Monday, February 13, 2006

2006 Turin Winter Olympics
Wotherspoon's dumped on by Canadian fans

I'm not sure if it's due to Canadians' insecurity over their sporting prowess, but the reaction to long-track speed skater Jeremy Wotherspoon's ninth-place finish (see the commentary section at for a sample) has been ridiculous.

The 500m race is akin to the 100m dash in the Summer Olympics, meaning mere fractions of seconds make the difference. Ultimately, the difference between his spot in the standings and a bronze medal was less than a quarter of a second (0.00.23) over two races.

Did Wotherspoon have his best race? No. But to call him a choker is unacceptable, especially from armchair fans who know nothing of the sport other than the pre-Olympic hype they read a few days earlier.


At 5:08 p.m., February 13, 2006, Anonymous pete said...

To be fair, James, he did have a similar disappointing finish in Salt Lake City, where he was also a medal favourite.

I'm willing to accept that Canadian fans expect too much out of our athletes, considering the scant funding and attention we give them during those 206-straight weeks when Olympic Games aren't underway.

But he was supposed to contend for a medal in the 500 for the last two consecutive Olympics. And both times he came up well short.

Considering how high stakes these things are, I don't think it's offside to suggest that.

At 5:31 p.m., February 13, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

A ninth-place, 0.23 of a second from a medal finish is similar to the horrendous, DNF fall he took in 2002?

No, no it isn't.

Did he fail? Yes. Does he deserve what's coming? No. Canadians need to remember the Games are about more than the medal standings.

At 6:00 p.m., February 13, 2006, Blogger mudcrutch79 said...

Did he fail? Yes. Does he deserve what's coming? No. Canadians need to remember the Games are about more than the medal standings.

Couldn't agree more James. All I ask of our Olympians is that they not be satisfied with such things. There was a time when today's result would be presented as a success ("Wotherspoon cracks top 10!") Now that we don't see it that way, I think we've gone too far in the other direction.

The extent of my commitment to Jeremy Wotherspoon's Olympic career (pete seems to have forgotten that Wotherspoon won a silver in this distance in Nagano in 1998-does that excuse his failure here and in SLC?) has been hanging around watching on TV. Wotherspoon spent the last 206 weeks training for this moment and then did not find the success he was looking for. I'm not going to pile on him for failing to get it done-I'm sure no one feels worse about it than he does.

At 6:09 p.m., February 13, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Good point MC. As I sit here reading the stories for our section tomorrow on Wotherspoon, it's obvious he feels about as low as one could right now. It's a shame considering he's one of the country's most decorated skaters in history.

At 9:53 a.m., February 14, 2006, Anonymous pete said...

Um, how am I "piling on" Wotherspoon?

Saying he was only 0.23 seconds off a medal pace makes it sound closer than it is in that sport, James. You yourself compared the 500 in long track speed skating to the 100 in track and field. If a sprinter were to finish .23 seconds off the world record of 9.79, would that be close? Is finishing a 100 metre race in 10.02 seconds in the same league as eliteness?

No, no it isn't.

Speed skating is one of my favourite non-hockey winter sports, (and one I actually keep an eye on a couple times a year during major tournaments - but thank you for the presumptive reminder, mudcrutch) and Wotherspoon is indeed one of the most decorated Canadians of all time in it.

So by that same token, when a former multiple world record holder fails to obtain a medal in two successive Olympics, it warrants mentioning. Not overloading. Not beating to death. Mentioning.

To be honest, I haven't gotten the impression that the fans are dumping on him. The media has by and large reported that he had a disappointing race, an assessment I daresay he'd agree with. Most fans and bloggers I've read would likewise agree they're disappointed. So I don't see who's piling on the misery any more than he's doubtless feeling.

I just don't think its unfair to suggest that when a world record holder finishes in ninth place, he put in a disappointing showing. If that makes me jingoistic and coldly results based, then its got to be the first time I was ever accused of that.

What should the story be instead?

Wotherspoon tried his best, but got some bad luck and came up short? I could've written that from my living room. Before the Games began.

Truly great sports writing finds that grey area between the poles of "he won", "he lost" and "he tried his best so we love his pluckiness" and is somehow able to give us something nuanced that we didn't know about the sport or the game or the athlete before.

That's what we should be striving for. Blanket rules about "we shouldn't say X" aren't going to give us that.

Based on the muted disappointment I see on the front page of the sports sections today, including the contents of David Naylor's, Christie Blatchford's, William Houston's, and Mark Spector's columns, I can deduce mainstream sports writers agree:

Jeremy Wotherspoon is disappointed with himself.

At 3:05 p.m., February 14, 2006, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Pete, I don't think I'm even commenting on what today's sports pages said (a tough feat considering they hadn't yet been printed).

Those commentors, though, wow. 20 or so of the 100 odd comments call him a choker (and while I fully realize the mob mentality of that comment section, it is indicative of what many Canadians are saying about Wotherspoon today). And that's unacceptable.

At 10:34 p.m., February 18, 2006, Blogger Achtungbaby said...

v. choked, chok·ing, chokes
v. tr.

To fail to perform effectively because of nervous agitation or tension, especially in an athletic contest: choked by missing an easy putt on the final hole.

Let's see now, he was a medal favorite in the Olympics the last two outings and his medal count so far in individual events is zip, nada, zero, zilch...

Maybe choke is a harsh word, maybe we should just call it a 'Wotherspoon' when someone can't perform at the Olympics.

We argue how far out he was (.23 seconds) til the cows come home. Long story short, he didn't deliver. In the end, that's all that matters.


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