Fri, September 20, 2013

A golden Games? Not exactly for Canada

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Elisabeth Black of Canada falls from the vault in the women's gymnastics vault final in the North Greenwich Arena during the London 2012 Olympic Games August 5, 2012. (REUTERS)


LONDON - We are a nation of medal counters, only in these Olympics, the counting is complicated and maybe a little contradictory.

The medal count for Canada is near an all-time high as the final day of these spectacular Summer Games arrives Sunday. And yet, the medal count for gold is near an all-time low.

So how will the Canadian Olympic Committee assess performance Sunday in their closing news conference of the 2012 Olympics? Probably with some caution and some pride, with some spinning of the number of medals won and glossing over the fact Canada hasn’t won this few gold medals ­— one — since the shutout of the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

Quietly, the COC projects how many medals it will win before the Games ever begin. And not so quietly, the COC set the goal for a Top-12 finish in the medals standings here in London.

Canada will be in the Top 12 among medal winners. That’s nice. But that’s not how the Olympics view the medal standings and, frankly, it wasn’t how Canada viewed them at the conclusion of the Vancouver Games.

Canada led the Vancouver Games with 14 gold medals — and that placed them in first in the medal standings at the Winter Olympics. In total medals, Canada was third, well behind the United States and Germany.

Now the paddling — or is it rowing? — will begin with Marcel Aubut and friends: Two years after saying gold medals mean everything, they will say something quite the opposite. They will say they are pleased with their medal count — and they should be.

I didn’t think Canada would win 18 medals here. To use an Adam van Koeverden term, it’s a little ignorant to project who will win medals, which translates to how many Canada will win. And after reconsidering the use of the word ignorant, van Koeverden changed his terminology. He toned it down to presumptuous.

Sports Illustrated did a pre-Olympic issue picking every single medal winner. The magazine chose two gold medal winners for Canada. But neither cyclist, Catharine Prendel in mountain bike or Tara Whitten in the all-around omnium competition, came close to gold.

The only gold for Canada was won by trampolinist Rosie MacLennan, which didn’t come out of nowhere, but was a surprise.

Expectations can eat up Olympians and it do so for Mary Spencer, the much-heralded female boxer, she of the television commercials and Own The Podium. She fought once, lost once, and somehow seemed indifferent to her surroundings.

The 12 bronze medals won by Canada, the most won in a non-boycotted Olympics in the modern era, indicate two diverse changes among Canadian athletes: 1) They were close enough to be on the podium in third place more than ever before; 2) We’re not, frankly, of the level to win in most Olympic disciplines.

And yet there were some marvellous medals won by Canada here. And that’s where predicting medals — even by the COC — can be dangerous if not inaccurate business. The COC figured on one sure thing medal from athletics: But Dylan Armstrong didn’t make the podium in shot put. Instead, a virtually unknown high jumper named Derek Drouin took home bronze, a medal world class Canadian jumpers such as Milt Ottey or Mark Boswell never attained.

That was the most underrated if not unexpected medal of the Games for Canada. A medal there should have earned more accolades.

The three swim medals won by Canada hit the ambitious target set by Swim Canada. That wasn’t expected. Ryan Cochrane winning another Olympic medal might. But the swimming bronze medals by veteran Brent Hayden and youngster Richard Weinberger were welcome, if not necessarily surprises.

Of the medals won heading into Sunday’s men’s marathon, six were won by teams or pairs events, 12 were won by individuals. And sometimes, bronze or silver can represent victory, and just as often, depending on the event, it can represent defeat. The paddling medals won by Mark Oldershaw and Mark de Jonge were pure victories. Van Koeverden’s silver was disappointing enough to him that he told his mother it was the wrong colour.

And the bronze won by the Canadian women’s soccer may have trumped all as the feel-good story of a Games that didn’t have enough Canadian feel-good to them.

In the end, this wasn’t a hand-wringing what-went-wrong Olympics for Canada, nor was it a chest-thumping celebration of any kind. It was somewhere in the middle. The numbers can be twisted and interpreted. The COC twisting will begin Sunday.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve

Canada's showing at recent Summer Olympic Games

2012 — GOLD:1 SILVER:5  BRONZE:12

2008 — G:3 S:9 B:6

2004 — G:3 S:6 B:3

2000 — G:3 S:3 B:8

1996 — G:3 S:11 B:8

1988 — G:3 S:2 B:5