NAGANO, Japan — There is one in every crowd, especially when that crowd is a scrum of cold and cranky sportswriters vacuum-packed into the holding cell at White Ring arena they call the figure skating "mixed zone."
While waiting, and waiting, to see if Elvis Stojko might limp by for a word about Canada's latest failed attempt at winning the men's figure skating gold medal, one wise-guy scribe began singing to the tune of "O Canada":
"We're NUM-ber Two!"
Oh, Canada, 0-for-the-Olympics, still.
Canada has produced some of the greatest male skaters of the last 20 years--Brian Orser, Kurt Browning, Stojko--but none has ever left a Winter Olympics with anything glitzier than a silver medal.
Lots of silver medals. Orser settled for silver in 1984 and 1988, Stojko did the same in 1994 and now again in 1998. Doug Leigh, who coached Orser then and Stojko now, was trying to laugh about it late Saturday night while Stojko was kilometers away, receiving medical treatment for a badly pulled groin muscle.
"I've got that one covered, I guess," Leigh said. "Just call me Hi Ho Silver."
For Canadians, it was either laugh or break down altogether. In a country where everyone grows up on frozen lakes and ponds, Canada's inability to win the grand prize of men's figure skating even once in 20 rounds of Winter Olympic Games has become a national obsession.
Minutes after Stojko had gutted out seven clean triple jumps on a bad leg to salvage second place behind Russia's Ilia Kulik, Leigh was in the White Ring interview room fielding questions about whether he felt Canadians would be able to "forgive" Stojko for coming up short again.
Which is about as close as Canadians get to the ugly-Americanism of those regrettable "You don't win silver, you lose gold" Nike ads of 1996.
"Will Canadians forgive?" Leigh repeated, mulling over the incredible query.
"I hope so. He gave it all he's got. He didn't have anything left. That's all he had.
"If Canadians want us to apologize for that, it won't be me."
It has been an unforgiving Games for Canada so far. The country's best snowboarder gets busted for marijuana, its world champion moguls skier loses to Jonny Moseley, its top ice dance team gets jobbed in compulsories, Paul Kariya is an injury scratch, Stojko is wounded in the men's long program, and its world champion women's hockey team--in a pre-gold medal match tuneup with the United States--takes an eye-popping 7-4 hit.
North of the border, they are giving thanks today, mainly, for Wayne Gretzky and women speedskaters.
Gretzky and Dream Team Canada remained undefeated in men's hockey round-robin play, downing Sweden, 3-2, in a rematch of Canada's angst-ridden shootout defeat to the Swedes in the gold medal game in Lillehammer.
The Big Red Maple Leaf Machine continues to look considerably sharper than an apparently still-jet-lagged Dream Team USA, which struggled mightily to beat the San Jose Sharks of Olympic hockey, Belarus. The final score was 5-2, but the plucky Belarussians, with but two NHL pros on their roster, were hanging in at 3-2 with six minutes to play. The Americans scored two goals on five-on-three power plays, look ragged in the nets and shaky on defense--and next up is Canada on Monday.
Women in red body suits on clap-happy speedskates swept the gold and silver medals at 500 meters. Catriona Le May Doan, who is not related in any way to former Cincinnati first baseman Lee May, set Olympic records on back-to-back days to become World's Fastest Woman On Ice, beating teammate Susan Auch to the title.
In Alpine skiing news,
(Editor's note: The preceding paragraph was snowed out and will be postponed at least a day, along with the men's super-G and the women's downhill. We apologize for the delay).
Meanwhile, Japanese ski jumpers were cleared for takeoff, and, Masahiko Harada, the Dan Jansen of Japan, finally put his trail of Olympic woes behind him. Harada got all of his final vault off the 120-meter hill, a record-setting launch of 136 meters, but was marked down for style points on his landing and took the bronze medal, his first at a Winter Games. Fellow countryman Kazuyoshi Funaki didn't jump as far, but he received perfect marks for his landing and won the gold.
Morale of the story: Good things happen to those who wait and keep on jumping.
Canadian men's figure skaters, less than 1,440 days till Salt Lake City.