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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Share the Podium

I was dismayed to learn recently that many of our American media colleagues, including some athletes, took to mocking not only Canada's "Own the Podium" initiative, but our claim to hockey supremacy after the loss to Ryan Miller and Team USA on Sunday. I like friendly competition as much as the next person but maligning Canada's attempt to win more medals than in previous games, not to mention insulting Team Canada's performance is unjust and, in my opinion, bad PR for the USA. Much worse PR, say, than an American snowboarding medalist, caught with his medal (hanging at crotch level) being kissed by a 'fan', then summarily dispatched from Vancouver to his rural home in New Hampshire. The first is arrogance, the other just immature. Wait - both are immature. Only the snowboarder is punished.

Having covered the British press' misinterpretation of OTP in my last blog, I do not wish to beat this story to death. Yet how can we expect other nations to refrain from such poorly considered outbursts when our own Olympic Committee are even more inconsiderate. Their negativity about OTP and therefore the performance of Canadian athletes at these Olympic Games is a PR nightmare. It seems the Communications and Public Affairs staff at the Canadian Olympic Committee forgot to fully apprise CEO Chris Rudge about OTP, the true meaning of sportsmanship, and, perhaps most of all, discretion. Imagine being a Canadian athlete and reading this: "There's going to be a lot of questions asked about Own The Podium," Rudge acknowledged. "We will eviscerate this program in every detail when we're finished. It's painful to go into the autopsy while the patient is still alive and kicking."

Eviscerate? Autopsy? Canada had never won a gold medal on home soil prior to February 12, 2010. Our athletes have now won 6. Canada won 7 medals in Calgary back in 1988. Canadian athletes have won 11, and there are plenty of events to come. By Rudge's estimation, this is tantamount to catastrophic failure. With 10 times the population of Canada, I would expect the USA to win at least 30 or 35 medals. Good for them! Same for Germany, Russia, Norway etc. These countries have always placed a premium on 'amateur ' athleticism and results; they have much larger populations and more available funding. And for once Canada has likewise stepped up in support of our athletes with the OTP program. Unfortunately, OTP was misinterpreted (by those who, I suspect, embrace nationalistic hype) as blindly patriotic, the type of tiresome bravado that makes most Canadians cringe. And so OTP became a lighting rod for insults and abuse.

Canadians and their athletes now have earned gold on home terrain and compete at a much higher level. That was the point of OTP. Losing medals to other great Olympians is not embarrassing - it is simply a part of competition on the world's stage. And now Olympians from around the world know that they can just as easily place second to a Canadian. The fulfilled promise of OTP to our athletes should be obvious to all of us. A pity Rudge missed the real meaning of this excellent, if not poorly named, initiative; as CEO of the COC, his comments have, I believe, insulted our athletes, done damage to their golden reputation, and tarnished the glory that OTP has delivered to all Canadian fans of Olympic competition.

Share the Podium would have been a better name, imo...and much more Canadian in spirit.

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