Monday, February 22, 2010

Own the Podium Has Only Just Begun

Own the Podium. Outrageous arrogance, pie in the sky, a waste of money: these are the criticisms levelled at the five-year-old program. One could say though that the biggest criticism is that it didn't start soon enough. It takes a long time to build up a winning team. An athlete, no matter how talented, cannot win a gold unless they have had the opportunity to train many, many hours with coaches who can teach them the latest techniques and teams who can supply them with cutting-edge equipment. Own the Podium was the first, organized attempt to do just that in Canada. But five years is an awfully short time to achieve results, despite what the Canadian Olympic Committee said (which I always thought was more about getting the athletes to aim high than actually being first). Yet they have.

I don't know about others, but what I notice the most about our medal standings is how many golds we have relative to silvers and bronze. Usually when Canadians win medals in the Olympics, it's bronze, maybe silver, the very occasional gold. Unusually, golds are dominating in these Vancouver 2010 Games. With Kristina Groves' silver in the 1500m long-track speedskating race last night, silvers have pulled even with golds. Still, unbelievably, bronze are in the minority.

The other thing I've noticed is that the cross-country men's team is actually in the top ten. That's...holy crap...shocking. These guys usually are happy to be in the 30s. Even more unbelievably, we have a man in the biathlon. I don't know if we ever have before, but if we did, he or hes never got into a race worth mentioning. These men in the cross-country sports have finally joined our women in being competitive. Also, for the second Olympics in a row, we have a ski jumper, Ken Read's nephew, who got past the qualification round, and unbelievably our team came in 12th.

Everyone is upset about the alpine team, but really after the best members of Canada's team were injured, anyone who thought we could get a medal was being a bit optimistic. Also, going from memory, the men don't seem to come through in the Olympics anyway. It's the women who do. So nothing much has changed there.

Some have cynically said, oh there go the Canadians, choking again. Except for the obvious suspect, they haven't choked. Fear is not their issue. What's happened is that Canadians are taking the big risks to win the big medal and have failed. That to me is not choking, that's succeeding. Seems a bit strange I know that failure is success, but when our athletes are now confident enough, feel well trained enough, are courageous enough to take the big risk -- go gold or go home -- then that's a change in thinking this entire country needs. If Prime Minister Stephen Harper had some of that moxie, we wouldn't be hanging about waiting for the US to get a climate change plan going before we dare do anything; we'd be funding, stimulating, encouraging the green economy, the businesses that would become the suppliers to the world of non-CO2-emitting innovations, as well as digital innovations, as well as creative innovations (and I'd start with ensuring Canadian movies can be shown in Canadian theatres). But I digress.

If Own the Podium had started even when Vancouver got the games, we might be doing a smidgen better, for the program is too young to have completely changed our results by these Games. (Plus competing at home I bet presents its special challenges.) It is surprising how much we've achieved in only 5 years. But I think that as long as we continue to fund Own the Podium, not give up early and go home like some pouty 2-year-old, we'll see more results at the next Winter Olympics and consistent results by the ones following as the next generation of athletes are able to take full advantage of this program for their entire training career, which folks is a decade from now. Think about it: Virtue and Moir, our ice dance team, are only 20 and 22, but they've been training together for 13 years. Over a decade. Over a decade from 2005 is when we can truly assess how well Own the Podium works. Until then, stop whining, and start celebrating how we're already making inroads in sports we don't usually appear in and winning more golds than bronze, for once.

2 comments:

Marg said...

I love what you said! and totally agree those cross country guys that came in fourth were awesome-imagine them in 4 or eight years!

and Gold is a very nice colour :D

talk talk talk / Shireen said...

Thanks Marg! I know, it's exciting thinking of what's to come in our "other" winter sports.

I like the colour Gold too. :)