Mon, September 23, 2013

Athletes facing opening ceremony dilemma

By ALAIN BERGERON, QMI Agency


The Olympic Stadium at the Olympic Park in London, taken on July 25, 2012 on the eve of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. (AFP)


LONDON - It’s a few hours to go before the opening ceremony and athletes both pro and con have run out of arguments.

Now, they will have to rely on common sense when deciding whether to take part.

“You bet we’ll be there. It’s part of the Games magic. We’re like children entering a candy store,” Annie Martin and Marie-Andree Lessard answer in unison.

The beach volleyballers concede that since their first match is scheduled for Sunday evening, they can afford to stand for two-and-a-half-hours before Canada enters the Olympic Stadium during the parade of nations.

It will be 10:30 p.m. local time when flag-bearer Simon Whitfield leads the Canadian procession into the stadium, with plenty more hours to go before bedtime.

Diver Jennifer Abel and her partner, Emilie Heymans, decided not to attend the opening ceremony.

“Our first competition (three-metre synchronized diving) is on Sunday and we won’t leave anything to chance. I’m young and I can deal with tiredness, but I would never forgive myself for putting our work into jeopardy,” Abel said.

The issue has sparked debates in the media the last few days. It might offend Queen and country, but half of the 541 British athletes have announced that they would watch the fireworks on TV. Half of Australia’s 410-strong delegation will do the same. The ceremony is too long, too many hours are taken away from sleep and preparation.

Most competitions will start this weekend and some will hand out the first medals of the Games.

Of course, American swimmers -- and rivals -- Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte could create the Games’ first surprise by walking together and saluting the 62,000 spectators.

“The ceremony is long and emotionally draining. Athletes need time to come back from that high. We decided, as a team, that none of our swimmers would attend. Our strength comes from supporting each other,” Canadian swimming coach Pierre Lafontaine said.

A day before this $42.6-million show, the Canadian Olympic Committee is waiting for “internal” feedback regarding which of its 277 athletes and 93 coaches choose to participate in the ceremony. Much to COC president Marcel Aubut’s annoyance, the nay-sayers will probably rally as big a share of the Canadians as it did other delegations.

“We do talk about it,” deputy delegation head Sylvie Bernier conceded.

“However, it is not up to me to decide with an athlete if they’re going or not. It’s a personal decision. When you manage to go to the Olympic Games, after 10, 15, 20 years of training, every detail counts. Athletes know why they are here.” Absentees may then be in the right. Will they regret their decision when the show begins?

“No, I will not regret it because I do this for good reasons,” Abel said.

“It’s not that bad, I’ll attend the closing ceremony.”