Lowering bar wastes golden opportunity for Canadian sport

Anyone who feels Canada's flag should be an aerial shot of a group hug rather than the Maple Leaf will love hearing this: the Canadian Olympic Committee has downgraded its medal expectations:

"While they set the goal to 'Own the Podium' and come out on top in total medals won at the Vancouver/Whistler Games, the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee noted the Americans are way out in front as the Games near the halfway point.

" 'They have a ten medal lead on us,” said Chris Rudge, the COC’s chief executive officer. “They're doing very, very well.'

" 'It's going to be tough."

Did anyone read that as saying you fold the tent if something gets too "tough?" A humble suggestion is COC and Rudge use the next 10 days or so to prod people about defining the relationship between success in sport and Canadian culture. Why is our idea of patriotism is judged by merchandise sales as much as medals? (I'm typing this while wearing a pair of those red mitts, by the way).

Rudge might also point out the early struggles up the stakes for Canadian contenders in the many medal events in the second week. The aforementioned FiveThirtyEight.com still likes Canada to win the most gold medals. Winners rise to pressure, right, the way Christine Nesbitt did on Thursday? Instead, it is all about spin control.

Going into the Games, there were people versed in amateur sport in Canada who kind of subscribed to a Bill Maher-like patriotism, hoping we would fall on their faces. Perhaps it would be a spur to finally develop a national sports policy.

A nation of 33 million people with uneven population distribution could sorely use one in order to better match the 300-million-strong United States and European countries at the Winter Games.

Pointing this out is a non-starter, since cynics who like their comfortable little ruts will fire back with some ill-informed retort about how they don't want their tax dollars going to supporting someone's (air quotes go here) high-jumping hobby. Or they will say there are other priorities, such as fixing roads, which is true but somewhat beside the point.

Well-run national sports associations generate much of their own revenue (red mitts again!) through sales and sponsorships. It comes from success and a positive image, that helps draw both people and build a corporate profile.

One small-scale example: Canada Basketball, which was down in the dumps before CEO Wayne Parrish came aboard in 2007, secured a deal with Nike earlier this year. Coincidentally, this came after it had national teams qualify for all four world championships being held in 2010. (How many people in Canada are even aware only six countries in the world did that, in the world's second-most popular team sport?)

In hindsight, perhaps COC should emphasized having realistic expectations from the outset of the Games. The U.S. has a larger population and more money. That does partially explain why it leads Canada 6-3 in golds and 18-7 in medals, along with the scheduling of events.

However, saying it now after all the build-up, comes off as face-saving. It plays right into the hands of Canadians who only know what it is to settle.

(About the photo of Jan Hudec: His expression after his men's Super-G run kind of captures the spirit of the thing, but don't read any more into it. It's always unfortunate how scorn gets heaped on the athletes instead of the highers-up.)

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