Tuesday, August 05, 2008

The last Bastian of my country right or wrong... or myopia, thy name is...

The Olympics are better off without the Our Way Of Life vs. Theirs claptrap that was part of the presentation any time before 1992.

The spirit of sport and competition, all in the service of helping Coca-Cola, McDonald's and Nike sink their meathooks just a little deeper into the planet, of course, knows no borders. The athletes come off as being much less touched by nationalistic fervour than folks back home (well, at least until China's on top of the medal standings). It's reflection of the reality that so many compete for countries they weren't born in, train and compete outside the country, and have foreign-born coaches. The days of calling Soviet athletes "robots" are long gone.

That's why it's odd and off-putting to read that the old way of thinking hasn't completely died out in the good old U.S. of A. Such is the case with Michael Bastian, the American coach of China's women's fastpitch (not softball) team who's been frozen out for aiding the enemy, so-called.

What hurt most for Bastian was the wedge it put between him and the American women he had coached for so many years. Bastian recalls of one player, "I'd trained her for eight, 10 years. I'm a part of her family, and she was like, 'You gotta understand that you're the enemy now, and the way I play the game is that I hate my enemy, so when we walk on the field and you're representing China, it can’t be the same.' "


"It's a lot lower-level than going to war," Mr. (Ronnie) Isham (Director of National Teams for USA Softball) says in an east-Texas drawl. "But when you’re trying to develop a program and a team and an individual to be an elite athlete and contend for a gold medal, and you have somebody who’s your neighbor working with a foreign country to do the same thing, then yes, it is somewhat of a betrayal."
Paraphrasing Evan in Superbad, "Calm down, OK. It's fastpitch." (Not softball.)

A couple hardheaded jocks do not speak for a country of 295 million people. Still, it's odd that it only seems to be Americans who get their star-and-stripes boxer shorts in a bunch over all the nation-hopping Olympians.

Back in March, WNBA player Becky Hammon taking out Russian citizenship in order to play for the Russian women's basketball team honestly didn't seem like a big deal. Most pro basketball leagues overseas have an import quota, so a Russian passport increased Hammon's employability. Why wouldn't she take out citizenship? Hammon's choice didn't even rate major attention outside of women's basketball until U.S. coach Anne Donovan -- either channeling Anne Coulter or being the typical Baby Boomer who believes she knows what's best for Generation X -- shot her mouth off about it.

It's sad that the same myopia is writ large among a few involved with the American women's fastpitch team. It's the one sport that's begging for athletes and coaches without borders. It has been dropped from the Olympics, in part due to the perception that it's not competitive -- the Americans beat the bejesus out of everyone in Athens in 2004 and in Sydney four years earlier. They'll probably have another cakewalk to the gold this time. As After Atalanta points out, "Wouldn't quality coaching -- like the kind offered by USA Softball -- exported to other countries help increase the depth of the sport?"

During the last Winter Olympics that great globalist, Don Cherry, used the U.S. team as a bad example, implying they were the author of their sport's demise as an Olympic event. As you'll recall, when the Canadian media was getting all hand-wringy after our women's hockey team beat Italy 16-0, Cherry said, "If you keep it up, you're committing suicide, they'll throw those games out."

(There would have been no uproar if the men's hockey team beat Italy 16-0. That's for another post.)

One prevailing memory from Turin was of Canadian nordic skier Chandra Crawford breaking her pole during a team pursuit race and getting a new pole from Norway coach Bjornar Haakensmoen. It ultimately meant Canada got a silver medal in the race and a Norwegian tandem was bumped from the bronze to fourth place. It reflected a different way of viewing sport than what most of us in North America have been weaned on: It's about winning, but really, what we're here to do is the honour sport and the spirit of fair competition. (As easily exploited as that might be by a multinational corporation, it goes without saying).

It's a shame that this thinking hasn't penetrated a few thick skulls in States and that women's fastpitch, and the players are poorer for it, hoping to get back into the Olympics for 2016.

Us-vs.-them still has a place in sports, but it's kind of become passe at the Olympics. No doubt there a ton of athletes and coaches who have a throbbing hate-on for their rivals, but it's individual, not ideological. Whatever Adam van Koeverden's motivations to win gold are, sticking it to the Commies ain't one of them. It's better that way.

Of course, if China is atop the medal standings by the end of Week 1, all bets are off.

(Note: The personal bias on this end is for the team sports -- which means really wanting to see Canada win medals in fastpitch and in women's soccer. The latter got a great write-up in the Vancouver Province today.)

An expat coach's Olympic game plan (Jordan Heller, the Christian Science Monitor, Aug. 1)
Now more than ever, Olympic teams go multinational; Increasingly, athletes are switching national alliances – sometimes for money, but also for better training opportunities (Christa Case Bryant and Danna Harman, the Christian Science Monitor)

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