Sunday, February 26, 2006

Canada lives up to Olympic expectations

The Olympics are over (except for folks in the U.S., where NBC time-shifted the closing ceremonies to put them in prime time, even though they could have easily run them this afternoon). According to the CBC web site, Canada is prominent in the closing ceremonies because the next winter games are in Vancouver in 2010.

Before the games, the Canadian Olympic Committee stunned Canadians by predicting 25 medals and a top three finish. This would have been far better than any previous finish.

Canada fell a little short of that goal: they came in third with 24 medals. This shattered the previous Canadian record of 17 medals at the Salt Lake City games in 2002. They were very close to making the prediction as 13 Canadian athletes finished fourth and eight finished fifth. Of the fourth place finishers:
  • Short-track speed skater Eric Bedard missed out on a bronze by 4-1,000ths of a second in the men's 500 metre.
  • Skier Kelly VanderBeek finished 3-100ths behind the bronze medalist in the women's super-G.
  • Francois Bourque missed the podium by 76-100ths in the men's giant slalom.
  • Pierre Lueders lost out on a medal by 9-100ths of a second in four-man bobsleigh.
  • Canada's men's hockey team didn't even get into a medal game.
(The above was stolen, with some editing, from the excellent CBC Olympics website. It far surpassed the horridly laid out official Torino web site, where it took forever to find an event schedule or event results.)

ABC News called Canada an Olympic powerhouse. Yes, Canada. Canada has never been big on spending money to push Olympic athletics. There was always a thought that government money could be better spent elsewhere. This attitude started to change in recent years after several embarrassing finishes. The 2002 winter games were a high point for Canada (until this year) but the 2004 summer games wasn't that wonderful. In 2005, the Canadian government announced a 5 year, C$110 million program called "Capture the Podium" to make Canada competitive in international sporting events.

The program's aggressive goal was almost reached. Canada, of all countries, came in third in the medal count. This is an auspicious result prior leading into the 2010 games.

Speaking of which, the mayor of Vancouver is making Olympic history. In the closing ceremonies, the Olympic flag is always passed to the mayor of the next host city, who waves it eight times. This was a bit of a challenge for Vancouver mayor Sam Sullivan, who broke his neck at age 19 and is a quadriplegic. His motorized wheelchair was modified to hold the flag, but it was a secret how he was going to wave the flag (the secret is out now for most of the world, but I'm steadfastly ignoring news reports until I get to see the ceremonies).

I noticed that CNN is running short segments on CNN Headline News asking "what went wrong" with the Team America. Perhaps "what went wrong" is that other nations are catching up to American sports supremacy. Maybe the playing field is simply leveling. If this is the case — and I believe it is — this is a good thing for everyone, including Americans. Nothing drives people forward like competition. Nothing makes sports more enjoyable to watch than close finishes.

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