February 28, 2006

One More Note on the Medal Tables

Last week I pointed out the discrepancy between what I called the "European" and "American" medal tables. The former ranks the countries by the number of gold medals won, whereas the latter ranks the countries by total number of medals, using gold medals as a tiebreaker. I should have pointed out that to many people these would be called the "right" and "wrong" medal tables, respectively.

There is a myth that the "ranking-by-gold-medals" method is the official, sanctioned way to keep the list. You will even find this myth on the official Torino 2006 web site:

The Olympic rules lay out that the Final Rank should be based on the overall number of gold medals won.

That, of course, is incorrect; as readers of this blog know already, the Olympic Charter states clearly that the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. In addition to Rule 6, I draw your attention to Rule 60, which could not be more clear on the subject:

The IOC and the [Organizing Committee of the Games] shall not draw up any global ranking per country.

Now, it is true that the IOC publishes medal tables, and it is also true that the tables are sorted by the number of gold medals. However, as you will see in the disclaimer here,

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not recognise global ranking per country; the medal tables are displayed for information only.

Therefore, we are free to rank the national Olympic committees as we see fit. I tend to agree with WM-K1-91 and DrJohnEvans in the comments here, that using the total number of medals gives a better idea about the relative success of the NOCs. In fact, it would be even better to keep track of fourths, fifths, etc. Alas, that information is not so easily obtained. On that note, I have seen it reported a few places that Canada had more fourth-place finishes than any other country. One wit from CBC radio, reporting on the alpine skiing results, opined that Canada "Owned pretty much all the territory right up to and surrounding the Podium." Funny stuff.

February 26, 2006

Test For EPO is Bad Science

You may have missed this during the excitement of the Olympics, but last week an interesting scientific study was released in the journal Blood. Blood is the Journal of the American Society of Hematology.

The article (abstract here), as cited in Medical News Today, makes a number of very strong statements about the urinary EPO test currently being used by WADA:

  • Straightforward experimental protocol of the reported study leaves little doubt that the major urinary protein that WADA test visualizes with the anti-EPO antibodies is not EPO.
  • … IOC/WADA method for EPO testing is not scientifically popular or well-established. An in depth analysis of the articles behind the IOC's urine test for EPO shows these earlier publications missed critical control experiments and were not designed to exclude non-specific false-positive misidentification of other non-EPO urine components.
  • … provides the grounds for blood doping corruption by IOC and WADA, abuses athletes, and obstructs Olympic "play true" principal.
  • … WADA data on blood doping are invalid, and that innocent athletes could lost [sic] their Olympic medals because of IOC and WADA misconduct … Olympic champions could wrongly suffer IOC sanctions.

Of course, we've known this for a while, haven't we?

How long will WADA go on insisting that there is nothing wrong with the EPO test? How many innocent athletes are they willing to sacrifice in the fight against doping? How many have been sacrificed already?


Figure 1

Canadian medal prediction, 2006

Figure 1 — Updated probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (click to enlarge). Prediction is based on the probability assessment here, updated as events are decided.

After another four-medal day for Canada in Turin, we can safely say that one part of my medal prediction was incorrect; 25 medals will be enough to finish in the top 3 in the medal table. In fact, barring a very unlikely Austrian sweep of the medals in the men's 50 km mass start, 24 medals — Canada's current and final total — will be good enough to finish third.

The COC's Own the Podium program has achieved its interim goal. They did not reach their stated target of 25, but my prediction of 21 was proven to be a bit pessimistic. To be fair to myself, my prediction did include a "one-sigma" standard deviation of ±3 medals. I think that standard deviation probably gives a good rough idea of the uncertainty in Olympic prediction, so I will cut the COC some slack. Also, as I noted before, two other panels of experts pegged Canada's total at 21 and 24.

I've got two further analyses I want to do concerning the prediction, and the long-term goal of 35 medals. But I will save that for a slow news week.

February 24, 2006


Last week I made the claim that the Winter Olympics were slippery and very, very fast. Of course there is an important exception to that rule. The last two days have featured the medal games in curling, the slowest sport in the Winter Olympics.

I honestly do not mean that as an insult; curling is one of my favourite winter sports. Personally, I get more thrills from watching curling than from freestyle skiing and snowboarding put together.

The four medal games offered plenty of drama. The women's gold-medal game went to eleven ends; the men's bronze-medal game was decided on a last-shot draw in the tenth. The men's gold-medal game was a close affair until Canada blew it open with six in the sixth, following an incredible run-back take-out by third Mark Nichols.

There have been plenty of reports about how curling has captured the imagination of the television audience at these games. Why should this be so surprising? After all, curling is enormously popular in Canada, a nation otherwise obsessed with ice hockey; there is no reason why it cannot find its audience in other countries as well.

Figure 1

Canadian medal prediction, 2006

Figure 1 — Updated probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (click to enlarge). Prediction is based on the probability assessment here, updated as events are decided.


My medal prediction for Canada (see inset) currently sits at 23 medals, which means that they have somewhat exceeded my expectations to this point. The final outcome will be decided on Day 15, because there are only two events being contested on Day 16; the men's hockey final, and the men's 50 km mass start in cross country. Canadians have no chance of winning a medal in either event.

Saturday (Day 15) will see six events that can impact the medal total for Canada:

  • Speed Skating, Women's 5000 m. Kristina Groves, Clara Hughes, and Cindy Klassen will race for Canada. All three have already won medals at these Olympics. Klassen and Hughes will start in the last two pairs.
  • Short Track Speed Skating, Men's 500 m. Canadians Eric Bédard and Francois-Louis Tremblay advanced out of the qualifying round with fourteen other athletes.
  • Short Track Speed Skating, Women's 1000 m. Canadians Tania Vicent and Amanda Overland advanced out of the qualifying round with fourteen other athletes.
  • Short Track Speed Skating, Men's 5000 m relay. The Canadian team has advanced to a five-team final.
  • Alpine Skiing, Men's Slalom. Four Canadians will race. Thomas Grandi has an outside chance at a medal.
  • Bobsleigh, Men's third and fourth heats. Canada-1, captained by Pierre Leuders, is fourth after the first two heats, and is a tenth of a second out of a medal.

I should point out that no matter what happens tomorrow, the Canadian Olympic team has already won more medals than ever before. Incidentally Sports Illustrated, who made picks for every medal winner in every event, had Canada down for 21, and the Associated Press came up with 24 using the same strategy. Tomorrow will tell.

February 23, 2006


Figure 1

Canadian medal prediction, 2006

Figure 1 — Updated probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (click to enlarge). Prediction is based on the probability assessment here, updated as events are decided. The probability has already been updated to account for the outcome of the men's curling and men's hockey, as well.

