dimanche 31 août 2008

What's a Canadian Olympian Worth?

JAMES DEACON, AOL Sports - August 28th 2008

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What value should Canadians place on the women and men who wear the country’s colours in Beijing? There’s no easy answer. Some people claim too much is spent on elite athletes who compete at major international competitions for Canada.

[...] We set aside our differences and cheered Henderson’s goal in 1972, Gretzky’s drop pass and Lemieux’s wrister in 1991, Bailey’s 100 metres and the relay team in 1996, and Catriona Le May Doan’s Games-changing 500-m gold medal in 2002, which then was soon buried under the ecstasy of the men’s gold-medal hockey game at Salt Lake City.

[...] There are stories like that at every Games.

And here’s another: At the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, the final event in which Canada had an entrant was the men’s short-track speed-skating relay. Short-track is more popular in Quebec than in the rest of Canada, and its four members reflected that — the team was composed of three Quebeckers (Éric Bédard, Marc Gagnon, François Drolet) and an Ontarian (Derrick Campbell).
The Canadians were underdogs and therefore surprise finalists, but it’s impossible to handicap a sport that can play out like a demolition derby. And sure enough, the Canadians — led by the fierce veteran Marc Gagnon — captured a thrilling gold.
Since it was the last event on Canada’s agenda, many of the skaters Olympic teammates from other sports had the night off and were there to watch. There were skiers, sledders and even a few millionaire hockey players, and they all went completely nuts when the race was won, joyfully lavishing cheers and hugs on the unlikely champions. You should have seen it. The skaters were so happy, and wrapped themselves in one huge Canadian flag for their lap of honour around the track. It didn’t matter at that moment that, back home, their province and country were going through a particularly dicey, pre-referendum time. It didn’t matter that three of the guys were from parts of Quebec that, in the eventual referendum, heavily supported separation.

It wasn’t important. What mattered, and what was shown on TV sets a world away, was that four scrappy, underdog speed-skaters had just won a completely unexpected gold medal for Canada. They were happy, and so were the folks back home. It was a feel-good moment of Olympic proportions. Millions get spent every year on programs designed to help keep the country whole. But none of those programs compare to the spontaneous joy and nation-building impact of the short-trackers late that Saturday night in Nagano.

So what’s an Olympian worth? In Canada, quite a lot.

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