Gold medal opinion

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

Skeleton coach Duff Gibson is an Olympic gold medallist with a rather unusual message for these pre-Vancouver times: sportsmanship matters.

So let's not hog the venues.

Why not? Because winning is more meaningful when you know your opponent is at their best. That's why, amid all the hue and cry about Canada restricting other countries' chances to get familiar with the 2010 Olympic competition sites, Gibson doesn't want our team to win at all costs.

Nearly four years after winning the 2006 Olympic gold medal in skeleton, Gibson has started a blog -- Sport At Its Best (http://sportatitsbest.com/) -- reminding fans there's more to be gained at the Games than a victory.

"The purpose of the blog is to provide an alternative," said Gibson. "There are a lot of conflicting messages out there. Second is the first loser, and that sort of thing."

Gibson's pretty gracious in his views, considering he knows what it's like to be on the wrong end of home-track advantage. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, he overheard an American coach bragging about intentionally assigning practice times for foreign teams after dark, to throw them off, as races were scheduled during the day. The Yanks won a ton of sliding sports medals at those Games.

"How sad was that, that he actually thought that was impressive or cutting edge, the strategy he'd taken," said Gibson. "I can't pretend that that didn't make me upset."

By the time Gibson went to his second Olympics, in 2006 in Turin, he had won two world championship medals and the Italian slider wasn't a medal contender, so Gibson was able to win despite having had less access to the track than the locals.

Gibson, now a firefighter and coach of the national B team, makes it clear he isn't criticizing the Canadian team policy of giving its athletes more time on the track than their competitors.

But he does want to promote the notion that sportsmanship matters just as much as medals, because it's only truly satisfying to win when you know it wasn't due to any disadvantage suffered by your opponent.

Reached on the phone in Germany, Gibson acknowledged the irony in the fact that it's mainly because he himself has an Olympic gold medal that people listen to his views on the topic.

"There are athletes out there that have just been so successful that I can't believe that their motivation is to win yet another medal," said Gibson. "It has to be something else and I believe it's the challenge.

"Maybe that's difficult to understand until you've won dozens of medals and trophies and you end up just filing them away somewhere, before you realize you're not doing it for a piece of metal or some kind of prize. It's more of an internal struggle, it's you challenging yourself."

On his blog, Gibson recounts his admiration for Swiss skeleton legend Gregor Staehli, wondering what motivates Staehli to stay in the sport after winning eight world and two Olympic medals. Gibson is convinced that many top athletes are guided by good values and great sportsmanship, and that this outlook often contributes to their success.

"When Gregor Staehli wished you luck, he truly wanted you to have your best race," noted Gibson. "Then, if you did and he beat you, that meant something. The better the competitors are, the greater the challenge, and the greater the reward if you are able to ultimately succeed."

Gibson is right, of course. It's not an overly popular viewpoint among those wanting Canada to own the podium in 2010, but it's the healthiest one. His thoughts will make for interesting reading this season for those wanting a break from the medal counts.

alison_korn@hotmail.com


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