I’ll never know what it takes to be an Olympic athlete — the blood, the sweat, the tears, the years of dedication to a dream. I’ve sat here, in front of my TV for the last twelve days, watching the London 2012 Olympic Games, judging as we all do. Judging a team on its cohesion, judging an athlete on his preparation, judging a referee on her discretion. Nonetheless, it breaks my heart when our best and brightest athletes feel the need to apologize for giving their sport their everything: commitment at the expense of a “life”, their bodies, their hearts, but coming up short on the day. It angers me to see a national network beat the proverbial dead horse about a teenager’s choice to compete for the only home she’s ever known. It pains me to hear criticism over the taxpayer money going to programs intended to promote healthy living, participation in sport, and a positive life.
Canada currently sits in 12th place on the medals table, helped today by the great Adam van Koeverden as well as wrestler Carol Hyunh and the current generation of Canada’s great sporting family in the person of Mark Oldershaw. Van Koeverden looked poised for gold after the K1 1000m heats and semi-finals, which he owned, but in sport, as in life, nothing is ever certain, and on this day, van Koeverden was simply bested by someone else. Does this take away from his accomplishments in his sport? Absolutely not. Instead, we are left with a greater example of sportsmanship than we would have seen had the legendary kayaker been crowned Olympic champion. Asked about coming in second to Norwegian kayaker and training mate Eirik Larsen, van Koeverden took the loss in stride:
“Eirik and I work well together and you just have to flip a coin and it comes up the wrong side for you and you gotta deal with it. I’m happy with my silver. I said it before, I don’t like stacking my 1,000-metre silvers up on my dresser at home, but if I have to lose to somebody, he’s a classy guy and I respect so much and I trust him implicitly, so … if I have to lose to somebody Eirik’s an okay guy to lose to.”†
His display of goodwill towards the man he lost the race to is telling. Sports isn’t just about winning and losing, but also about how you play the game. It’s about how you get up and get on with it, even on the most disappointing of days. Canada’s Olympics have resulted in some disappointment: the great Clara Hughes finished in fifth place in the Women’s Individual Time Trial earlier in these games, expected triathlete medalist Paula Findlay barely managed to cross the finish line, finishing in 52nd place. Simon Whitfield, the first Olympic gold medalist in triathlon in Sydney (2000), crashed out of his race. Then there was the spectacle of Women’s Soccer, in which it appears that Canada was behind the eight-ball, beleaguered by poor officiating and bad luck. Regardless, it is in the face of defeat that we ask the most of our athletes and more often than not, they rise to the occasion, leaving everything they have on the field of play. How can we ask more of them than that?
So no regrets, Clara Hughes, @vankayak and @simonwhitfield. No explanations, @CanadaSoccerEN. No apologies, @PaulaFindlay. Just thank you to everyone who made the Canadian Olympic Team. For giving it your everything. Thank you.