The prediction at the end of Day 13 stands at 23.0±1.3.

Let me make a confession: I do not find all winter Olympic sports equally enthralling. But talking about which winter sports you don't like is pretty dull, so I'll leave that to other people. Instead, let's go back to Day 12. It was a lot more fun.

Short Track

I wanted to make a comment about the women's short track speed skating relay on Day 12. The final was contested by Korea, Canada, China, and Italy. The race was action-packed, with plenty of contact and some aggressive skating by Canada. The Koreans finished first, Canada second, and China third. The Italians hung tough through most of the race, but over the last few laps they dropped away and finished well back in fourth place.

Or did they? Shortly after the conclusion of the race, the Chinese were disqualified for making illegal contact with the Canadians. And at that point, the Italian fans and athletes exploded in celebration.

Seamus from citius altius fortius said that the Italians actually made an appeal for the disqualification; I didn't see that part. But I sure noticed the celebration:

The Azzurri-clad Italian team leapt for joy when the final standings were posted. The crowd serenaded the four skaters with chants of "Italia! Italia!"

Indeed, it was quite a scene, flags waving, skaters jumping, and crowd chanting. Now, I don't have any problem with celebrating a bronze medal performance. In fact, I don't have any problem with celebrating a fourth-place performance. I wish I saw more of that! I don't even object to asking for a disqualification based on a foul that did not affect your performance in any way. Hey, the rules are the rules, and they should apply to everybody.

The Italian team should feel proud of what they accomplished. But there's something unseemly about that vigorous celebration, in my mind. It was clearly only about the medal. They didn't find anything to celebrate in their performance when they thought they had finished fourth, after all. A post-race decision by the officials just should not change your mood that dramatically.

Cross Country

Chandra Crawford is the first Canadian athlete to completely surprise me at the 2006 winter Olympics. Although I predicted that Canada had a good chance at a medal in the women's sprint, I did not expect Crawford to be involved. And in fact, her gold-medal performance looked … well, easy.

Canada's new status as a contender in cross country skiing is pretty remarkable, as well. Crawford becomes the third Canadian woman at these Games, and the third North American woman ever to win a medal in cross country skiing.

Speed Skating

Seamus has called Cindy Klassen's win in the women's 1500 m his "performance of the games." I don't have too much to add, except to point out the splits. In contrast with Enrico Fabris in the men's race, Klassen was second at 300 m, first after 700 m, first after 1100 m, and first at the finish. That strategy has not been a successful one at the Turin oval so far, which makes Klassen's race even more remarkable.

Hockey Post-Mortem

There will be tens of thousands of words written about the failure of the Canadian men's hockey team at these Olympics. I could add a few thousand of my own, but I am not sure that I have anything original or very informed to say. In this, I am only a fan. There are very few things in sports that can still make me feel joy or despair; the Canadian Olympic hockey team is one of them.

Very Canadian of You

Speaking of sports and national identity, see if you can name that country:

________ newspapers turned against their Olympic team on Thursday after another string of disappointments pushed the Nordic country toward their worst Winter Games in 18 years.

February 22, 2006


Reader Sean asked for an updated probability table based on my original prediction of Canada's medal total for the 2006 Olympics. So before it gets overtaken by events on Day 12, here it is:

Table 1 — Medal win probabilities (remaining) for Canadians at the 2006 winter Olympics
Sport Event Expected Medals
Speedskating - Long Track Women's 1500 m 1.00
Women's 5000 m 0.60
Speedskating - Short Track Women's 3000 m Relay 0.90
Men's 500 m 0.75
Women's 1000 m 0.35
Men's 5000 m Relay 0.75
Hockey Men's 0.75
Bobsleigh Men's Four-Man 0.50
Freestyle Skiing Men's Aerials 0.35
Women's Aerials 0.10
Curling Men's 0.75
Women's 0.75
Figure Skating Women's 0.10
Cross Country Ski Women's Sprint 0.60
Alpine Ski Men's Slalom 0.10
Snowboard Men's Parallel Giant Slalom 0.10
Women's Parallel Giant Slalom 0.10
TOTAL 8.55

In this table, I've only included events where I predicted a non-zero chance of winning. So to follow along at home, here's how it works: when Canada wins a medal, my "expected total" goes up by (1 - EM), where EM is the Expected Medals value in the table above; and when Canada doesn't win a medal, my "expected total" goes down by EM for that event. For events not shown above, EM is equal to zero. What happens to the probability distribution is more complicated.

As of today, my prediction stands at 22.6±1.8, that is, the 14 Canada has already won, plus the 8.6 above; the original prediction was 21.1±3.0.

February 21, 2006


Figure 1

Canadian medal prediction, 2006

Figure 1 — Updated probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (click to enlarge). Prediction is based on the probability assessment here, updated as events are decided.

Things You Shouldn't Say …

… when contemplating the possibility of winning your next hockey game in the qualifying round:

And of course, it is the question: Shall we win [and face Canada in the quarter-finals] or shall we play a good game to get a 0-0 result [and face Switzerland]? There are many questions going through our heads right now. — Bengt-Ake Gustafsson

… after being beaten once:

You know I always say that you can beat Chad Hedrick once but you can't beat him twice — Chad Hedrick

… after being beaten for the third time:

I would say, if you re-ran the race it would be a 90-95 per cent chance that Shani or I was gonna win the race … — Chad Hedrick

… at a post-race press conference with your teammate and rival:

I'm just throwing it out there. It would have been nice if after I won the 1,000-meter race, he could have been a good teammate and shook my hand, just like I shook his hand — and hugged him — after he won the 5,000 meters. — Shani Davis

And Speaking of that Race …

I will admit it, I am kind of enjoying the rivalry between Davis and Hedrick. Hedrick is a very, very bad loser, and Davis is a very, very bad winner, but at least there is nothing at all phony about them. And they are both very gifted athletes, so I can forgive them, as long as I don't have to live with either one of them.

However, it would be remiss not to make a point about the performance of gold medallist Enrico Fabris from Italy. Check out these splits. Fabris was 25th at the 300 m mark, 23rd at 700 m, 11th at 1100 m, and first at the finish. His last three laps went 26.68, 27.14, and 27.73 seconds. He covered each of the last two laps faster than any other competitor. On the last lap he was almost nine-tenths of a second faster than the nearest skater.

