Monday, August 20, 2012

Are We There to Compete or Represent?

It seems that every Olympics, there is a debate on whether we should send athletes to the Olympics who are not potential medal hopes.

I recently read a news article comment from a reader that said that "we should weed out those who don't have a chance and focus and spend money on those with a chance".

I love this debate.  I think it's a fine line between wanting Olympic success and personal athletic success and this question always makes me think and re-evaluate my position.

I loved an article I just read in Sportsnet Magazine.  My initial plan had been to scan it and post it, until I remembered about copyright issues.  My favourite quotes in the article (written by Christie Blatchford) are:

"Olympic medals don't matter that much. We fall in love with the athletes winning and losing them."
"...because the inevitable medal-counting notwithstanding, it really is the pursuit of excellence that is the noble and compelling bit here, not merely its achievement."
"Sport is the great teacher. Its lessons are born in effort and failure. It gives short, sharp lessons on losing and winning."
"And in our country, for most athletes, the pay is awful, the hours appalling, the glory non-existent. They do it because they dare to put themselves out there to see if they're good enough.  If they are, they may, if they're also lucky, come home with a medal; if they aren't, they try again or move on. But at least they have the tremendous satisfaction of that knowledge, that they weren't afraid to try and fail."

I have written about this issue before which is perhaps the reason I was compelled to scan the article rather than write about it again. But I'm glad to have gone to re-read my past posts because I quite like the arguments and examples I share in them. I also love to see the transition of the posts from before the Own The Podium days to after Own The Podium.

On my personal blog (before I started my Olympic blog) I wrote a post entitled Olympics - Are We There To Win Or To Represent? You can read it here.  This was written just before the start of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Six days later, I would write a rebuttal to the news organizations' criticism of our lack of medals entitled Is Winning Everything? in August 2008 that you can read here (not my best writing, but there are some great examples in the post)

I would later perhaps contradict myself when I said the following in a post about my favourite moments of the 2008 Olympics:

"To add to the triathlon excitement, was to see Colin Jenkins finish the triathlon...jumping up and down like if he was the one who won a medal. What a great teammate. He was instrumental in Simon winning the medal (well, instrumental in ensuring he didn't lose it).
Actually Simon said something very interesting. The choice of Jenkins to the Olympic team was criticized in the media because he wasn't our 3rd fastest [Canadian]. He was chosen to help Simon in the first two legs (by staying near the front and keeping an eye on athletes who would make a charge and run away from the pack and letting Simon know). Then, at the Olympics, the media complains that Canada is not winning enough medals. So should we have sent 3 triathlon athletes to compete individually and none win a medal or should we have sent someone to help our best hope to win a medal?"

I loved that we sent a triathlon "team" to the 2008 Olympics, perhaps I am especially biased because I am such a Simon Whitfield fan but on the other hand I also feel for our third fastest triathlon competitor who should have been on the team, but was chosen to be left off the team. As I said earlier, it's a fine line.

After the Vancouver 2010 Olympics I wrote a blog post entitled "The Olympic Spirit".  You can read it here.

My final thought in 2010 was:
"The Olympics is not all about winning to me. There will only be one winner and three medallists. Every country should try to field their best team, and every athlete should try their's the Olympics not a popularity contest. That is what the Olympic spirit means to me."

Going back to the comment from the beginning of this post, if we had only sent the medal hopefuls in 2012, perhaps we wouldn't have sent Derek Drouin who won the bronze in the high jump or our women's soccer team after last year's World Cup performance.  We may not have sent Mark Oldershaw who had not won a previous medal on the world stage.  His reaction at the finish line when he won the bronze was one of my favourite moments.

In the past year I was following the Olympic qualifying events, and was fascinated to see the differences in sports.  For some sports it was a one day competition for the Olympic spot(s) while for other sports they looked at the season's performances.  Some athletes were nominated without needing to compete for their spot. It's heartbreaking to see athletes not qualify for the Olympics.  I can't imagine wanting to focus on a smaller group and therefore sending a smaller team in order to win more medals.  I loved watching National Championships and seeing dreams being made with athletes qualifying for London 2012 even if that meant that tears were shed for those whose dreams were shattered. I was more emotional watching these competitions than I was watching the Olympics.

Getting the chance to compete at the Olympics is a dream worth pursuing and worth being realized while at the same time as a team we should field our strongest team.  It's juggling those dreaming to be Olympians and those dreaming to be Olympic champions.  To me both dreams are worth funding and supporting.

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