a little to be desired.
This does appear to be a little unfair from where I'm sitting. The main problems seem to have been rain, too much sun, fog and then too much snow. Canadians are a supremely organised bunch but even they have not managed to harness Mother Nature yet.
Watching Clare Balding you get the sense that she is not exactly enjoying her stay in British Columbia – she seems very tetchy and is taking it out on her hosts. I have a theory about this. I worked with Clare on the Five Live coverage of Wimbledon and liked her a lot. She does, however, have this habit of suddenly saying something quite mean right out of the blue. She famously got into trouble when she picked on the Grand National-winning jockey, Liam Treadwell, for his bad teeth. My theory is that Clare is finding Canadian politeness overwhelming and her frustration is spilling out on air. I sympathise. After a couple of weeks at my lovely in-laws, the urge to stand up and shout "fuck" as loud as you can becomes strong. This is because, unlike us, Canadians are nice, polite people and prolonged exposure can become very stifling.
This aside, I've been loving the Games. Personal favourite moments so far include:
1. Anja Paerson, the flying Swede Although not officially a ski jumper, the sight of this thunder-thighed Swedish downhill racer taking off on the last bump of the women's downhill was shocking. She flew over 60 metres, a distance that Eddie the Eagle would have killed for, and crossed the line on her face. Despite this, she got back up and won the bronze in the combined the following day. Oh, those magnificent Swedes in their flying machines.
2. Snowboard cross
Four people on snowboards race each other down a course and it's the first to finish. How rare that a relatively new event is so entertaining. It's like a "cross" between the 400 metres sprint, the half-pipe and rollerball. Personally, I would allow contestants to be able to bump each other off the course and you would have the perfect sport, but that's probably not in the Olympic spirit.
3. Father Christmas
Every time the cameras pan over the excitable crowd at the downhill events I spot a familiar figure among the excitable drunks and their cowbells. He always stands very still peering serenely upwards as the camera cranes over him. He has a full white beard and wears a pointy red hat and red dungarees. I always wondered what Father Christmas did for the rest of the year. Now I know.
4. Beautiful people
If there is a sport with more beautiful women in it than skiing and snowboarding, then I have yet to find it. Women's beach volleyball has its attractions but the sight of gorgeous weeping blondes on the Olympic podium warms the cockles of my... heart.
Cram is man for me
The movie of Coe v Ovett is to be made. Everybody, apparently was on one side or the other... Personally, I didn't really like either. Steve Cram seemed a nice fellow, though.