Cold War, Eh?

On the John

The 12th Winter Olympics have begun.

It's time to rekindle the old patriotism. Whip out the flag, eat some apple pie, maybe even purchase one of those Uncle Sam hats.

But, to be honest, something is different about this year's rendition of the winter games: there isn't anyone to hate.

Growing up during the Cold War, the Russians had always played that role for me. They were the natural enemy, and the intense dislike was real.

Following World War II, an "us vs. them" mentality developed in all facets of life which lingered well into the 1980s. Everything was a competition, and stereotypes were abundant.


After all, our President labeled them the "evil empire" on national TV. It was as if Darth Vader was calling the shots in the Kremlin.

As a kid, I didn't know a communist from a columnist (of course some would say there is no difference). To me, "Red" was nothing more than a color the Sox and the Kansas Jayhawks happened to wear.

But I knew the Russians were the bad guys. All problems in life stemmed from their mere existence.

If I lost a tough game of four square on the playground it was the communists' fault. Did poorly in school? My teacher naturally was a Siberian exile, taking his frustrations out on an innocent American.

With this attitude it was natural to take pride in beating the Russians. The Winter Olympics was reduced to a grudge match pitting the United States against the Soviet Union, good against evil.

And in the sport of hockey, it took on a whole new level. Not only were they evil, but they were good. In fact, the best--every time. That is why I consider the 1980 game my favorite sports memory, despite having no recollection of seeing it live as a pintsized eight year old.

In fact, not seeing it made me hungry for another victory over the Russians. I wanted to fully appreciate the joy of beating them.

So I watched in 1984 and 1988 only to be disappointed by the machine-like efficiency with which the Rooskies disposed of their opponents. Of course, my thoughts had matured by then. The Russians, I realized, were not to blame for everything. A lot of them were decent people.

But that didn't matter once the Olympics began. When the puck was dropped every four years, rationality was thrown to the birds--the Russians were still the best, and as an American I wanted victory.

Once again, The Big Red Machine was the enemy. Gorbachev wasn't a man of reform, he was Satan with a birth mark, and the players were his disciples, carrying out his orders for the Dark Side.

Even in '92, after the amazing collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russians came in as the gold medal favorites. A new cast of characters maybe, but the story was the same.

The U.S. met them in the quarter-finals, going into the contest with an undefeated record. This was at last my chance to see a victory. Once again, however, my hopes were shattered. The enemy prevailed again.

Now it's 1994, and the rivalry has faded more and more with with every McDonalds that has been constructed in Moscow. Even more amazing, the Russians are no longer the clear-cut gold medal favorites, and some experts are saying the U.S. has as good a shot as anyone.

Maybe it is time to find a new enemy, a new nation to hate two weeks of the year, every four years.

The candidates are few, but I think I have our country: Canada.

After all, while Canadians might not be citizens of a military superpower, or even a power, for that matter, they stole the World Series from us.

And although they stole it with American players, it never really was about the players anyway.