On the opposite side of the coin was the third American skater, who finished ninth. Joey Cheek was "livin' the dream," as an old coach used to say — he led at 300 m, 700 m, and 1100 m, before somebody threw a piano on his back and he finished up with a 30.67-second lap. That last lap was the sixth-slowest put up by any of the 39 competitors — and he gave up almost three full seconds to Enrico Fabris.

February 20, 2006


Figure 1

Canadian medal prediction, 2006

Figure 1 — Updated probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (click to enlarge). Prediction is based on the probability assessment here, updated as events are decided.

A "Horrible" Day in Alpine Skiing

When the 2006 Olympics started, I was thinking that I would include a snarky "Brian Williams" feature in each day's post, highlighting the inaccurate or infuriating claims that the CBC's Williams made each day.

I really am not a fan.

Fortunately for everybody, Williams has actually been pretty well-behaved, and I haven't had much material to work with. There was a pretty funny incident involving Mr. Williams' tongue — I wish I had a picture, but I don't — but he actually handled that one pretty well.

Then Williams apparently made a reference to "Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown" after Shani Davis won his gold medal. I didn't actually see that, so I couldn't really say much. L-Girl took care of it, though.

Tonight, though, Williams got me all revved up in his discussion of the results in alpine skiing. "There's no way to sugarcoat this — a horrible day for Canada," was how he put it. And in typical Williams style, he said it more than once, just to get his point across.

Let's see. In the men's Giant Slalom, 21-year-old Francois Bourque finished fourth, behind Benjamin Raich (eight-time GS World Cup winner), Joel Chenal, and Hermann Maier (14-time GS World Cup winner and reigning GS world champion). Thomas Grandi finished tenth.

In the women's Super-G, 23-year-old Kelly VanderBeek finished fourth, behind Michaela Dorfmeister (most gold medals in Olympic alpine skiing history), Janica Kostelic (most medals for a woman in Olympic alpine skiing history), and Alexandra Meissnitzer. Emily Brydon finished ninth.

How embarrassing for Alpine Canada! How can they live with themselves? Chokers.

Justice for Sami Jo!

Now on a positive note, I did learn something interesting from the CBC broadcast tonight. Williams had Geraldine Heaney on to talk about the Olympic champion Canadian women's hockey team. Heaney went out of her way to point out the positive role played by my acquaintance close personal friend Sami Jo Small. Heaney noted that Sami Jo, as the alternate (third) goalkeeper, will not get a gold medal — which I knew — but she then added that in men's hockey, the alternate goalkeepers do get medals.

I don't know if there is anything that anybody can actually do about that, at this stage; Heaney encouraged Williams to bring it up with Don Cherry when he is on tomorrow night, but I don't know if Don has that much pull with the IIHF. And I have considerably less, to put it mildly. However, I will put the full power of this blog behind any effort to get Sami Jo a gold medal, even if it means an alliance with Don Cherry.

More Serious News

Of course there is a major doping story going on in Turin, and I am going to comment on that at some point. It seems that we have come to a frightening crossroads in the "war" against doping, and I am not sure that everybody has carefully thought that through. To be honest, I haven't had time to do it justice, and the news is still breaking so fast that I have struggled to write something that contains the essence of the story. But it does need to be discussed, and I'm not ignoring it.

February 19, 2006


I told you so.

I told you so.

(Of course, just when I start feeling like I know a lot about sports, I go and enter the sportsFilter Olympic hockey pool. I would do a statistical analysis of my chances of winning the pool, but I think I can guess the answer.)

My good mood about the Swedish hockey victory, and Shani Davis' win in the 1,000 m, was almost ruined by the events of Day 8. Canadian teams were upset in men's hockey (by Switzerland), upset in men's curling (by Italy), and upset in women's curling (by Japan). Then I remembered that the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. That made me feel quite a lot better.

Some people do forget, though. In fact, most media outlets publish some kind of a medal table that ranks how different nations are performing at the Olympics. Last week, citius altius fortius pointed out that it is standard practice, in North America, to rank the countries by their total number of medals; whereas in Europe, the table is normally ordered by the number of gold medals won.

Figure 1

Canadian medal prediction, 2006

Figure 1 — Updated probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (click to enlarge). Prediction is based on the probability assessment here, updated as events are decided.

In 2006, the two different methods are causing a sort of odd situation. Medal tables in the US are showing Norway in the lead (16 medals), followed by Germany (15 medals) and the US (13 medals). Russia also has 13 medals, and then comes Canada with 11.

Meanwhile, in Europe, they're showing the US in first place (7 golds), followed by Germany and Russia (6 golds), Austria (4 golds), Korea, France, and Estonia with three golds each. Norway is currently eighth, and Canada ninth, with two gold medals each.

So by the American scoring system, the USA is in third place; but by the European system, the Americans are winning.

Speaking of medal totals, the COC had a mid-Olympics review today and they still think that Canadian athletes and teams can win 25 medals and finish third in (the American version of) the medal table. I still think that's unlikely, although at the end of Day 8 I would put the chances of 25 or more medals at 18%, which is higher than when the Olympic started. I've also got a new format for the medal prediction that nobody cares about, which you can see in the inset.

February 16, 2006


Updated Predictions

Canadian medal prediction, 2006 -- Updated 16 February

Figure 1 — Probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (updated).

I am only really writing this blog post so that I can display my latest prediction for Canada's medal total (inset right). Note that I am not changing my original prediction; I'm just updating the probabilities for events where the medals have already been decided. That changes the probability distribution every day.

In case you are wondering, no, I am not obsessed with the medal table, or with Canadian performances. After all, the Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. (If it's in the rules, it must be true.) No, I am actually obsessed with my own predictions, which is a different personality problem entirely.

As long as I'm using up valuable time when I could be sleeping, I should have pointed out yesterday that US speed skater Chad Hedrick will definitely not win five gold medals in Turin, since the Americans were eliminated in the quarterfinals of the men's team pursuit. To be charitable I will point out that they were beaten by the eventual gold medallists.

The US did not have their best skaters available, which is a matter of some controversy. That's not what I want to talk about here. I am more interested in the ease with which everybody seems to have swallowed the five-medal hype in the first place. Is it really possible for a speed skater to win five gold medals at the Olympics any more? And if it is, doesn't that show that the depth of the field is pretty poor?

Hedrick is still predicting that he will win the 1,000, 1,500, 5,000, and 10,000 m events at the Olympics. He has already won the 5,000, actually, so only three more to go. But that sweep looks humanly impossible to me. The 1,000 m race will be won with a time of about 70 seconds. The 10,000 m race will take Hedrick in the ballpark of 13 minutes. To compare that to running, it equates roughly to the 800 m (or a 600 m, if that was an event) and the 5,000 m. In swimming, it would be about the same as pairing the 200 m (or 150 m) and 1,500 m.

