January 15, 2010
Gold or bust mentality
By ALISON KORN, QMI AGENCY
What matters more -- a country's overall medal count, or the number of golds it wins?
Funny you should ask: Canada tallies success one way, and the International Olympic Committee favours the other. Leading up the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Canadian Olympic Committee's stated goal is to win the most medals overall. Not the most gold, but the most gold, silver and bronze altogether.
It's a philosophical difference that stems from Canada's humble past, particularly in summer sport, where we typically win only a handful of gold medals at any given Olympics ... making us pitifully grateful for medals of any colour to add to the tally.
"Historically, the problem was the system," said Chris Rudge, the chief executive officer of the COC. "We were too comfortable with sending nice people to the Games who were giving their best effort, but there's no reason you can't combine that with winning. The two aren't mutually exclusive."
Of course they aren't, as recent years have shown, with winning becoming more the norm for Canadian athletes. After Canada won the right to host the 2010 Olympics, a $110-million commitment to the Own The Podium program led to a breakthrough at the 2006 Turin Olympics. There, Canada achieved its best-ever winter Olympic performance, achieving its goal of placing third overall in the medal count with 24 medals: seven gold, 10 silver and seven bronze.
Mind you, if we sorted the Turin rankings by total gold medals won -- as the IOC does -- Canada would rank fifth behind Germany, the U.S., Austria and Russia. Is that the more honest way of looking at things? Yes it is, according to one steamed reader, who e-mailed me with a plea to adjust our yardstick.
"Let's stop the false hope that winning silver or bronze is just as good as winning gold," wrote Andy Schipper of Toronto. "Canada is now more committed than ever with talk and money to doing well. Let's give our athletes more credit than that!"
Schipper suggested that the Canadian focus on the overall medal tally is a trick, "to help us make ourselves think we are doing better than we really are."
Indeed, now that Canada has become a winter-sport powerhouse -- leading all nations in total world championship medals in Olympic events last season -- it may be time to shift our barometer of success to ranking ourselves among nations by gold medals only. Rudge, who will leave the COC after the Vancouver Olympics, said that paradigm shift will be for the next generation of sport leadership to wrangle with.
"I'm sure our board will sit around and say, 'Is it time to segue over to the gold medal as our standard?' I'm sure there will be heated discussion around it," Rudge said. "I would never, in my own mind, exclude the silver and bronze concept."
It's a movement that's already taken off, actually. There is a vibe now among the top sports that Canadians are capable of winning and shouldn't be content at merely placing in the top three.
I have to wonder, though. As the owner of Olympic silver and bronze medals myself, this gold-only movement moves me in to the category of the prehistoric athlete: someone purely happy that our crew rowed an excellent race, regardless of outcome.
And most gold medallists, if they're honest, feel the same way: winning is super for the country, but at the top end it's personal excellence, the daily quest for perfection and improvement and love for what they do that are their prime motivators.
And if your best happens to be the world's best, then you get counted.