This is a big day for me: the beginning of the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver and 17 days of international competition in sports I do not usually watch. For most of the next 17 days, I’ll probably be glued to my television set rooting for our athletes.
Until recent years, Canadian athletes seemed to have underperformed as a group at the Olympics, leaving many of their best performances to the various, less prestigious, World Championships. And who can forget that our athletes failed to win a gold medal at our last Winter Olympics, Calgary 1988, when Canadian athletes won two silver and three bronze medals.
In past decades, European athletes dominated the Winter Olympics—not even the United States did particularly well. Canada’s performance, though, has continually improved since 1988, with total medal counts increasing steadily in every subsequent games. From a 5-medal total in Calgary, we won seven in 1992 at Albertville, 13 in 1994 at Lillehammer, 15 in 1998 at Nagano, 17 in 2002 at Salt Lake City and a terrific 24 at Turin in 2006.
Our recent success owes much to the addition to the Winter Olympics of several new sports such as snowboarding, short track speed skating and freestyle skiing. The Europeans do still tend to dominate the traditional winter programs.
In the past several years, Canada has used the Vancouver Olympics as an opportunity to pump millions of dollars into many aspects of winter sports, and the funding is expected to pay off dramatically. Leading up to Vancouver, “Own the Podium” has been our battle cry. Own the Podium is a $117-million business plan that provides Canadian athletes in selected sports with elite coaching and enhanced training with paid travel. This program is the foundation of our most ambitious Olympic goal: First in the total medal count.
Canada was fourth at Salt Lake City in 2002 in both gold and total medals—the U.S., Germany and Norway were ahead of us. Canada slipped to fifth overall in gold medals at Turin in 2006, but our 24 total medals were good for third place overall—only Germany and the U.S. had more medals. USA Today forecasts that Canada will end on top at Vancouver with 34 medals—with Germany placing second with 32 and the U.S. third with 25.
We won’t start expecting too much at these games, for who knows how fate may intervene. Canada’s excellent performances at recent World Cup and World Championships, however, do give us reason to be hopeful.
Play on Canadian athletes, we’ll be rooting for you win, lose or draw.
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© 2009 Russell G. Campbell
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