Monday, February 27, 2006

Winter Slaw: the cruelty of sport _ part 1: Sweden 3, Finland 2

I love big sporting events, even if I don't have much of an emotional investment. Or, really, any at all. Emotional investment is always a good thing, to be sure. I still remember the time my friends and I happened upon a bar that was about to show New Zealand play Australia in rugby, live at 3:30 a.m. (The match was, obviously, down under). We stayed and cheered on the All Blacks to a decisive win over their rivals.

Yesterday morning, I dragged myself out of bed to go to a bar and watch Finland play Sweden in hockey for the Olympic gold medal. To me, this was a can't-miss event. The rivalry was intense and friendly, but just barely. Finland, which once belonged to Sweden, still apparently does when it comes to hockey. The Finns have a painful past of blown leads on big stages when it comes to playing Sweden. This was a chance for them to erase those stains. For Sweden, of course, it was another chance to win a title by beating a rival.

I had company. A friend whose mother is from Finland, and a Finnish expat friend of hers showed up and we took standing near the bar, surrounded by Finland fans, and one couple who was rooting for Sweden. We all stood there, packed in like Baltic sardines while Finland screwed around and took silly penalties in the second period, but tied it before allowing a goal in the first 10 seconds of the final period. The last couple minutes were heart-stopping, but ultimately crushing. Having not really gotten my way in a lot of rivalries lately, I knew exactly how they felt.

My friends stood there staring as the cameras showed Swedish players whooping and hugging and celebrating, their gloves and sticks a happy mess on the ice. Then they showed Finland star Teemu Selanne. The Olympic tournament's top scorer had failed in the gold medal game. He hung his head.

Behind me, I heard the one Swede who had been in our section all day cluck his tongue and say softly, to himself: "Oh. The cruelty of sport."

I looked at my friends and had to agree.

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