Canada awaits medal payoff
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.