Fri, September 20, 2013

Bummer Olympics: Let's just focus on winter sports

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


You want to boost national pride? Steve Buffery says Canada must focus on winter sports -- like freestyle skiing, in which Alexandre Bilodeau won gold at the Vancouver Games. (Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY)


LONDON - Days after millions of Canadians spilled out on the streets in a massive celebration of Rosannagh MacLennan’s gold medal in trampoline (didn’t they?), you’re sitting there wondering, ‘Where the hell are the rest of our gold medals?”

Well, I’ve got bad news.

There’s a great chance there won’t be any more gold medals. Canada’s last best chance to stand on top of the podium crashed and burned with Catharine Pendrel’s ninth-place showing in women’s mountain biking Saturday. Canada will likely finish these Games with the fewest gold medals since the Montreal Olympics in 1976, when we didn’t win any.

Now, before you get all worked up and call your local MP or the newspapers to demand an explanation as to why your hard-earned tax dollars have gone to a bunch of dead-beat athletes, take a deep breath and relax.

The truth is, despite what the mandarins at the Canadian Olympic Committee say, Canada will never be a major power in summer Olympic sports. Think about it. We have a population of 35 million, which ranks something like 35th overall in world, and, more importantly, many of our best athletes, perhaps most of our best athletes, participate in winter sports.

We’re a winter sport nation, plain and simple.

Remember Vancouver? Setting the record for most gold medals at a Winter Olympics by a host country? That’s us.

People always look to Australia as an example of how a country without a huge population can shine at Olympic Games, and how we should be more like the Aussies (minus the brashness and dingo bashing). Well that’s fine. But Australians don’t play ice hockey or alpine ski, or speed skate, or any of those other winter sports in great numbers. And neither does Brazil or Romania or Spain, or almost every nation on Earth. Only a handful of nations go crazy over winter sports like we do. And by the way, all those nations I just mentioned, other than Australia, have fewer medals than Canada here in London as of Saturday evening (though Canada trails on the medal table, based on the way the International Olympic Committee tabulates its medal ranking).

Sure there have been some disappointments here by some Canadian athletes who had a shot to win a gold. Pendrel, Adam van Koeverden and Dylan Armstrong were decent bets to win. But nobody said they were slam dunks, like Usain Bolt in the 100-metre sprint or the Chinese in table tennis.

Truth of the matter is, for the size of our country, for the amount of money we spend, and the fact that we’re a winter sport country, we’re destined to land out of the top group in the medal formula, and no amount of hand-wringing or angry e-mails is going to change that.

While most sports powers spend money on track and field and swimming and boxing, much of the cash our federal government earmarks for amateur sport goes to winter sports, especially ice hockey.

(And I say ‘ice hockey’ because over here ‘hockey’ is field hockey).

The way I see it, unless the feds start spending more money on amateur sport (Own the Podium is nice, but it pales in comparison to what Great Britain, for instance, spent leading up to these Games), I would suggest that the drop in gold medals here from Beijing in 2008 and Athens in 2004 will become a trend that will continue in Rio in 2016.

The Chinese are spending more and more every year on sport, third-world nations are sending more female athletes to the Games, the Russians plan to rev up their sport engine. It all adds up to this: Canada will always be hard-pressed to win gold medals at Summer Olympics.

And if you expect something different, give your head a shake.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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