Oh Canada! And the value of ties
Two swimmers ended their race yesterday in a tie, both winning gold, but while result proved totally satisfying for some, many in the media continue to concentrate on the national medal count
The tone deaf are coming out, watch out. That was what was creeping into my head this morning as I read headline upon headline about “US dominance” at the Olympics. American athletes certainly had a fantastic night yesterday, with several impressive victories. But lest we forget, it was their victory. Yes, they may represent their country at the game, but they deserve the credit. Do we really need to turn their hard work into some symbol of national superiority?
I was really moved by the win last night of Simone Manuel – or as the excited live blogger for The Guardian called her (before it was corrected) Simone Simone Manuel. I was actually hoping that was her real name.
Her victory was presented by television, and by the rest of the media world today as a milestone because her win in swimming was the first for an African-American woman at the Olympics. But I loved the expression on her face when she looked up at the results board and saw she was first – tied, actually, with Penny Oleksiak of Canada. A tie! What could be better?
At Olympic press conference for only black woman to win individual swimming medal, I'm the only black journalist. 🤔 pic.twitter.com/fwrWKSFYIB
— Jesse Washington (@jessewashington) August 12, 2016
Later that evening, with her gold medal around her neck, they played both the US and Canadian national anthems. I wonder for a split second if Manuel knew the words to the Canadian anthem, but remembered that she was from Sugar Land, Texas and figured that the chances were slim, and for good reason. But how many Americans know the words, and how many feel good when a Canadian wins a medal.
I grew up in Detroit and vaguely remember the adoption of the Maple Leaf Flag. Yes, I was very, very young, but in Detroit back then there were only five TV channels on could receive on their television sets – the three networks, a UHF station that barely came in, but broadcast the Red Wing games, and Channel 9, the CBC channel out of Windsor. It broadcast Hockey Night in Canada and also the Canadian news. I grew up watching the Montreal Canadians and listening to the national anthem sung partially in English and partially in French. To those of us in Detroit, Jean Béliveau was as much a sports hero as Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax.
So, bravo, last night the first Canadian athlete won a gold medal (they have won one silver and 5 bronze, as well). That it came in an event that actually, amazingly, ended in a tie is, for me, perfect. And yes, I sang, under my breath, the Canadian anthem (though I have forgotten the French part).
Why doesn’t the Olympics require a swim off between athletes who end up in a tie? Why weren’t Penny Oleksiak and Simone Manuel forced back into the pool to settle the matter? Because that would have been stupid, right?
While writing the paragraphs above my memories went back to my youth, when there were only five television channels available, and when hockey games could end in a tie. So, too, could football games. What is wrong with a tie? It can be a very strategic decision to play for a tie. Ties can also be wholly unsatisfying, but then again so are losses.
It took those who run the professional soccer leagues in America a long time to understand that games should be allowed to end in a tie. You either love the sport as it was designed to be played, or you don’t.
In some Asian professional baseball leagues, the game can last through the 12th inning, but if it is still a tie then the game is deemed over and both teams awarded a tie. There have been ties in Major League Baseball, as well. In 1920 the Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers played 26 innings and then it got too dark to continue and so the game was ruled a tie.
Legend has it that the Cincinnati Red Stockings played the first extra innings game, and lost, and because of that the team folded and moved to Boston. Ken Burns, who for some reason is prone to stretching the truth in some of his documentaries, said basically as much in Baseball. But it is not at all true. The team lost a total of 6 games that year, the two years before that 7 games (in 1869 they finished with a perfect 65 and 0 record). In that final year in Cincinnati they played a 16-16 tie with the Rockford Forest Citys. After the season, with the team losing money, the investors decided to stop employing professionals and so many of the players followed Harry Wright to Boston to form the 1871 Boston Red Stockings. By the way, that team later changed its name to the Boston Braves, which later move to Milwaukee, then Atlanta. Today’s Boston Red Sox can only be traced back to 1901.