Posted by: Adam Ulrich | February 23, 2010

Long Road Ahead

Seven years ago in a conference centre in the beautiful city of Prague, the International Olympic Committee awarded the games of the twenty-first Olympiad to the city of Vancouver (and Whistler). Three years later, the Canadian government announced the creation of the Own the Podium program, which they thought would ensure that Canadian athletes would be standing at the top of the podium in terms of medals in Vancouver. We are now five days away from the closing ceremonies of these winter games, and Canada currently sits in fifth place. Just yesterday, I read reports that COC (not the opera company that is based in Toronto) changed their tune saying that. “We are going to be short of our goal,” Mr. Rudge, the President of the COC, said. “I readily admit that …Where are we going to finish at this time? Probably we’ll be in a tough fight with the Germans for second or third.” Somehow, I think maybe we might even finish lower than that. At the same time, VANOC and COC officials are hoping for a medal windfall during the latter part of this week. And so far they might be correct in their aspirations.

Just last night I once again gathered in front of a TV screen watching the Ice Dancing competition where the Canadian pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were leading by 2.6 points over their rivals in competition, training mates and close friends in life–the American duo of Meryl White and Charlie Davis. Initially I thought they were going to stake to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 (as only the Symphony No. 5 was revealed by the commentators), but was blown out of the water when they chose to skate to Mahler’s own Symphony No. 5. The movement was his famous Adagietto (Movement IV), and the level of passion that Virtue and Moir displayed on the ice was enough to take my breath away. A lot of the other performances that night featured darkness in the form of that Requiem for a Dream. With three different duos skating to that tune, I became irritated at their lack of originality in terms of song choice. They truly delivered that night and deserved that Gold medal–won apparently not just for Canadians but for all North Americans as it was hammered away from the commentators. In my opinion, this was CANADA’s first Ice Dancing gold. When North America becomes one country, that is when I will consider this win to be a continental prize.

Virtue and Moir were expected to win gold, after standing tall at Canadian and international championships for their consistent strive for pushing the bar in their sport. I quote an online report by the CBC here that shows the level of athleticism that this pair has: “They possess artistic prowess and the technical skill to execute precise, risky manoeuvres such as their signature move, the ‘Goose,’ a hands-free lift where Virtue balances her bent knee on Moir’s back, placing her skate on his thigh, as he glides sideways.” Their scores–the second highest in the sport–prove that they are definitely a duo that has it all. Congratulations Tessa and Scott!

Tessa and Scott were considered to be a strong medal threat for the podium, and they are one of the few Canadians who have been predicted to win a medal at these games and win. And yet–despite the fact that there are some Canadians who have been disappointed in the amount of medals that we have won on home soil, so far eleven in total (6 Gold, 4 Silver, and the one Bronze), compared to that of Torino four years ago when we won 24 (7 Gold, 10 silver, 7  bronze) I think they fail to realize that SIX of our eleven medals are Gold. The Americans have seven Gold (so far). That is an impressive accomplishment for the team. Truly one is the loneliest number for the bronze.  And despite the frustration of seeing so many fourth, fifth, and six place finishes by Canadians, we have a higher level of top-10 places in these Games than any before. This will set us up nicely for Sochi we can actually Own the Podium and pour money into training these athletes as to compete to their very best.

Certainly, the media hype surrounding the games have been  over hyped, from that “I Believe” song to that announcer on CTV who says ¨Four years ago, Manuel Osbourne-Paradis is at the top of his game. Now skiers are competing on his mountain, one that he knows like the back of his hand. See his quest for GOLD.¨ All of these hopefuls have been people who are well-known within Canada. Many of the medallists are people who were not considered medal finishers. I am talking of course of the Bilodeau’s, Montgomery’s, Ricker’s and McIvor’s of the Olympic team. People who came from behind to wind up with a medal around their necks.

Or take the story of someone like Melissa Hollingsworth, who once again was expected to win gold, but made two small, minuscule mistakes on the sliding track that caused her to end up in fifth place. As soon as the cameras were trained upon her, she broke down saying ¨I feel like I have let my whole country down.¨ The next day at her press conference, she broke down yet again, apologizing for her mistake. But does she have anything to be sorry for? I do not know why she had to feel as if she lost something by the loss. Canadians will acknowledge the wins and the losses (except maybe for hockey–our self-described national sport–where nothing less than gold will cause the entire country to go into mourning), and will celebrate regardless. I just find it a little insane that every four years we have to place all of this pressure on our athletes and expect those who have been at the top of their game to win yet again, especially after many of their events in the World Cup circuit do not attract that wide of an audience. And then suddenly they are at the start line, knowing that TV cameras are beaming their performance across six-time zones. It can make even those with the toughest skins slip-up in competition and make small mistakes.

And so we return back to the Own the Podium program. There are aspects that I am celebrating. There are aspects that I am disappointed in. I celebrate the fact that governments are realizing the importance of something like athleticism in the development of a country’s sense of nationalism, and in something like the Olympics this sense is heightened. But practical reasons like offering new centres for training, finding new coaches for athlete development, and just investing in new technologies so to level the playing field at the games so to speak. If the governments of the day not listened to the pleas of the COC to be at the top of the podium at these games and not given money for the program, we would not be investing in sport. New data that comes out every year saying we are becoming more sedentary and less active, it really inspires us to all strive for our goals.

What disappoints me is that the program was put into place only five years before the Olympics. The athletes of all the nations that we are trying to surpass in terms of medal count have the support of the nation. Just take a look at a recent example, China in 2008 initiated Project 119. According to Wikipedia: ”the number, 119, refers to the number of gold medals available in events that China is targeting. The total number of golds available in the targeted sports was 122 at the targeted 2008 Olympics, an increase of three.” And surprise, surprise, China did live up to the goal to win the most gold medals at those games (51), with a total medal haul of 100. Not surprisingly, the Americans were at the top–beating China by ten medals. Not too shabby at all. It was established–like everything in that country–with amazing speed and was put fully in place a year or two after the games were awarded to Beijing. Similar to Beijing, the British Olympic Committee has adopted a plan for their 2012 games.

Canada should not despair in the fact that it will probably end up with a lower amount of medals than our Olympic committee said we would. In fact, a new national survey reported recently that: ”84% of Canadians disagree that “if Canada fails to win the most medals of any nation or lead in the medal count, the Games will be a disappointment.” Canadians have been brought together first by a flame, then came the hope, then came the excitement, and now we are united a mari usque a mari ready to celebrate in our athletes’ triumphs, give them comfort when they place farther down than they could have imagined, and ready to sing with them on the podium.

The Olympics may end in five days from now under the marshmallowy dome of BC Place Stadium, but this is what I believe: our spirit and pride will not diminish. It will grow stronger, for truly I blog to you, we have nothing to be disappointed about. And slowly but surely, and with the support of the government and of everyday citizens–if we are willing to fund it and spend more tax dollars–the road to London, to Sochi, and to Rio will be paved with more gold, silver, and bronze.




  1. Please read this article! I found it on the CTV Olympics site!
    Just goes to show you the power of the Olympics!!

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