But in swimming and running, those doubles simply cannot be done. Evenly the freakishly gifted Ian Thorpe has never done it at the world championships or Olympics. Sure, he's won at 200, 400, and 800; but extending or contracting that distance requires completely different (and mutually competing) physiological systems. In running, forget about it; nobody even enters the 800 and the 5,000. I feel pretty safe in saying that in this modern age of highly specialized athletes, It Cannot Be Done. Nobody is ever going to be world or Olympic swimming champion in the 200 m and 1,500 m simultaneously. Nobody is ever going to be world or Olympic athletics champion in the 800 m and 5,000 m simultaneously. And nobody is going to be world or Olympic speed skating champion in the 1,000 m and 10,000 m simultaneously, either. The fact that Hedrick is even competitive in both distances makes him almost superhuman.

And yes, I know that Eric Heiden did it. In fact, Heiden's five-gold feat was even more astounding than the one Hedrick was shooting for, since he won the 500 m instead of the team pursuit. But that was twenty-six years ago! Speed skaters still raced outside! Human physiology hasn't changed, but the level of competition has. I think. The fact that people seriously entertain the idea that Hedrick can do this gives me pause. Maybe he really can do it. But if he does, it will just show me that the world's speed skating talent pool is actually pretty shallow.

February 15, 2006

Why Women's Hockey Should Stay

I have a high opinion of SI's Michael Farber, so I took note when I read this story asking:

If the IOC can boot women's softball from the Games after 2008, a sport in which four countries -- the U.S., Australia, China and Japan -- play at a high level, why does it tolerate a sport that is truly mastered by only two?

The next day, Damien Cox of the Toronto Star joined in. Cox has two daughters in minor hockey, and claims that he doesn't want to see women's hockey go, but but his editorial was framed with words of surrender:

Before, the absence of any depth in the women's hockey field appeared to be a temporary problem that would be fixed over time as countries new to the game got their programs fired up. Now, it appears permanent, and at a time when the IOC is eliminating viable sports that are more competitive than women's hockey.

And this morning Chris Cochrane's column, the best feature of my morning paper, threw another log on the fire:

Why is women's hockey included in the Winter Olympics? Sure, there are always debates over what sports should and shouldn’t be part of the Olympic offering. Regional biases and politics, under the Olympic umbrella, make for questionable entries and fuel such debates. Yet there shouldn’t be any debate about the inability of women’s hockey to field a slate of competitive teams.

Is there a theme developing here?

I have to admit something. If women's hockey was a sport seeking admission to the summer Olympics, I would be opposed. All three columns make the point that Canada and the USA have dominated the sport's history; I would go even further than that and point out that a single country has won eight of nine world championships, plus one of two Olympic gold medals. The writers are obviously correct to say that this is not an acceptable level of competitive balance.

But women's hockey is not seeking admission to the games — they're already in. And there is little, if any, pressure to "contract" the winter Olympics. The columnists raising this question seem to be making some kind of ethical argument — that it's not fair to have women's hockey in the Olympics, when a more deserving sport like softball is on the outside looking in. It's all so very Canadian. It's almost as if we can't stand the thought that there's an Olympic sport where Canada can be dominant. Everybody's looking around sheepishly saying, "Oh, gosh, sorry about that! We thought everybody would be better by now! We'll just pack up and go home, then, if we're bothering you."

Canada, get over it. You don't hear the Germans proposing to drop luge from the program, even though they've won 65 of 108 Olympic medals since 1964 — and been even more dominant than that in the women's discipline. Yes, I know that women's hockey, so far, is an extreme case; let's admit that they probably got into the Olympics before they were really ready. But things will not always be like this.

First of all, let's not forget that Canadian hockey has gone through an astounding rebirth in the past decade — and I'm talking about men's hockey. The inferiority complex of the 70's and 80's seems like a distant memory, and Canada enters most international tournaments as the favourite. No, it isn't like the old days (and thank god for that) but Canada's hockey program, top to bottom, has never been in better shape. Against that background, is it surprising that our women's hockey team has also pulled away from the field?

And then, there's been the rivalry with the United States. Without each other, either country might have become complacent, allowing the world to catch up to them. But this rivalry won't let that happen. In fact, it seems clear to me (and I am not the only one) that the Canadian and US women's teams have improved markedly since 1998. The competitive balance hasn't improved, but that's not because the world is getting worse.

I think, though, that the women are almost as good as they are going to get, on an absolute scale. Right now, the US women's team plays competitively against top-level high school boys teams, and the Canadian women's team plays at about .500 against AAA-Midget teams in Alberta. This is pretty comparable to the men-women matchup in other, more established sports like basketball or soccer. I don't think that there is another big jump that the Canadian and American teams can make; they're never going to be playing at the major junior or NCAA Div I level. I think that their improvement is bound to slow to a crawl.

Again, let's just admit that women's hockey was rushed into the winter Olympics. But as part of that discussion, we have to admit that we're talking about a very young sport. Eight years ago, there were eight teams in the World Championships, and there was a six-team Olympic tournament. Today, the world championships have a three-tiered qualifying system, going down to such traditional strongholds as Australia, South Africa, and Hungary. That sounds like growth and development. So who decided that eight years (sixteen since the first World Championships) is the maximum allowable incubation time? Does Michael Farber think it's that easy to develop a brand new national sport? Has Canada "truly mastered" soccer yet? I think we may need a few more decades.

So let's give the world a chance, too. The gold medal game in women's hockey already has a memorable history, and has become one of the highlights of the Olympic games. If we're patient, we can have a whole tournament like that.


Updated Predictions

Canadian medal prediction, 2006 -- Updated 13 February

Figure 1 — Probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (updated).

I've got good news, and I've got bad news.

The good news is that the luge competition is over.

The bad news is that the skeleton competition is about to begin.

Before we leave the luge sliders, though, I'd just like to point out that of the 21 entries in the doubles luge, five of the pairs have the same last name. The winners, Andreas and Wolfgang Linger from Austria, are brothers, as are the Canadians Chris and Mike Moffat, who finished tenth. The fourth-place finishers were cousins Tobias and Markus Scheigl, also from Austria. I don't know anything about Andris and Juris Sics from Latvia (seventh), or Lukas and Antonin Broz from the Czech Republic (sixteenth), but it seems fairly safe to assume that they're family in one way or another.

So close, it's got to be family?

