Good thing the Olympics come to town only once in a life-time. I’m exhausted and I’m not even participating. Of course I’ve been supporting the Games in my own way – shouting until hoarse as Canada scored over and over and OVER against Russia yesterday being just the most recent cause of instant patriotism and a sudden love for hockey. Canada’s winter games medal haul is of course made all the sweeter by not only being on home soil but in my home town. So why is it happening now all of a sudden? Why is Canada suddenly no longer an apologetic also-ran nation of nice people who finish last? Surely it can’t be only the result of acres of red scarves and sweaters cheering themselves into bronchial exhaustion. It just might be partly due to the fact that the government finally woke up and saw that we had athletes worth supporting – and threw money at them in the form of a program called Own the Podium (affectionately known as OTP).
Canadian athletes in most sports have been neglected by Sport Canada for so long that the ‘underfunded athlete policy’ was in danger of being incorporated into the Constitution. Here’s how the chicken-and-egg story went:
Canadian athlete (let’s say a female bobsledder or a three-day-event rider): I can’t excel at the top of my sport because I don’t receive anywhere near the level of funding that sport super-powers such as the US give their athletes.
Sport Canada: Win a medal and then we’ll support you.
Athlete (inwardly asking: are they really that dumb?): but I already told you I can’t win a medal because I can’t afford to train full-time and obtain specialist coaching that would make me competitive enough to win a medal.
Sport Canada: Win a medal. Then we’ll talk.
Then along came an idea – I don’t know who had the lightbulb moment or when it happened – but the COC suddenly decided that they wanted Canada to dominate Vancouver 2010 and had the brains to know that would mean throwing money at athletes. Canada hasn’t dominated these Olympics – last night we were still holding steady in fourth – and not many realists probably believed that it was going to happen in 2010. But Canada is having a hell of a party in Vancouver, winning medals – gold at that – in sports that it’s never medalled before.
If you are wondering where this is all going and when I’m going to talk about horses again, your wait is over. When OTP started to look like a really good idea that was going to yield results, the powers decided to extend the program beyond winter sports, and summer sports were put on the gravy train. Not all of them, mind you. But thanks to the show jumpers and our Lamazing medals in Hong Kong equestrian sports made the list (yes, still that ‘win a medal and we’ll give you money’ thing). The funding is supposed to be perpetual for three years leading up to London, as long as all the ‘i’s are dotted and ‘t’s are crossed by the committees responsible for managing the funds within each equestrian discipline (my fingers are crossed for you, DC). I sure hope no one screws up because this is FREE money and so far it’s been used for precisely what is needed: getting our riders exposed to competing with the best in the world. By the time WEG rolls around in September my vocal chords will have recovered from all my cheering here in Vancouver, and I’ll be ready to wear them out on our teams in Kentucky.
On another vaguely related topic: For those of you who are my Facebook friends, you have seen photos and heard rumours that some extreme Olympic celebrating went on among some of my friends and myself up at Whistler last week. I want to assure you that the only damage done was to me, and it was self-inflicted. Next time I go to a bar with that gang I’m wearing a helmet.