Thursday, February 16, 2006


You know what gets my goat? People blathering about our sickly, suckly medal total at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.
But before I get into that, you know what almost gets my goat, before I grab it by the horns and snatch it back at the last second? People who insist on saying these games are coming to us from Torino. The CBC, injecting a little snobbery into its should-have-been-privatized-long-ago coverage, is among the worst offenders.
Look, I know the place is called Italian. But I speak English, damnit. I know of no Shroud of Torino. Spielberg does not have a Oscar-nominated movie entitled Munchen, with or without the umlaut. In 1968, the Games was held in Mexico City--only if you lived near there did you bother calling it Ciudad de Mexico.
So, are we agreed? Turin.

Now, if you check the medal standings as of this writing, you find Norway leading, followed by Russia, Germany, the United States, and...hey, there we are! Canada, eight medals. Not too shabby, says I, although many people disagree. I've heard a lot of kvetching about how we should have at least eleven by now. Quite a few persons of my acquaintance seem to be upset not at the quantity of medals we've won, but their colours. To some, it seems, anything less than gold is simply unacceptable.

I have to admit, I used to think like this, a bit. I mean, there's only so much CBC you can watch before you've convinced yourself that "Personal Best" is Canuck for "Gold Medal". And yes, it is undeniably frustrating when athletes who are expected to win gold medals instead go arse over tip four strides into the race.
But let's just look at that last sentence there a second, eh? Athletes who are expected to win gold medals. What a monstrous burden that's got to be to carry around, and how very un-Canadian! Aren't we the country that stares down our snoots at those damn Yankee bastards with their U! S! A! U! S! A!? Aren't we the folks who look at all that national pride emanating from the south and recoil, as if from a bad fart? So why, I ask, do we saddle our athletes with such lofty expectations?
Not to mention we think we can train our athletes on a Bluenose dime. You can't train people in a vacuum and expect them not to suck...

But it's the Winter Games! Winter! Canada! Synonyms!

Only in our own beery minds. Let's bring out Richard Dawson and play the Feud here for a minute. "Top seven answers on the board. We asked one hundred entirely imaginary people who were not from North America to...NAME A COUNTRY ASSOCIATED WITH WINTER."
"Yes? Beuller? (He's German, nicht wahr?)
"Ack! Vas ist der Vaterland?"
"Wait a sec, there, Beuller, this ain't Jeopardy! But survey says..."
Mama Bueller, remembering Stalin, shouts out Russia!
And the Buellers win the shooting match. There's much kissing and hugging and--yech, why do they all find Dawson so sexy, anyway? The board flips over to reveal Norway, Austria, Sweden, Finland and Iceland. Iceland, hey, gotta dig it, they named their country after winter. Canada? Oh, yeah, that place. Not on ze list, folks. Truth be told, we're not on too many lists, anymore. It was almost flattering when Osama named us as a target. Aww, how cute, he remembered us.

1988 marked a turning point for Canadian success at the Winter Games. It can't be mere co-incidence that we hosted the world that year and spent a mint building new training and performance facilities. Granted, we only won five medals at our own Games, but our share of the medal haul has increased in every Winter Games since:

1992 -- Albertville -- 7
1994 -- Lillehammer -- 13
1998 -- Nagano -- 15
2002 -- Salt Lake City -- 17
2006 -- Turin -- ???

With a renewed commitment to funding and an eye to being among the leaders when we host the Games in Vancouver in 2010, I think it's fair to say that even if we slip a little, we're on the right track. Here we are, halfway through the Olympics, and we have more medals than we managed in any TWO Olympiads from 1948 through 1988 COMBINED. I think that's pretty damned good.

I have a cousin who was an Olympian. Women's Field Hockey, Barcelona, 1992. That team finished seventh out of eight teams at the Games. But what that little stat neglects to tell you is that they had to qualify just to play in the bloody Games. I'm very proud of her, just as I am of all our Olympians, past, present and future. Whether they win a medal, or not, ALL our athletes are golden.


jeopardygirl said...

Ken, look into a program called On The Podium. It's pumping new funding into the science of athletics, not just training and facilities. It's learning all kinds of things about equipment, materials, anatomy and aerodynamics, among other things.

Ken Breadner said...

See? My point exactly. Put money in, get medals out. It's just too simple...

jeopardygirl said...

But it's not simple at all. Funding is only one issue. It's not like they're just giving the athletes more money to train, they're researching how to improve from a total perspective.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that many countries like the U.S., Russia, even Germany have larger populations to draw from. And considering the relatively low funding given to developing atheletes, I'd say our folks are doing damned well!