Gold medal, broken heart

Maria Habanikova

As a Slovak living in Canada, I have been programmed to show equal support for both Slovak and Canadian Olympians. Conveniently, I fell ill twice during the Sochi 2014 Olympics and was able to watch the Opening Ceremonies live curled up on the couch, cheering for the sea of white, blue and red as much as I was excited for the red and white maple bearers to march into the arena waving their flags with anticipation, pride, and hope.

There were rarely any disappointing moments for Canada at this year’s Winter Olympics with the exception of perhaps Patrick Chan losing the gold medal in men’s figure-skating. And even if there have been other disappointments, they were more than made up for by the tremendous successes of Canada’s women’s’ and men’s hockey teams. Not even those Latvian ‘devils’ were able to stop us.

 One of the primary reasons that the entire nation was willingly awake from 4am Sunday morning to watch the final men’s game was not only because Canadians were defending their golden status from 2010 Vancouver Olympics. It was also because we were all secretly hoping it was going to be as thrilling a game as the women’s game a few days earlier.

While Canada was demonstrating its hockey potential, Slovakia was struggling. We experienced a devastating 1:7 loss to the US followed by a 1:3 nightmare of a game with Slovenia. Safe to say, we didn’t make it to quarter finals as the Czechs beat us 3:5.

I am proud of all of the Slovak Olympians and I am not disappointed in our hockey team’s struggles and losses. Given the economic and socio-political climate in Slovakia, with increasing corruption and severe underfunding of sports and athletic endeavours in general, these men and women are amazing and constantly remind us of the spirit of persistence, hard work, and solidarity.

I am, however extremely disappointed and even angry with the people of Slovakia. We are a young country of 5,000,000, who were represented by 25 talented athletes in Sochi, one of whom honoured us with a gold medal in Biathlon Women’s Sprint. Her name is Anastasiya Kuzmina (Anastasia Kuzminova). Yet we do not appreciate this one moment. This is because the gold medal bearer came from Russia and only received her Slovak citizenship in 2008. She has been accused in the Slovak tabloids to be ‘not a real Slovak’. In an interview to a journalist she said that she was still a Russian but was proud to represent Slovakia because it was her home and she carried its citizenship. This, of course, immediately turned the public against her and caused outrage throughout the country and especially in the media.

It is unreasonable and insensitive to expect a woman in her position to forget about her heritage and her identity for the sake of competing for a country where she is a citizen and resident. Besides, she never failed to mention how proud she was to represent Slovakia.

As much as I love my native land, this almost heart-breaking story of Anastasiya and the embarrassing way Slovakia reacted to its one and only gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics merely reinforces my conviction that as a nation, we have yet a very long way to go before we overcome our petty-bourgeois mentality and open our eyes wide enough to see more than just the one narrow-minded point of view. This is the 21st century and the globalized interconnected world is operating in a completely different way than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. Look at the Canadian Jan Hudec, the winner of a bronze medal in Alpine Skiing Men’s Super-G. I doubt many Canadians were bothered to look up let alone bothered by the origin of his first and/or last name. I doubt anyone was wondering why some Czech is ‘playing for Canada.’

I realize it is hardly appropriate to be comparing a multicultural country with a reputation for a relatively open immigration policy to a small nation in Central Europe that has undergone decades of oppression from several of its neighbours. But why should it be inappropriate? Why can’t countries – no matter their size, standard of living, history, or population – learn from each other and mirror what is better in one another?  Why can a Czech athlete play for Canada but a Russian one can’t for Slovakia? Canada is far from perfect but Slovakia has a lesson or two to learn from us about tolerance, diversity and openness.