I know I'm not supposed to say this out loud, and I am sure that Olympic-calibre sliders never think about it, but the double-luge position is an extremely intimate one: two skin-suited bodies stacked one on top of the other, front-to-back. So does the high incidence of these pairs mean that men are generally more comfortable in that situation with a family member?

February 14, 2006


Updated Predictions

Canadian medal prediction, 2006 -- Updated 13 February

Figure 1 — Probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total.

Either you've been ignoring me for the last week, or you know the drill. The blue curve shows my original (a priori) prediction, and the red curve shows the current prediction, accounting for events that have already happened.

The team sprint medal today brings my expected number of Canadian medals back up to 20.4.

Joey Cheek Acts

American speed skating gold medallist Joey Cheek has pledged to donate his $25,000 reward from the USOC to Right to Play. The money will be earmarked for children in the Darfur region of Sudan, where hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, and millions displaced, by war and genocide.

I have discussed athlete activism here before and in my opinion this fits the bill. It is not a protest, I admit, since Cheeks is risking very little (only a few xenophobic patriots will question his actions). However, an act meant to help others and right a wrong is still an act, even if it is uncontroversial.

I ♥ Cross Country

Canada's result of the day was also the race of the day, in my opinion (although the men's alpine combined also had plenty of drama). Cross country skiers Sara Renner and Beckie Scott raced very aggressively in the women's team sprint, pushing the pace at every opportunity. Renner broke a pole on an uphill during her second leg in the alternating relay format; she took a spare from a sportsmanlike Norwegian coach, and then got the right replacement at the bottom of the hill. Renner becomes only the second North American woman to win an Olympic medal in cross country skiing. The Norwegians finished fourth in the race.

I just have to add that the cross country skiing has been the most enjoyable sport at the Olympics to watch. I'm fond of speed skating, and alpine skiing, but I am loving the head-to-head racing in cross country; it's a great combination of physical prowess and strategy.

Blogs of Note

Today I stumbled upon a very well-done blog about the Olympics at Eurosport.com called citius altius fortius. The blog began just before the 2006 Olympics, but the author plans to keep it going afterward. In general I have not been terribly impressed by many of the blogs dedicated to the Torino Olympics, but this is a good one. The golden (retriever) predictions are worth the effort, just by themselves.

I also found out today about the resurrection of DFL, a blog that got quite a lot of publicity during the Athens Olympics; I did not expect it to reappear, but I am glad that it did. DFL's motto is "Celebrating last-place finishes at the Olympics. Because they're there, and you're not." Celebrating last-place finishes is a dangerous game; it would be easy to fall into mockery or unjustified glorification. Author Jonathan Crowe keeps things in the right perspective.


The Winter Olympics are slippery and very fast. Today the danger of that combination was front and centre in Turin and the surrounding area.

At the downhill in San Sicario, four women crashed during a training run, and three of them had to be carried off of the hill. Canada's Alison Forsythe tore her ACL and will return to Canada for surgery; American Lindsey Kildow drew gasps from the crowd for her fall, but appears to have only a bruised hip.

At the luge track in Cesana, six of thirty competitors crashed or fell off their sleds on the first or second run, and several others had close calls. American Samantha Retrosi had a sickening crash and appeared to be unconscious when she finally came to a stop. Fortunately, she appears to have escaped serious injury.

Updated Predictions

Canadian medal prediction, 2006 -- Updated 13 February

Figure 1 — Probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total.

Back here I made a probabilistic estimate of the number of medals Canada would win in Torino. I'm updating that estimate as events are decided. The blue curve shows my original (a priori) prediction, and the red curve shows the current prediction, accounting for events that have already happened.

Canada lost half a medal today in the men's 500 m speed skating. The expected number of medals stands at 19.7.

I didn't see this one, but an injured Japanese athlete was also taken away on a stretcher from the snowboard halfpipe; and there was some high-speed sliding at the long track speed skating oval, too.

In most sports, of course, falls — especially the kind that need medical attention — put you out of contention. Not so in figure skating. The top Chinese pair, Zhang and Zhang, badly bungled a throw in their long program this evening; Zhang Dan limped to the edge of the ice surface with her partner and spoke with the on-site paramedical team for a couple of minutes. The pair then returned to complete their program … and were rewarded with the silver medal!

Getting back to sports where the outcome of the competition is decided on an objective basis: it was interesting to watch for the effect of the crashes on subsequent competitors at the downhill and the luge track. I'm only speculating here, but it seemed to me that the sliders at the luge track got more and more rattled with each crash, whereas the downhillers mostly kept their fear under control. Of course, the skiers were only doing training runs, so they weren't facing the same kind of pressure. It's also possible that the skiers who became worried about falling just slowed down; I am not a luge expert, but there does not appear to be much you can do to reduce your speed to any great degree. And finally, it might be that frightening crashes are simply more common in alpine skiing; the skiers who make it to the Olympics have certainly learned that damaged and (hopefully) repaired bodies are part of their sport.

Over at sportsFilter, some are speculating that NBC has been timid about showing the most spectacular crashes. I didn't notice CBC shying away from the slow-motion replays; they showed Kildow's crash several times, including a close-up of Renata Goetschl's reaction from the bottom of the hill. And NBC has posted a slideshow of Retrosi's accident on their web site.

I've got two things to finish up. First, Sean at sportsBabel has a new post called The New Temporality of Olympic Triumph, which addresses the tension between the increasing speed of Olympic sport, and the increasing slowness of the anti-doping process:

The Games have been officially opened! For the armchair athlete, the next few weeks will provide a feast for the eyes, as winners are determined and medals handed out at a number of Olympic and Paralympic sporting events in Torino, Italy. We must note, however, that these will only be the interim winners of the XX Olympic Winter Games. We won't know the true victors for another eight years.

I wish I had thought of that.

Finally, yesterday I addressed the freshly manufactured controversy about the Canadian women's hockey team's "unsportsmanlike" behaviour. Today, CBC.ca ran this anonymous column on the subject, opening with the question on nobody's mind:

What would Don Cherry do if he was coach of the women's hockey team in Turin and his players mounted a 7-0 lead in the first period? Would he tell them to coast or would he encourage them to score more goals?

So here's an unnamed CBC writer wondering aloud what a high-profile CBC employee would have to say about the Canadian national team. There is not a single current quote from Cherry himself, although the article does remind the reader that Cherry has a regular feature on Hockey Night in Canada.

I've forgotten: which network is HNIC on, again?

February 12, 2006


Today brought the opening of the cross-country skiing at the 2006 Olympics, and the most gripping competition so far. The men's 30 km pursuit had everything an Olympic race should have, and if you get a chance to see it on replay, I highly recommend it.

