SALT LAKE CITY — Eighteen years after his appearance at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, Scott Hamilton won his second gold medal.
He won it for Canada, teaming with Sandra Bezic in pairs freestyle media ring-leading, even though he was born and lives in the United States. But, then, borders and affiliations have become so blurred at these Games.
Without Hamilton, who declared the losers winners on NBC, and without Bezic, who said her heart broke when the scores were posted, Jamie Sale and David Pelletier very likely would be Olympic silver medalists today.
Without Hamilton and Bezic ratcheting up the outrage, without NBC getting the Canada-got-hosed snowball rolling, the Russian figure skating duo of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze would already be in the record book as the one and only pairs champions of the 2002 Winter Olympics, having won a close competition in Salt Lake, and that would be it.
Hamilton and Bezic set the tone, set the stage, and from there, Media Team North America drove it home.
Yes, you might have missed it, but the United States and Canada now play under the same flag. There was no formal announcement; we just adopted them this week when it became obvious:
The United States didn't have a chance to win the pairs figure skating medal.
Canada, our unassuming, under-protected neighbor to the north, did.
Russia, our Cold War adversary from decades past, bullied its way into the scene, maybe or maybe not cutting a favor-swapping deal with another big league player we do not completely trust, the arrogant French.
We couldn't just sit there and watch quietly while our little Canadian cousins got trampled underfoot. That isn't the American way. Canada clearly needed help. And Canada clearly wasn't China or Germany or Russia--countries that come up lacking when it comes to the all-important Middle America cuddliness factor.
(Say the Russians and Canadians had switched roles. Say the Canadians had edged the Russians with the aid of a possibly tainted judge's vote. Would the public response have mustered even half the decibel level? Russians love their figure skaters too, but this is Salt Lake City. Most likely, there would have been a few "Tough break theres" and we all quickly would have moved on to short-track speedskating.)
Canada alone didn't have the juice to take on the International Skating Union and the International Olympic Committee, which normally responds to scandalous allegations by commissioning a study on the hope it will take years and years before, eventually, everyone forgets about it.
And NBC (stands for North American Broadcasting Co.) clearly needed the ratings.
So we co-opted Canada. Maybe we felt a little red-faced about South Park and "Blame Canada." Maybe we felt a little guilty about what's happening to the Expos. Most likely, we saw a story with all the required crowd-pleasing elements--innocent victims, dark rumors of conspiracy, righteous indignation and a big, bad bureaucracy yawning in the other corner--and, unable to help ourselves, finger-snap, we released the media hounds.
The 50-mph winds that wiped out the first day of Nordic combined here were nothing compared to the gale force of the North American newspapers and TV networks this week. ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta looked like a man caught in a hurricane during a Tuesday press briefing that quickly morphed into a police interrogation. "Canadians jobbed" became the mantra of the day, every day, despite the muffled claims of some impartial observers that maybe the Russians had skated a more intricate, more sophisticated and, well, a better long program.
After Friday's news conference announcing the awarding of a second set of gold medals to Sale and Pelletier, Hamilton and Bezic could be seen on television screens throughout the Main Press Center, discussing the development with NBC's Jim Lampley.
"Yeah, Scott," one U.S. writer muttered sarcastically as he walked by one of the monitors, "you're happy now."
He certainly was.
"I am just happy that the IOC forced the issue and made sure this happened now because it was overtaking everything," Hamilton said. "Nobody could focus on any other events."
And NBC has lots of other events to televise.
"These athletes deserve their time to shine," Hamilton continued. "I think the IOC, by forcing the ISU to come to some sort of resolution immediately, now we can get back to the Games and everyone here can really get back to celebrating the Olympics and what it's all about."
And NBC can get monster ratings when the IOC holds a second pairs medals ceremony to hand Sale and Pelletier a second pair of pairs gold medals.
Hamilton said he felt badly because when he tried to talk to Sikharulidze earlier in the week, the Russian skater "wanted to avoid eye contact, like he didn't want to acknowledge me because as much as I'm not responsible, I am connected to it.
"And I don't feel responsible. We called the event as we saw it. And fortunately, a lot of other people saw it the way we did too."
The power of the press, coupled with the dire desire of two embattled international sports organizations to sweep all this negative publicity quickly out of play, was truly awesome to behold. Media Team North America rules.
Which raises a question: If and when Canada and the United States meet in the hockey tournament, whom are we supposed to root for? Now that we're playing for the same team.