Canada awaits medal pay­off

Cape Breton Post - - COMMENT -

The iras­ci­ble pun­dit Rex Mur­phy takes um­brage at the idea that there can be any con­nec­tion be­tween the sup­pos­edly kick-ass Cana­dian at­ti­tude to­wards the cur­rent Win­ter Olympics and what the New York Times last week called our “ag­gres­sive, overly Amer­i­can­like pres­ence in Afghanistan.” Ac­tu­ally, there’s never been much of a stretch be­tween war and in­ter­na­tional sports com­pe­ti­tions; the po­lit­i­cal rhetoric sup­port­ing the one eas­ily segues to the other.

“Pa­tri­o­tism, ladies and gen­tle­men, pa­tri­o­tism as Cana­di­ans, should not make us feel the least bit shy or em­bar­rassed.” Th­ese words of Prime Min­is­ter Stephen Harper might have been spo­ken in Kandahar a cou­ple of years back but the scene was the Bri­tish Columbia leg­is­la­ture last week.

Harper is not our only fist-pump­ing na­tional leader. Lib­eral Leader Michael Ig­nati­eff held forth in the New York Times mag­a­zine that th­ese Olympics, the coun­try’s third turn as host, will “show­case a new com­pet­i­tive Canada,” and in­deed have al­ready al­tered Cana­di­ans’ at­ti­tudes about com­pe­ti­tion. We are now se­ri­ous about winning medals, Ig­nati­eff in­formed Amer­i­cans.

Weren’t we be­fore? This no­tion that we’ve been a na­tion of mil­que­toasts, too nice to get out of our own way, has been trot­ted out ad nau­seam in re­cent months. Among fab­ri­cated myths, it ranks with the be­lief that our nat­u­ral call­ing in mat­ters of in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity has al­ways been as blue-hel­meted peace­keep­ers, for­get­ting the dis­pro­por­tion­ate role Cana­di­ans played in the ma­jor wars of the last cen­tury.

By some mea­sures it’s true that as an ad­vanced north­ern na­tion Canada has been un­der­per­form­ing, though im­prov­ing, at Win­ter Olympics. Our best show­ing came four years ago in Turin, Italy, when Cana­di­ans brought home 24 medals, seven of them gold, leav­ing us third be­hind Ger­many and the United States.

This myth of the un­com­pet­i­tive Cana­dian is ex­pli­ca­ble in part as a pro­mo­tional strat­egy to high­light the Own the Podium pro­gram, a $117-mil­lion ef­fort funded by the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and pri­vate spon­sors over the last five years to en­hance sup­port for sports and ath­letes with the best chance of winning medals this month in B.C.

The pro­gram has de­clared a goal of 30 medals. De­spite a slow start for Cana­di­ans on the week­end, in­de­pen­dent pre­dic­tions are around that num­ber, which could be enough for Canada to fin­ish first in medal to­tals.

As other coun­tries have shown, money fun­nelled into a strong pro­gram to de­velop elite ath­let­ics pays off in in­ter­na­tional suc­cess. That, and not any mys­ti­cal shift in the na­tional psy­che, ex­plains Canada’s im­proved chances.

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