Kwan Done

Michelle Kwan withdrew herself from the Olympics today, and Emily Hughes will take her place in women's figure skating. Although I have a few thoughts on the subject, I will just be happy never to mention Kwan's name in this space again.

Updated Predictions

Canadian medal prediction, 2006 -- Updated 12 February

Figure 1 — Probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total.

Back here I made a probabilistic estimate of the number of medals Canada would win in Torino. I'm updating that estimate as events are decided. The blue curve shows my original (a priori) prediction, and the red curve shows the current prediction, accounting for events that have already happened.

Overall, Canada had some disappointments today. Cindy Klassen's bronze came in an event where I had predicted a significant chance of winning more than one. There were three other events where I had predicted a non-zero probability. The combined effect has been to reduce the expected number of medals to 20.2

Canada on the Podium

As a completely frivolous aside: I present Canada's 2006 Olympic podium suit (see also Cindy Klassen). The Canadian clothing is being provided by HBC this year. I have nothing positive to say so far, so I won't say anything at all.

On second thought, I will refrain from criticizing the Canadian walking-in uniform or the podium suit, but I think there is an issue here that bears some discussion. In recent years, the companies providing the Olympic clothing (Roots and now HBC) have also been offering it (or variations of it) for sale to the public. The clothing is therefore designed for mass consumption; in other words, the designers aim for something hip, modern, and casual, as opposed to elegant, classic, and formal. This really stands out when you see the Canadians standing on the podium next to athletes from other countries.

Women's Hockey

Canada's women's hockey team drubbed Russia 12-0 today, a day after a record-setting 16-0 thumping of Italy. Canadian officials have reportedly received some complaints from fans at home that our dominant women are "running up the score" on their hapless opponents.

There is nothing the Canadian media like better than a manufactured "controversy" that concerns hockey, so expect to hear more about this. The Canadian coaches have responded by pointing out that the "home" team in the gold medal game will likely be the team with the best goal differential in the tournament, and they don't want to throw that small advantage away. The coaches are absolutely right. The rules of the tournament encourage Canada and the United States to beat their opponents as badly as possible.

I will also point out that it is so typically Canadian that in the one sport where a gold or silver medal is virtually assured, we are worried about being nice; and meanwhile you can almost smell the national angst as the nation's athletes suffered their first day of relative disappointment at the Games.

And while we're on the topic: are those really cheerleaders at the women's hockey games? I thought that was limited to beach volleyball. Ugh.

Are those cheerleaders hiding in the aisle?

Also, have you noticed that some of the referees are wearing clunky-looking cameras on top of their helmets? I wish I had a picture, but I can't find one. The perspective seems to be used rather sparingly during the broadcasts. It's interesting to think about how this view might be used during instant replay reviews — unfortunately, as far as I know they still do not use instant replay in international hockey.


First of all, I just wanted to pass along this link. It's something the kids are calling a "Google Maps Mashup," and it's a pretty cool little application for scanning the Olympic results of the day.

Updated Predictions

Canadian medal prediction, 2006 -- Updated 11 February

Figure 1 — Probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total.

Back here I made a probabilistic estimate of the number of medals Canada would win in Torino, based on my estimates of the probabilities for individual athletes and teams. I'm going to update that estimate as events are decided, one way or another. The blue curve shows my original (a priori) prediction, and the red curve shows the current prediction, accounting for events that have already happened.

Nothing very surprising happened today. Canada won one medal, in an event where I predicted a high probability of success; and they didn't win in a bunch of events where I said there was zero chance of winning. So the distribution has become slightly narrower, but is otherwise unchanged.

Now for two Olympic stories of the day. First, let me express my disgust with the thought that Michelle Kwan might withdraw from competition due to poor health and an inability to complete her program. It is a little late to discover that her body might not be able to back up her enormous ego in the claim that she is, by default, and without competing or training, better than every other figure skater in America. And the USFSA will look like complete idiots unless she skates, and skates well.

Speaking of enormous egos, the sports story of the day, for me, happened at the speed skating oval. US skater Chad Hedrick won the men's 5000 m in dominant form. He came within two one-hundredths of a second of breaking the Olympic record, set in 2002 on much faster ice, and beat his nearest competitor by almost two seconds. That competitor, world record holder Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, had the misfortune of skating just before Hedrick, but I don't think he can reasonably say that it made the difference. Kramer skated well enough to put the outcome in doubt, and that's something. The bronze medallist was also a great story, as Italy's Enrico Fabris just edged out the second entry from the Netherlands, Carl Verheijen. Fabris was in sixth place with three laps to go, and in fourth place with one lap to do.

Canada's Arne Dankers also had a great race, finishing fifth. That was better than he has ever done in the 5,000 m on the World Cup, which is exactly what you want to do at the Olympics.

Now I should take a few minutes to commend CBC on their coverage. They showed about 7 or 8 pairs of skaters live and in real time, even though each heat took more than 6 minutes. They talked a lot about Dankers, but not excessively so, and gave Hedrick, Kramer, and Fabris their due for their performances. The broadcast team did a good job of explaining what to watch for and keeping the viewer up to date. And maybe I missed it, but I didn't hear a peep about how it was the thirteenth anniversary of Hedrick's grandmother's death. All in all, a nice job of covering sports.

February 10, 2006

On The Eve of the Olympics

As ken said in the comments, Happy Opening Ceremony Day! I only have a couple of things to say about the Opening Ceremonies, so I'll keep this brief.

First, I will remind the spectators of Rule 6, paragraph 1 of the Olympic Charter, which states (emphasis mine):

The Olympic Games are competitions between athletes in individual or team events and not between countries. They bring together the athletes selected by their respective NOCs, whose entries have been accepted by the IOC. They compete under the technical direction of the IFs concerned.

Try not to forget.

Second, I wanted to bring your attention to a quote that NBC's Olympics boss, Dick Ebersol, made earlier this week:

The Olympic opening ceremony is the most important event for the vast majority of the athletes here. Most won't come close to a medal. And for them, this is the pinnacle of their athletic careers.

Now, as thrilling as it is to march in the parade of nations national Olympic committees, the Opening Ceremonies are not even part of anybody's athletic career. Is it possible that the Chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics has so little understanding of sports? Does he really think that the "vast majority" of Olympic athletes would describe the opening ceremony as the most important event of the Olympics? Or is he just trying to sell a television show, and insulting the athletes to do it?

