Editorial: You can’t ‘own’ a podium

In 1992, I watched the Blue Jays play at SkyDome. This was the season they would win their first World Series and the stadium was finally filling up after 15 years. Sitting just beyond first base, I winced as a ball bounced off the tip of John Olerud’s glove, a very rare error for this remarkable young man.

And the crowd booed.

That was too much. I was disgusted. Olerud was all-around great – hitting and fielding. He never had a bad day. He helped the Jays get to where they were. But these “new fans” didn’t know that and, so, they booed a genuinely great athlete.

Today, many of us have jumped on the Olympic bandwagon and are sincerely proud of our Canadian Olympians, for obvious reasons. But, just last week we were waking up to news programs that were filled with derisive comments about the Own the Podium program and the constant medal counts with the barely concealed sniffs of disapproval.

Even in this post-Olympic glow, I still believe these Games were a luxury we could not afford, but I thrilled along with everyone else over the personal stories of overcoming adversity, and the triumphs.

These stories were cheapened, however, with the obsession over how many medals we received and how it compared to other countries.

When our athletes were most anxious to reward their country for the faith we placed in them, when they most needed a clear head to go up against the world’s best, when they hoped and dreamed that they had reached the pinnacle, after more than a decade of sacrifice, we Canadians sent them the following messages:

  • We want medals for our $117-million investment.
  • If you don’t win a medal, you are bad.

No wonder so many of them have sport psychologists … and I bet many of them don’t listen to CBC.

I listen to CBC for many, many good reasons – a fantastic morning show, Q, etc., etc. But I was disappointed when one commentator after another would start off a report by saying, “People are saying …” and “People are wondering …”.

What “people”? This is Journalism 101, folks. You don’t do that.

Are the “people” your bosses who are miffed that CTV got the rights to the Olympics? I hope not.

Let’s review a few facts here about sports: You can’t buy medals; instead, all you can do is give athletes the chance to be the very best they can be.

Look at how many personal bests were posted at the Games … under tremendous pressure, no doubt; look at how many accidents there were … by athletes pushing themselves to the limit; look at how many athletes predicted gold medals … even though experts reliably and consistently predict the top-three finishers.

So, we gave our athletes the best preparation $117 million can buy. Why would we believe that other countries are not doing the same? As much as we love our Canadian athletes, why would we think they are automatically better than any other athletes in the world with the same training?

OK, we do, and that’s sweet. But that also makes it a sport. We can be overjoyed with a gold when it is clutched through tense and close competition; we can treasure that gold because we know something less was a very real possibility.

When our athletes fall short of gold, the more mature among us will groan, then clap for the winner, then shake our fist at them, declaring, “We’ll get you next time.”

It has always been thus in sports.

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