October 30, 2004

Canada's 2004 Performance (Part I)

I know I've missed the boat on the 2004 Olympics, and nobody in Canada cares any more ... but I have some things that I still need to get off my chest (even if nobody's reading).

Today's topic: maybe the Canadian sports "system" isn't to blame for everything.

Canadian sports fans are well aware that Canada won "only" twelve medals in Athens. There's been a lot written about this subject, some pretty insightful and some just stupid. I have quite a few thoughts about this myself. I'll present one of those today.

As noted, it is "common knowledge" that Canada had a very poor performance at the Athens Olympics. In fact, however, if we measure success by top 8 or top 12 finishes, the 2004 Olympics were Canada's best Games ever. So, why so few medals? A lot of people would see the low total as an indictment of Canada's whole approach to sports. But maybe it only means that some of our very best athletes failed to perform to their abilities.

Canada's World Champions in Athens

Perdita Felicien (Athletics)
7th, 100m Hurdles
Alexandre Despatie (Aquatics)
4th, 10m platform diving
Emilie Heymans (Aquatics)
4th, 10m platform diving
Karen Cockburn (Gymnastics)
2nd, women's trampoline
Price crew (Rowing)
5th, men's eight
Baerg Crew (Rowing)
2nd, men's coxless four
As far as I can figure out, there were six Canadian individuals or teams who entered the 2004 Olympics as the defending (2003) World Champions. These six world champions didn't do very well defending their titles in Athens (see inset), coming away with a total of two silver medals (Heymans and Despatie did win medals in other events). I know that nobody likes to accuse athletes of choking any more, and in fact I'm not going to either. My point is, the Canadian sports system helped these people become world champions in 2003, which indicates to me that there are lots of things going right. Is it really fair to blame the same sports system for their performances at the Olympics? Does it make sense to assume that they would have performed better if only they had more funding? After all, they obviously had enough funding in 2003. So what happened in 2004?

Two silvers from six world champions seems like a poor payoff to me. Add two more medals from this group, and Canada would have matched the overall performance in Sydney. And this is one area where I don't see how you can blame the national sports program. It has to come down to individual athletes or teams, and their coaches.

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