February 09, 2006

The Deep Cut and the Free Stuff

Image hosted by CBC.ca I have known Sami Jo Small since my days at Stanford, where she was a scholarship athlete on the track and field team, and played goal for the (men's) hockey club team; and I was a graduate student. Since that time Sami Jo has graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, and has also become a mainstay of Canada's hockey team. She was an alternate in 1998, played as the second goalie in 2002 behind Kim St. Pierre, and has played in numerous world championships as well.

Sami Jo is also part of the 2006 team, and I sent her an e-mail congratulating her for that accomplishment. She replied graciously, informing me that she was going as the alternate again; she won't play, and she isn't even officially an athlete. In many ways, this is worse than not being on the team; if you read Sami Jo's blog posts from January 2 and January 20, you will see exactly how hard it has been for her to face that decision. In her e-mail, though, she shows that she is coping pretty well with the end of her Olympic dream:

It's been a tough pill to swallow, however, I have decided to travel with the team over to Italy. We leave in less than two weeks now and despite knowing that I won't get to play at least I get all the free stuff! Humour will help me get through this!

That reminded me of a story about my own athletic career that I thought was sort of relevant. At the risk of sullying my until-now-pristine image, I'd like to tell a little story about the summer of 1992.

After an early season full of frustration, I was nominated to the COC as an alternate to the 1992 Olympic team. The nomination was rejected, to nobody's surprise; I was in training camp in Ottawa when I found out. With more than a month until the end of my season, I had the choice of staying to train with my friends on the Olympic team, or going home to train alone. There were a number of reasons that I decided to stick around, but the fact was that I just couldn't face going home. You see, my little brother had made the Olympic team where I had failed. To say that I was somewhat ashamed of myself should not diminish the fact that I was very proud of him; I think that this contradiction is something that anybody with siblings can understand, and I won't say more about it.

At any rate, I stayed in Ottawa for a few weeks, and I think I was a valuable addition to the training group. (Well, I am sure that I was occasionally crabby or unpleasant or just plain depressing to be around; I am sure that Sami Jo's brave face has also slipped a few times over the past month.) Just before departing for Spain, the team was scheduled to take part in an Olympic warm-up regatta against the US team in Lake Placid. I was invited to participate, to help fill out the race card, and to keep me motivated. The only hitch was that the team was travelling to Lake Placid via Toronto, stopping to take care of their Olympic staging over the weekend.

Staging, for those of you who don't know, is basically an orientation session for the Olympic team. Canadian athletes, coaches, and staff all have to pass through the COC's staging process to be prepared for the Olympics — and to get a bag full of "free stuff," as Sami Jo puts it. In 1992, staging was set up at a nice hotel in Toronto. So if I was going to travel with the team to Lake Placid, I was going to have to find somewhere to stay for the weekend.

Fortunately, it so happened that my brother was not going to Lake Placid, or to staging, and so I engaged in a small deception. I went to staging, pretending to he him; I stayed in the nice hotel room that he was entitled to, and I ate the nice meals. I collected all of his free stuff, and learned everything that he needed to know about Barcelona. The highlight of the weekend was a trip to a Blue Jays game at the Skydome, where I was announced (as him) on the field with a large group of Olympic athletes. I got autographs from Jeff Kent and Juan Guzman, on a Blue Jays hat that my brother happily let me keep, and although the Blue Jays lost badly, I enjoyed myself immensely.

Of course the entire experience could have been extremely bitter, since I knew it was only a pretense. But my friends and teammates joined in the fun, and saw that I was taking the deep cut of failure with my sense of humour more or less intact; and I think I emerged from the experience healthier than I was when I entered. I raced in Lake Placid, and went home and gave my brother (most of) his free stuff; after that, I saw him off to Barcelona, and cheered heartily for him on TV. Over the years I had many more opportunities to cheer him on, including at the 1996 Olympics, which we went to together.

In some ways, Sami Jo's situation is more difficult, because she knows that this was her last opportunity. She has chosen to be positive about her role in spite of her disappointment, and her questions about the fairness of the decision. She has nothing to gain from this; she is already an Olympic gold medallist, and has been the hero for Canada many times. Although she jokes about her motivation, it is clear that it would have been easier for her to walk away. It is to her great credit that she did not.

Softball, Baseball Fail in Attempt at Reinstatement

This just in: baseball and softball have failed in their attempt to be reconsidered for the 2012 programme.

The Canadian Press report is a little bit confusing, but if the earlier description of the process is correct, it sounds like both sports obtained the one-third support required to raise a motion that the vote should be redone. Then the motion failed to gain majority approval. That surprises me, given that softball lost by the slimmest of margins last time.

One thing I notice is that there were about 15 fewer voting delegates this time around, which may have been part of the problem. Because of the 2012 host city election, the summer congress was very well-attended. In particular, some of the Latin American and Asian delegates who supported the two sports might have stayed away from this session, given their lack of interest in the Winter Olympics.

February 08, 2006

We Need a Little Humour Here

After the last two posts, I'm in the mood for something a little lighter. And since it's winter, that means more thoughts on figure skating (the dysfunctional sports get all the attention, don't they?)

Let's get the shocking news out of the way first: Michelle Kwan did satisfy the monitoring committee, and made the Olympic team last week. That's good news for the marketers at Coca Cola, who have otherwise been having a bad month.

Last week the Ottawa Sun ran a "four years later" feature on Canadian skaters David Pelletier and Jamie Sale titled The unsolved mystery of Skategate. You remember Skategate — crooked judges, fixed outcomes, and eventually two gold medals in pairs? Well, for 2006, the ISU has introduced a completely new scoring system that could never, ever be manipulated by corrupt judges, they promise.

Incredibly, one of the aforementioned crooked judges from 2002 is taking credit for the new scoring system. French judge Marie-Reine La Gougne, currently serving a suspension after admitting that she altered her scores for the 2002 pairs competition, had this to say:

World skating has paid me homage. I saw it at the Trophee Bompard [in November] when the judges came to see me and said: "Marie-Reine, the new scoring system is so great, thank you Marie-Reine because without you there would not have been a new scoring system."

And without all those people who steal gas, we wouldn't have the convenience of paying at the pump! Le Gougne now claims that she didn't manipulate her vote, and that she was made a scapegoat over the issue. Here, too, she's good for an entertaining quote:

The ISU had only one option, to justify the awarding of the second gold medal. So, obviously, the poor French judge was going to get it with both barrels. I was a lightweight … politically, on a sporting level, ethically, morally, financially.

