Bet has Obama spokesman donning Canada's colours

The Canadian Press

3/12/2010 3:36:59 PM

WASHINGTON -- Welcome to the Red and White House.

U.S. press secretary Robert Gibbs wore Team Canada's colours to kick off Friday's daily briefing after losing a double-or-nothing Olympic bet to Canadian counterpart Dimitri Soudas, spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

"This is not my usual attire," Gibbs quipped as he emerged to take the podium, resplendent in the familiar red-and-white hockey jersey that became such a staple for Canadian fans during the Winter Games.

"It's casual Friday."

Gibbs first lost to Soudas when Canada defeated the U.S. in last month's Olympic women's hockey final; he had to wear the jersey during an off-camera meeting with reporters.

The stakes were higher when the Canadian men beat the Americans a few days later, forcing Gibbs to wear it again -- this time in front of a litany of television cameras during one of the world's most closely watched news conferences.

Canada claimed the men's gold medal in a 3-2 overtime thriller against the U.S. The medal -- Canada's 14th top-tier podium finish, a new Winter Olympic record and the most ever for a host nation -- touched off wave of national euphoria that has only just begun to fade.

The U.S. finished at the top of the overall medal count, with 37. Germany had 30 and Canada 26.

The jersey, adorned with Gibbs's name and the number 39 in honour of U.S. netminder Ryan Miller, was sent to the White House last week by the prime minister's office.

After about five minutes, Gibbs doffed the Canadian colours, revealing -- to the delight of the cheering American journalists in the room -- a U.S. hockey jersey underneath.

"What else are you going to take off?" one reporter asked.

Harper and Barack Obama also had a wager on the game, and as a result the U.S. president owes the prime minister a case of Molson Canadian beer.

Gibbs said the U.S. Embassy in Ottawa has been instructed to deliver to Harper one case of Canadian and also, as a bonus, a case of Yuengling, the Pennsylvania brew the prime minister was to buy for Obama in the event of a U.S. win.

"I am sure Dimitri will take most of that home and consume it," Gibbs joked.

Soudas issued a statement during the news conference singing the praises of Canada's men's and women's hockey teams, noting that Harper was "thrilled to be in the stands" for both gold-medal games.

"We're both proud of our respective countries and our athletes, hence the friendly wagers," Soudas said.

"Good friends can make a bet for beers, or to wear each other's jerseys. That said, it's always a smart idea to bet on Canada."

The news conference quickly got down to business after the initial hijinks as Gibbs took tough questions about health care and Israel.