The meaning of Olympic success
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I have to admit, right off the bat, that I am not a huge sports nut. I will go to local games and cheer for local athletes, Iíll watch the Riders challenge the Grey Cup, and Iíll watch Canadian teams play for gold. But I am not the kind of hard-core fan that will go to a game, painted head to toe in team colours, ready to get swept up in a riot, smash windows if the result doesnít go my way, and punch out someone cheering for the other side just because they looked at me funny.
That lack of passion might have been why I found myself in a raging war over the past few weeks over how much winning the Olympics really matters. My husband - a coach, a past amateur athlete and a lover of sports in general - was totally tuned into the Olympics. Every so often, he would look at the standings and bemoan the fact that countries like Cuba, Kazakhstan and Ukraine ranked ahead of Canada. Sure, Canada was raking in the bronze medals, but gold alluded our team in all but one event, putting the country 36th in the international global rankings.
My question was, ĎWho cares?í And I argued that point of view until the games mercifully wrapped up. Our collective bragging rights might have faltered a bit with events like Canadaís womenís soccer team squeaker loss to the U.S. team, but should it? After all, to challenge a juggernaut like the States is in and of itself a great accomplishment, as is the teamís eventual winning of bronze. Sadly, that accomplishment was overshadowed for me with commentators moaning about questionable refereeing and questions about the teamís conduct following the U.S. game. Whatís the point of blazing a trail for young female athletes and Canadaís way in soccer if youíre going to tarnish it afterwards by pointing fingers and risk looking like a poor sport?
As for the countries that rank top in international standings, itís worth looking closer at what it takes to get them there. For instance, China is ranked number two in the world with 88 medals, 38 of them gold. However, according to one article from Free the Children founders Craig and Marc Kielburger, Chinaís athletes are subject to pretty questionable practices. They are apparently sought out as young as six if they show potential, and sent to sport schools where they must spend all their time dedicated to athletic training, with no other academic schooling and no employable skills to show once their athletic careers are over. Visitors to these athletic schools also report seeing signs of physical abuse. One Chinese canoeist apparently told Western reporters after the Beijing Olympics that he had not seen his parents in three years, and that he had tried to quit sports many times, only to be threatened by Chinese officials.
A country like China might put in eye-popping performances, but is this what it takes to be a top contender? Is this what we, as a country, want to aspire to achieve?
Of course, money plays a big role in performances, with programs like Own the Podium helping Canada contend for medals. But the strength of money in influencing results also tarnishes the games, in my mind Ė itís not even amateur sports when names like Sidney Crosby or Lebron James are part of the competition. Are we really celebrating amateur excellence, or are we celebrating the power of corporate sponsorships?
Surely the drive to succeed and individual successes are what we should celebrate. If a school team or athlete worked hard and improved from a last place finish the one year to middle of the pack status the next, would we express disappointment that they didnít win a banner or would we cheer them for their dedication?
I believe that we, as humans, need competition. I believe that in all areas - whether itís sports, academics or whatever else - competition pushes us to dig deep and find the best within ourselves. The spirit of the Olympics still resonates with me, in that sense, as an arena for national pride and the striving for human excellence. Reaching number one should be the goal for every competitor. But if, after that best effort, we fall short, it does not make for failure. If you want proof of that, just check out this story of a 10-year-old boy who sent his own medal to Canadaís relay team after they were stripped of bronze through a disqualification - http://tinyurl.com/d4nf9av. They came, they ran, they inspired Ė and doing what you do with pride, integrity and honour is truly whatís worth gold.
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