Mon, September 23, 2013

Chef's bold Olympic mission

By Randy Sportak, QMI Agency


Mark Tewksbury. (Jim Wells/QMI Agency)


CALGARY - Owning the podium at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games was a huge source of pride for Canadians from coast to coast.

Nobody can expect that same success at the coming 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England. But Mark Tewksbury, the 1992 gold medallist and chef de mission for the coming Games, has sky-high hopes for the nation’s athletes.

Tewksbury, speaking Saturday at the Talisman Centre when the national synchronized swimming team unveiled its uniforms and music for the Games which start July 27, stated boldly the goal in England is a top-12 placing.

“It is ambitious. It is not going to be easy. Excellence never is,” Tewksbury said. “But we’ve got to set something that’s a big, ambitious goal for the team to strive for.”

The last time Canada finished the top dozen in the medal standings was at the 1992 Summer Games in which Tewksbury won gold in the 100-metre backstroke, one of 18 medals won by the nation’s athletes to finish 11th in the world.

Canada won 18 medals at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing — three gold, nine silver and six bronze — to place 19th in the world.

But Tewksbury said the lesson from the first-place finish at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver was polite Canadians can also be the best, part of the push of the Own the Podium initiative.

“It takes some time to make its way through the sports system, but what we’re seeing is it’s made its way through,” Tewksbury said. “It’s not like we’re any less respectful or any less polite. I think we believe we have had every opportunity to be the best in the world or be competitive against the best in the world, because the funding has been there and it’s been targeted.

“The summer athletes — they are Canadians — and I think they took from Vancouver is what every other Canadian took: ‘Wow, I’m so inspired by the performance of that team, and I want to do it myself.’ I get the feeling from the team they feel terrific.”

Tewksbury may be putting extra pressure on the athletes he’ll be leading, but his enthusiasm is just as big as his belief.

After all, he is fully embracing his role as chef de mission, knowing full well he has to be a cheerleader, sounding board, and face of the team but also must step aside when the time comes. Plus, being a gold medallist, he has a certain level of credibility.

Thus, his admitted push for a successful Games, believing our athletes can build on the success in Vancouver.

“One huge lesson (from 2010) is the power of team,” Tewksbury said. “Vancouver was the best staged Canadian team ever, which actually came together and was unified. Whatever the spirit was, it was the spirit of a team.

“It was the first time I’ve ever heard athletes, right from Jenn Heil on Day 1 saying, ‘Tomorrow, I’m going to watch so and so.’ That carried through. We’re really trying to replicate that with the summer team.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak