It’s a Summer Olympic tradition in Canada. Every four years, we watch hopefully but are ultimately disappointed as the Canadian team earns relatively few medals compared with other countries our size. What follows is much soul-searching in the media and a call for the federal government to invest more in our amateur athletes.
This year, the calls are growing to a frenzied pitch. I heard this morning that Canada’s men’s eights rowing team — as close to a guaranteed gold medal as we have at these Games — finished a disastrous fifth in the event. Their coach said he’s never seen them row so poorly, not even in training. Aside from cementing our reputation as better spectators than competitors, this will certainly bring out the cries of “What’s wrong?” and increase demands that the feds do something about Our Olympic Disappointment. Of course, the complaints will only be worsened by the fact that Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympics in six short years (despite Summer and Winter Olympics being completely different animals).
I’d like to suggest a bit of caution before our legislators go overboard with their funding of summer athletics, for a few reasons:
1) Canada is the land of ice and snow, not sand and surf, so it should be no surprise we don’t excel at the Summer Games. You don’t see Norway getting uptight about poor Summer Olympic showings, do you? By the time the Vancouver Olympics roll around we’ll be just fine in the medal race, as usual in the Winter Games.
2) The level of competition at the Olympics is incredibly high. When athletes such as swimmers Rick Say or Mike Brown set personal bests and even Canadian records, and don’t get so much as a sniff of a medal, you know we’re well behind other countries in these areas. In most cases these Canadian athletes are giving it all they’ve got, and a greater investment in training would not change the fact that other countries with larger populations to draw from and more historical ties to summer sports will beat us.
3) Undoubtedly, we have lots more pressing things to spend our tax dollars on. Before investments in athletics, we need to make sure we’re properly funding health care, public transit and infrastructure.
As you watch the Olympics, by all means cheer on the Canadian athletes, but I hope at the end of the Games you’ll join me in embracing our role as lovable losers.