So the British press hate the Vancouver Olympics, huh? Perhaps they have reason to complain - has anyone checked to see if the beer's too cold, or perhaps not plentiful enough? The war of words is getting to be a bit much, but at least Britain will take home the gold for Loudest Complaining That Actually Disguises A Terrifying Neurosis About Its Own Olympic Future.
The Times now refers to "the Calamity Games," although its chief reporter, Owen Slot, was generous about the joy and effusiveness of Canadian celebrations. The BBC today showed grim-faced John Furlong complaining about "caustic" comments and "finger-pointing." It's like high school, except with less smoking.
If you think the criticism of the Olympics is harsh, you should see the way the Australians and British go at each other when they're fighting over their tiny cricket trophy, the Ashes. That's a colonial/Oedipal battle for the ages. The question here is one of tone: There's a much more robust culture of public debate in Britain. They'll sling mud happily and duck when it's thrown back at them. Celebrity feuding is an art form.
The thing is, ordinary Brits seem to be enjoying the Olympics (this is a completely unscientific survey, I admit). The other morning I was standing in the pouring rain with a group of people for the most English reason imaginable - we were sending off a neighbour on her way to Buckingham Palace to collect an MBE. They know I'm Canadian, and talk quickly turned to the Olympics. They were all watching - dazzled by the figure skating, terrified by the short-track speed skating, slightly freaked out by the snowboarders. Some of them uttered the word "Zamboni," I'm sure for the first time in their lives.
A day later, hearing my accent, someone clapped me on the shoulder in sympathy, as if Vancouver's problems were my own personal sorrow. Despite the negative publicity, the West Coast remains a kind of Shangri-la for winter-weary Brits. I can't tell you how many people (ok, about four) have told me they now want to move to Vancouver - better coffee, same amount of rain.
I've heard about nothing but the Olympics all week, and it seems people are being turned on to sports they had no idea existed. Suddenly Londoners have an opinion on Johnny Weir's debt to Lady Gaga and the wily ways of the Korean skating coaches. (These are people who do not know how to skate, by and large. Every Christmas temporary skating rinks are erected in London, and Brits go flying around them, completely out of control, like giant grenades strapped to razor blades.)
For two weeks the BBC is devoting hours of prime time coverage to the games, even if an inordinate amount of that is devoted to the British curling team. I guess they've got to keep the cameras where the medal hopes are. Canadians shouldn't worry, anyway: the British press will soon be on its way home, and they'll have a new target - their own games, two years from now. Let the griping begin!
(Flag bearer Shelley Rudman of Great Britain and Northern Ireland leads her team into the Opening Ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics at BC Place on February 12, 2010 in Vancouver. Sandra Behne / Bongarts/Getty Images)