Now, Le Gougne does have a point. She is an ideal scapegoat, since she is barely coherent in public and seems almost blissfully self-unaware. The ISU has put a band-aid on this issue, but nobody really believes that the problem has gone away. A few weeks ago the The Globe and Mail ran a good story about the legal battle between the USFSA and the upstart World Skating Federation. The WSF was created by a former US figure skating judge and an administrator, who together helped blow the lid off the Skategate scandal. As a reward for their whistleblowing, they've been drummed out of the ISU, and banned from judging. The article is now available by registration only, but here's a segment:

The incident is an example of how people in power in the figure skating world operate, Jackson said. "That's how fear and intimidation works," he said. "It really does keep people quiet." Last March, the ISU barred Jackson and Pfenning from membership because of their roles in forming the WSF. It also barred four other former officials and judges for similar roles.

All six had a role in exposing the corruption at Salt Lake. Pfenning was the referee of the pairs panel and reported the wrongdoing of French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne, who has finished her suspension and is free to work again as a skating official, except at the Turin Olympics. Jackson was the assistant team leader for the U.S. figure skating team at Salt Lake and witnessed Le Gougne's outburst in which she claimed she was forced to barter a gold medal for the French dance team in exchange for a gold for Russians in the pairs competition.

Jackson has been disturbed that the Russians were never punished for their alleged role in the scandal.

You have to laugh, or cry.

February 04, 2006

Olympic Wrestling With Jane Roos

The Canadian Olympic Committee and its international counterparts regularly get bad press over their aggressive defense of their Olympic trademarks. Every few weeks it seems that there's a story about the USOC sending a cease-and-desist order to some bizarre "Olympics" or another. I don't usually comment on those stories, because I don't understand all the legal issues, and because frankly they are all pretty much the same.

The most recent mini-controversy , however, is a little bit different. This time, the offended group includes a significant number of Canadian Olympic athletes.

In 1997, a former athlete named Jane Roos started the "See You in Sydney Fund," a not-for-profit organization that collected donations from ordinary Canadians, and from Canadian corporations, and distributed them to Canadian Olympic hopefuls. That successful project turned into the "See You in Salt Lake Fund," the "See You in Athens Fund," and eventually the "See You in Torino Fund." In total, Roos has already distributed about three million dollars directly to about 500 Canadian athletes. The amount of each distribution depends on the total amount raised, but we're talking about thousands of dollars per athlete. That's a significant amount for a Canadian amateur athlete.

Roos and the people who work for her have also been quite successful at building their brand. If you read the sports pages in Canadian newspapers, you may remember a series of print ads that raised a few eyebrows by comparing elite athletes to the homeless. Those were followed by a pair of dramatic television spots, entitled "Tears" and "Thoughts."

Those two commercials make a very thinly-veiled allusion to the Olympic games; combined with the "See You In Athens" name, it's difficult to argue that Roos isn't using the Olympics as a selling point for her fundraising. And in Canada, the Olympic Games and associated trademarks are the property of the COC.

I won't pretend to understand all of the legal issues here, but the COC has stepped in and claimed the "See You In" name as its own. Clearly, they did that for the sole purpose of stopping Roos from using the name. Their action has been called "punitive and petty" in the Toronto Sun, and last Friday night on CBC television they got a few more heaping helpings of abuse:

It's crazy. Why would you want to see something that's helping so many people and doing nothing negative go on? If she didn't exist, we would have five, six less medals at the last Olympics. If you want to get rid of Jane, what are you going to replace her with? It's not going to happen. If you're going to get rid of the fund, where's that gap going to be filled? It's a necessary part of the Canadian sports system. — Adam van Koeverden, Olympic gold medallist
Right now for the existence of this fund, we have to get behind it. The COC can't attack its own athletes. It can't attack the Olympians. — Jake Wetzel, Olympic medallist
She embarrassed them. They said, oh, look at what this lovely woman is doing by herself. Maybe we better copy it, but first we better cut her head off. Oh, come on. There was a big misconception in Canada. The misconception is that the Canadian Olympic Committee looks after athletes, amateur athletes in Canada. They do not. — Paul Henderson, former member of the COC

Well, all of this is a bit hyperbolic, which I'll get to in a minute; but did the COC do wrong by Canadian athletes here, or not? My first thought was that the COC ought to have played nice on this. They've been watching Roos flirt with the Olympics for quite a while now. Why not just approach her about licensing the "See You In …" name? Surely everybody is working toward the same goal here, and the COC shouldn't object to some extra fundraising for athletes. License the name to Roos for a token fee, and everybody's happy — maybe the COC could even be listed as a fund sponsor. What would be the harm?

Well, the harm comes when Roos' corporate sponsors are in direct competition with the COC's:

Credit card giant Visa paid $100-million (U.S.) to be an official IOC sponsor. Rival MasterCard put $500,000 (Canadian) into Roos's fund and could say it was supporting Canada's team, though it had to stop short of referring to the Olympics.

Now let's think about how Canada's athletes would react to that situation if the Mastercard donation wasn't going directly into their pockets. If Mastercard was using scenes from the Olympics, or the Olympic rings, or even the word Olympic in their advertising, and they weren't an official Olympic sponsor, the athletes would be lining up to support the COC. They know, or they should, that the COC is a very important source of support for amateur sport in Canada, and they know that the COC derives its income from its ability to license the Olympic brand. Mastercard's cheap entry into the market weakens the COC's position and reduces the value of the official Olympic sponsorship. Money lost to the COC is money lost to amateur sport; in this particular case, the athletes are reaping a small gain, but risking a large loss. What would happen if all of the COC's official Olympic sponsors decided to go the "unofficial" route? That would be a big net loss for sport, because the COC puts a lot more money into the system than the "See You In …" fund.

It's true, as Paul Henderson says, that the COC does not put a lot of money directly into the hands of Canadian athletes. They distribute funding indirectly though the NSOs. (It's also true that there is some public misconception about this fact, which Roos has worked hard to correct.) And it might be true that more amateur sport money should go right to the athletes, and not to the NSOs. But the fact remains that if you raise money based on a link to the Olympics, you're doing it at the COC's expense. And that, in the big picture, is not good for Canada's athletes.

Now, as for the end-of-the-world scenarios of Wetzel and van Koeverden, that's really just another example of Roos' marketing genius. Because of course taking away the name is not the same as taking away the fund. Roos and her team, while they pursue their legal challenge against the COC, have already created the CAN (Canadian Athletes Now) Fund; and frankly, I think it's a great change. I found the old strategy, centred around the claim that "70% of Canadian athletes live below the poverty line," to be excessively negative, not to mention intellectually dishonest. The new print campaign is a refreshing about-face, concentrating instead on the positive impact of the funding. And with her PR skills, Roos has also been able to rally her anti-establishment image, which won't hurt one bit.

I just hope that these guys like the name.