Fri, September 20, 2013

Summer lovin:' We can be top-10

By ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency


The Canadian women's soccer team are an inspiration to young people in the country and that's a good reason why we should continue to put money into finding the podium at the Summer Olympics.


Yes, we are a nation of winter sports.

Yes, we are a hockey mad country, to a fault, many in amateur sports will try to convince you.

But does that mean we have to suck in the summer?

The Canadian Olympic Committee doesn’t think so, nor does Own The Podium, the money machine designed to groom world-class Olympians regardless of the season.

As the results over the past two weeks have shown, they’ve got some work to do.

At its closing press conference on Sunday, the COC will try to spin the fact that finishing at or near the top-12 in overall medals has made the Games a success, since they reached their stated goals.

Well, they’ll have to aim a little higher in the future, then. One gold medal - the fewest since 1976 - isn’t going to cut it, especially when you consider the country headed for 13th place in the total medal standings, Hungary, had eight gold late on Saturday.

If there is a sign for hope, however, it is that the funding initiatives that have helped the Winter Games haven’t taken hold yet in the summer. The initial target of the OTP money, remember, was Vancouver 2010 and it will take another full cycle for that money to yield more tangible results.

Make no mistake, Canada intends to be a player in the summer, although getting there and saying we’ll get there are two vastly different concepts. Culturally, Canadian youngsters are generally directed to team sports, which is always going to add to the challenge.

Think we don’t care about summer sports, though? Tell that to the tens of thousands of young girls who watched the Canadian women’s soccer team and it’s run to bronze, a narrative that captivated a nation and became THE Canadian story here.

Participation levels in youth soccer are already off the charts in Canada, and as Diana Matheson said after scoring the game winner on Thursday, that effort is quite a legacy for the future. If Canadian children can get inspiration from other medallists such as Adam van Koeverden and Ryan Cochrane, the COC dream will have a better shot of becoming real.

The overall count has been far too heavy in bronze for some, but generally that total will be seen as a reason for optimism. As funding continues to flow in and athletes who made big strides here continue to develop, expect an upgrade in colour on some of those.

Look, Canada’s never going to be at the top tier of the medals table in the summer, competing against China and the U.S. and the fabulous haul turned in by Team GB here over the past two weeks. Population and resources guarantee that won’t happen.

There is no reason, however, that Canada can’t firmly climb into the top-10 overall and fight to stay there there.

“We’re a very small country at 33 million people, but I think we will always have massive pockets of talent within the summer sports,” former Canadian decathlete Mike Smith said in an interview. “Let’s nurture that talent rather than say we will never be good as a summer Olympic team.

“Certainly we have an advantage in winter sports with the infrastructure we have and the culture we have, but I don’t think it should be an excuse to shy us away from Summer Games.” That’s the view adopted by the COC, whether it’s realistic or not. But you can’t make the judgment after one Olympics when the planning for it is in the early stages. There was just enough improvement in areas like track and field and swimming to create a buzz of optimism for the future.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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