Fri, September 20, 2013

Not all Olympic medals are created equal

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Canada's Rosannagh MacLennan deserves accolades for winning gold in women's trampoline -- but her medal is clearly not on par with Usain Bolt's 100-metre gold, Steve Simmons writes. (AFP)

LONDON - Rosie MacLennan walked into Canada House Monday night wearing a bright smile and a gold medal around her neck, a medal identical to the one that was presented to Usain Bolt at the Olympic Stadium just a few minutes later.

The medals look the same, feel the same, and that alone represents a certain sporting incongruity that is the Olympic Games. The prizes may be identical but the accomplishments rarely are. And trying to decipher the differences between sport, between medals, often comes down to nationality, personal beliefs, sporting preferences, and an Olympic competitive imbalance that renders some sports more meaningful than others, but there is no distinguishing between gold and gold.

That’s the inherent beauty of the Games. It’s very personal and national. It’s also just a little disquieting.

To get her medal, MacLennan had to be the best trampolinist in the world on her day. She was that, beating out 15 other women in her competition. That can’t ever be taken from her. But understanding just how stiff the trampoline competition is around the world is more guesswork than anything else: How many countries take this niche sport seriously? What is the depth of field, athlete wise?

A medal from the track can’t really be compared with a trampoline medal. Or as an old boxing coach once told me, not all Olympic medals are created equal.

For Bolt to win gold, he had to run the fastest 100 metres in Olympic history in the fastest Olympic race ever run. The accomplishment, on any scale, is monumental. He raced against sprinters from almost 50 countries, two medal contenders from his own country and three finalists from the USA, in a race in which the 7th place finisher would have been the Olympic champion in 21 other games.

Now MacLennan has gold and Bolt has gold.

The gap is wider or less credible in other sports, depending on the perspective you choose to view them from. This kind of argument can be purely personal. Canada has two bronze medals in synchronized diving and both medals are reasonably well deserved.

But stop for a moment and understand what the competition actually is: If you qualify for synchro diving at the Olympics, you immediately qualify for the final in an event that barely takes an hour in total. There are only eight pairs of divers in the event. Before you arrive at the Games, if you’re in synchro diving — or synchro swimming for that matter — you have a 37.5% of winning a medal. Three out of eight get medals.

If you watch the competition, at least one and often two of the eight pairs competing weren’t really contenders. So if you’re a synchro diver and you’re reasonably good at it, the odds may be you have a 50% shot at a medal before you even begin.

But the American Tyson Gay, historically the second fastest man in the world, ran his fastest time of the year and lost a medal by 1/100ths of a second in the 100 metres. It was little wonder his eyes were red from tears and words could only come from his mouth between sobs after finishing fourth.

Canadians Jennifer Abel and Emilie Heymans did five dives in less than an hour — weren’t successful on two of them — and have a bronze medal. Juan Martin Del Potro played a four-hour match against Roger Federer, bounced back to defeat Novak Djokovic, needed 12 hours on court at Wimbledon to earn his bronze medal. The same medal Abel and Heymans won in an hour.

Three of 64 males in the tennis draw won a medal. Three of eight synchro divers got medals. One of these things is not like the other.

Canada has won 10 medals at these Olympics and frankly some are better than others, some more meaningful, some in pursuits far more difficult to attain. Again, it’s a perspective thing. The greatest Canadian medal of the Games, colour aside, has been won by Ryan Cochrane. He earned silver in the 1,500-metre swim. That’s not meant to take away from what MacLennan did here. She won her event. It’s the event itself that doesn’t match others.

It’s just not swimming. Its just not as competitive. My view. Nobody else’s.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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