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FTB - Olympic Edition

This is another Olympics-inspired off-topic rant. If you just want the links they are after the jump.

The Olympics are in full swing and of course that means that Canada's getting going in their favourite sport: hand-wringing. Read the comments to any article about an athlete posting a Canadian record or a personal best and you're likely to find that most lament the fact that Canada is sending over a bunch of losers to represent the country. Bob McCown and his asinine side-kick Jim Kelley tossed in the "government money is wasted" red herring while denigrating the efforts of our athletes in qualifying for the Olympics.

Yesterday Matt from the Battle of Alberta had a link to a great rundown of Canada's medal  chances by Jeff Little. One of the reasons that Canada has been skunked thus far is that the events where we stand the best chance of earning a medal come in the second week of the games. Using Athletics Canada as an example, they have a well defined and difficult qualification process that uses the IOC qualifying standards as a base. There is a clear qualification process that involves meeting the standard multiple times including posting A+ times (better than the IOC's A standard) or being in the top 12 at the previous year's world championships. Despite what McCown the Clown would have his listener's believe, making the A standard once does not get you to the Olympics.

The main irony of people arguing about the qualifying standard is that Canada has been under fire for having too difficult of a process for qualifying for the games. An article in the University of Manitoba's newspaper laments the strict qualifying standards and the effect on the development of young talent. As a result, and in order to develop younger athletes they added a 'Rising Star' category that would allow for the governing body to add athletes to the delegation that would benefit from the experience of participating in the games. The main goal of that clause is not to send the athlete on a vacation but to expose them to the rigours and pressure of the Olympics in order to make them a more viable medal candidate in the future. In fact, Canada will have no one participating in the men's marathon because no one matched Canada's stricter standard despite having done enough to qualify for the Olympics.

The saddest thing about McCown's diatribe came when he and Kelley tried to intimate that taxpayers money is being wasted on these athletes as if they were living the life of luxury in the hopes of finishing 15th at the Olympics. Travis Cross is a great example of the kind of sacrifice that is needed to make the Olympics. From almost having to quit because he was broke and had a child on the way to being funded by sponsorships and a loving community his story more truly represents the Canadian athletes' path to the Olympics. The games themselves might be awash in crass commercialism but the athletes still, for the most part, represent the Olympic ideal. The athletes and their family generally pay their own way until they've reached a level good enough to qualify for what little government funding is available. No one is helping them get that far. It's a little disingenuous to decry the small contribution that is made by the government and then demand that they win a medal or be denied a trip to the Olympics.

Dumb and Dumber's final point was why even bother with the Olympics? Why send any athletes at all or why provide them with any funding unless they are guaranteed to win? Setting aside the fact that there are no guarantees in the Olympics (paging Perdita Felicien) it is downright embarrassing to read comments on story's that echo that sentiment. Canada's Field Hockey and Water Polo (for the first time) teams won the right to represent the country at the Olympics.  However, because we are minnows on the world stage the results have not been good (12-0 against Montenegro in Water Polo) and some asshats would rather that the teams not go to the Olympics because they aren't going to win a medal.  

Aside from the personal benefits for the athletes in seeing years of hardwork pay off Olympians generally use their status after their careers end to contribute to society. One of the most well known charities that they helm is Right To Play which "uses sport and play programs to improve health, develop life skills, and foster peace for children and communities in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world." And it's headquartered in Toronto! These athletes (and all others) provide role models and aspirational goals for children across the world. Those kids seeking to emulate their heroes might not make it to the Olympics but if they take up a sport (considering the 336,000 results that this search brought up) the improved health, teamwork skills, and the discipline that they learn will hold them in good stead regardless of what they do with their lives. If we only allowed guaranteed medallists to participate then who will inspire the next great Canadian Olympian? And if a sport does not have a history of success and we use that as a barometer for deciding our participation then what happens if one comes along? They'll go elsewhere and that would be an actual national shame.

Considering the fact that Canada has stricter qualifying guidelines than most countries (including the United States), that these athletes receive such minimal funding, and that they provide excellent role models in a time when suitable ones are sorely lacking then I do not see the downside to Canada's Olympic delegation not being made up of guaranteed medallists.

Onto the links:

If you have any other links please feel free to add them in the comments