Keep the spirit of the Olympics burning

ALISON KORN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:03 AM ET

I’ll take the Olympics over the hockey playoffs any day, thank you very much. Can we please go back to Vancouver?

As speed skater Kristina Groves calls it, the “fading spotlight” on amateur athletes is deflating, even as many of them are now making the rounds doing school visits, because at least the kids still care.

“I don’t have anything against pro sport,” said Groves, who won silver and bronze medals in Vancouver. “I recognize that there’s a market for it and people love watching it and it’s a huge business. I’m hopeful that because of the success of the Games, we [Olympians] can still remain relevant.”

Well, Olympians are still relevant to me, but most everyone else has moved on to pro salaries, trades, injuries and surgeries. Ugh.

Hockey playoffs that drag on for two months, compared to a hair-raising, 23-second mogul run for Olympic gold. Really, what’s more exciting?

“It’s not like we get a second day tomorrow,” said moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, the morning after he became the first Canadian to win gold on home soil in February. “We don’t have a second event. It’s today, it’s not tomorrow.”

We suspect Bilodeau was too tactful to say it, but Olympic athletes know in their bones that their Games are more demanding and compelling than so many pro sports. Am I right?

For one thing, the stakes are higher. Olympians have their big show just once every four years, with many medal events lasting just a few scary minutes, compared to certain playoffs that come around Every. Single. Spring. Sigh.

Never mind the pro salaries and attitudes (of some). If amateur athletes ever tried a lockout or strike, the reaction would be a great big “Hmmm.”

As it is, the 2010 Canadian Olympic medallists are due to pocket their historic medal bonuses next Friday, April 23, after a public noon-hour parade in Montreal that — let’s hope — has the potential to be on the scale of a Stanley Cup celebration. It should.

That evening, at the 2010 Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame gala, the Canadian Olympic Committee will distribute a record $1.7 million to 2010 Olympic medallists. That’s $20,000 per athlete for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze. Expect to hear major gratitude from the athletes — and then half of them will donate their sudden riches to Right To Play, despite not having much material wealth of their own.

It’s awkward — we know too much attention for an athlete can be stressful and intrusive. But the sort of here today, gone tomorrow treatment that Groves talks about seems somehow worse. She’s only hoping people’s memories of Vancouver will last, even though Sidney Crosby’s no longer competing in the Team Canada jersey.

“That’s the sad part, it’s this huge party for two weeks and now it’s over,” said Groves, on the phone from Calgary. “Every day, I get probably two or three invitations … I feel like other [athletes] out there must be getting requests until the end of time. People are still keen and they want to have us out there.”

In the last couple of weeks, Groves has spoken to more than 3,000 students. Her mailbox is still overflowing with letters and cards from kids across Canada. She knows it will take time for Canada to absorb the legacy of Vancouver, but cautions that if we wait too long we’ll be back at square one.

“I’ve seen first-hand what this connection can do for [kids], and it is worth every penny,” wrote Groves on her blog. “I just hope we don’t let that connection get lost.”

alison_korn@hotmail.com


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