Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Winning At All Costs

With the Olympics quickly approaching the talk will start –

‘how many medals will Canada win?’

‘who is going to bring home gold?’

‘why are we so behind in medal count?’

‘why aren’t our athletes fast enough, strong enough, good enough?’

It’s the last two that bother me. It happens during every Olympic Games. The Canadian athletes head off to Olympic glory and perform their best only to be criticized by the public and media for their poor performance and failing to bring home a medal for ‘us’. In fact, many of these athletes will perform personal bests while there, and give a performance of a lifetime and that still is not good enough. Never mind they are one of the top athletes in their sport and often top 20 in the world!! If it’s not gold, silver, or bronze – forget it. Have you actually thought about that – what does it take to be one of the top 20 in the world?

How many actually ponder this oddity? Are we really looking at the facts before we criticize? Of course it’s always easy to point fingers and blame – and what better person to point at then the athletes.

But there are many other 'unethical' tactics it takes to win gold in today’s world.
How many Canadians will refuse to pay tax dollars so that the Canadian athletes can earn an income for training, and then be the first to say ‘see, I told you , it’s useless, our athletes suck..’ Well, yes, but because being an ‘athlete’ is not a job in Canada we are forcing them to work 2 jobs, while trying to train full time. It’s no wonder they can’t dedicate 110% of their time to winning Olympic Gold. In contrast, the Chinese will spend 20 billion dollars on its Olympic athletic budget (that’s 2 billion more than Canada spends on its annual military budget) – which includes paying their athletes full wages.

Now, that’s not to say we don’t have great programs and forward movement in this area – ‘own the podium now’, and 2’010 legacies now’ are 2 worth mentioning. But these will not accomplish nearly enough to compete with what other countries are doing – and trust me, we don’t necessary want to compete with other countries when it comes to this.

So what about the other countries that are winning all the medals? The ones who are bringing home glory and fame to their country – as if the entire countries economy, wealth, and humanitarian efforts depend on it. Does anyone remember Marion Jones record winning 5 Olympic medals – what about what happened more recently to those 5 medals? And don’t think for a second that she was the only athlete to be doping – she was doing what the majority on the USA Olympic track team were doing. This is an athlete who was winning highschool championships, junior world championships, NCAA titles, and University World championships well before she was doping. So what makes an already Olympic gold calibre athlete go to such extremes to dope? Could it be that everyone else was doping to be faster and stronger, so she felt in order to stay ahead she also had to dope... interesting.

What about China or Russia – 2 other countries who have been consistent being at the top of the medal count?

In the 50’s Russian doctors and scientists reasoned that by giving athletes megadoses of the male hormone testosterone, muscles and body mass should build up more quickly, thus enhancing the performance of their athletes. Their goal was to empower them excel in all power events. As a result, Russian athletes went into the Olympics with a marked edge, dominating most of the sports events at the time. And today these athletes are sterile, look like men, and plagued with chronic health problems. Have you seen a Russian athlete from the Olympics in the 70’s - they don’t look or sound much different than they do today.

And then there’s China – this is the greatest story of all of what it takes to win... 20 years ago in Seoul, China won five golds, then by 2004 in Athens in had won 32 golds. This year in Beijing they are hoping to cap that to be number one in the world for gold medals won. Basically China has built a national sports machine over the past x number of years. Recently China has been called a medal machine that is crazy for gold. For a number of years, scientists and coaches have been coming into villages to take anthropometric measurements – shoulder widths, thigh length, arm length, etc and getting children to perform all sorts of tests. Then the selected, often ages 4-5, are taken away from village life as they know it and thrust into cold steel buildings where 8 to a room sleep on cot beds – here they are forced to train for their ‘new passion.’ These kids train hours and hours, under banners and signs with slogans such as ‘ fight for your country.’ There is no more play time, relaxation, or thoughts of what they’d like to do when they are older. They will see their parents for less than 2 weeks a year, and at the first sign of failure and inability to bring back gold they are thrust back out into the real world – often without the education or life skills to lead a normal adult life, and the belief that winning is everything. 80% of the countries retired athletes are plagued with unemployment, poverty, depression, and serious health problems.

In fact, this method was modeled after old Soviet style systems – which produced the Romanian gymnasts and doped up East German swimmers. But wasn’t this a thing of the past? You’d think, but only 2 years ago a sports school in a northern China province was busted for routinely injecting students with steroids.

So this is what it takes to bring home gold for your country. Yes we have amazingly gifted athletes who will beat these odds that are stacked against them and win gold anyways, but for most, they aren’t fooling themselves – they know what they are up against. Rather then criticizing our athletes who fail us this year, let’s support them – regardless of what place they get. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to take the 20th placed athlete vs the alternative. I may not fully understand what goes into getting to even that position in the world – but I bet during their athletic career it’s a lot more passion, work, dedication, sacrifices then most of us will see or experience in a lifetime. And if they can come back personal satisfied with their results, despite the negative media attention, and continue living an existence of happiness and victory then all the better – and besides who said they were going to the Olympics to win gold for ‘us’ anyways?

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