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Published February 22 2010

Gabriel: Can the Olympics help Canada be better liked?

The people of Canada try very hard to be liked. They need to be liked. They’re a little funny that way. They’re not the victims of identity theft because for the most part, they’ve never had one.

And having both the good fortune and misfortune of sharing a length-of-the-country border with the United States, the simple reality is that they need to try a little harder. Need proof? Quick, can you name Canada’s signature food dish? See what I mean?

When you live next to the coolest kid on the block, you have a harder road to travel than almost anyone else.

Putting on a great Olympics is one way to gain the favor of the world and put you on an even, or near-even, playing field with your more popular neighbors. At least that’s the going theory.

If Vancouver and surrounding environs look good, the country looks good. And if the country looks good, people will continue to come and visit. But it all depends upon Vancouver.

So with six days remaining in the 2010 Winter Olympics, it’s time to look beyond the actual competition, the medal ceremonies and the pin-trading in the Olympic Villages so that we may see if this monumental undertaking has raised worldwide awareness of the big, friendly country that balances an even bigger chip on its shoulders.

What lasting images will make us say “OH CANADA!” or “oh … Canada?”

The answer is singular: the Olympic cauldron in downtown Vancouver.

Concerned about vandals defacing the glass and steel structure that rises about 100 feet in the air, a tall, ominous chain-link fence was erected, forcing visitors to view it from approximately 150 feet away.

This may not be what the ancient Greeks had in mind. Zeus was ticked off enough when Prometheus stole fire from his lightning. This must have him pacing in his cloud.

“You come all this way to see the Olympic flame … ,” Olympics visitor Chris Miley said in an article on the Voice of America News Web site. “… It looks something like you’d see when the iron curtain was up or something.”

Nothing says Olympic Spirit more than references to the Iron Curtain.

Fortunately, there are visitors like Anne Lieke who refused to play the Iron Curtain card. “It feels like I’m in a zoo … I think they could have done a better job,” she was quoted in the same Voice of America News article.

Thankfully, organizers heard the voices of the people and finally did do a better job. They moved a portion of the fence closer to the cauldron and created what amounts to an 8-inch opening for people to stick their cameras through for pictures.

Well done, Canada!

The fence stays, no one gets near the cauldron. Remember, we’re not talking about the athletes’ village. This is a huge steel and glass structure with fire on top. How about round-the-clock surveillance by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? A man in a uniform on a horse makes a statement.

Where’s Dudley Do-Right when you need him?

This Sunday Canada hoped to be playing the role of the speech Sally Field made when winning the Academy Award for her role in the 1985 film “Places in the Heart”: “… I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me!”

“Some Like It Hot’s” “Well, nobody’s perfect ...” seems a better fit.

Christopher Gabriel is host of “The Christopher Gabriel Program” from 9 a.m. to noon weekdays on AM 970 WDAY. Read his blog at http://cgabriel.com and preview his show at www.areavoices.com/cgabriel