The only thing more predictable than Canada’s slow start at the Summer Games, is the hand-wringing reaction back home. Once every four years, Canadians sit down in front of their TVs with a beer and a bag of chips, and wonder why their athletes aren’t topping the podium. The “Why do We Suck?” stories start popping up in the papers, and so do the tables comparing our medal showing to say, the Marshall Islands, or maybe just Michael Phelps.
So, let’s inject a little dose of perspective. Canada will win medals—soon. And by this weekend, when the rowing golds get handed out, the tenor of the coverage will change 180 degrees, to an Olympic love in. ‘Twas ever thus.
This morning in Beijing, Mike Brown missed the podium by 9/100ths of a second. If he had swam his time from the semis on Wed night, he would have won silver. The difference between his two swims? Two tenths of a second. Less than the blink of an eye. The complaining coach potatoes back home, can’t even change the channel that fast.
Expectations for Beijing are modest, and probably realistic. In Athens, Canada won just 12 medals, including three golds, from Kyle Shewfelt in gymnastics, Lori-Ann Muenzer in track cycling, and Adam van Koeverden in kayak. The Canadian Olympic Committee won’t say exactly how many they are shooting for this time, but their stated goal of a 16th overall finish, should put them around the 14 or 15 medal mark.
And the bigger point, is that you get what you pay for. Want to start competing with the US, China, or even Great Britain or Australia. Then we better start funding like them. The new “Road to Excellence” funding, announced in the last federal budget—$24 million over the next two years, then $24 million annually after that—arrived too late for these Games, despite years of lobbying by athletes and the COC. The similar “Own the Podium” money targeted at Winter sports in the lead up to the Vancouver 2010 Games, is already paying dividends. But if Canadians really are demanding a breakthrough at London 2012, it will take even more money.
In the meantime, progress is being made. Swimming Canada, which revamped its program after the disaster that was Athens, hiring go-getter CEO and head coach Pierre Lafontaine, is offering hope, if not medals in the pool. So far, Canadian swimmers have made 7 finals, broken 21 national records and delivered 28 personal bests. Compare that to 2004 where they made 3 finals, broke 4 records, and only two swimmers swam their fastest ever times
Let’s give the final word to Brown:
“That’s about as frustrating as it gets. Fourth place is the worst spot you can get, especially at the Olympic Games,” he told us as he left the pool this morning, still smiling after what was both the greatest and worst moment of his sporting career. “Obviously, I would have loved to have the medal. The first medal for Canada would have been awesome to have. I couldn’t pull through but that doesn’t mean that one won’t happen soon.”
“We’re not done yet. We’re a resilient team. We’re strong, we’re unified this time around, and we’re going for it. And I’m going to be in the stands screaming my head off for my other teammates, trying to get them going.”