The great thing about the modern Olympics is that the podium has room for three…or is it? Are there really three winners…do you really ‘win’ a silver or bronze? To put things in perspective, these days you will likely take home a pay cheque from your home country (re. Canada’s ‘Own the Podium’ program) for any color medal, maybe a sponsor bonus if you’re in the right sport and maybe even some note of celebrity with a silver or a bronze, well, at least that is until your home country wins a gold and the winner gets a ‘Golden’ victory ceremony of their own the following day once organizers have time to get, well, get their priorities straight. The irony is the old adage, “second place is the first place loser’, holds truer than ever once you have some gold to cling on to. Win, Place or Show…you get the picture.
Meanwhile, in horse racing it makes sense; you put your $2.00 down and decide the level of risk you are comfortable with, Win, Place or Show. Why? Because in some statistical algorithm in some Atlantic city backroom somewhere back in time guys with accents and bulges in their jackets discovered that people bet more and took more risks when they had more options that win…sponsors take note…more winners, more fans, more tickets, more $$, more sponsors…enter the modern Olympics.
But wait a minute…rewind…in ancient days, athletes were granted safe passage to the games (the original Olympiad) between city-states and the winner of an Olympic race was awarded an olive branch. Oh, those were the days! Winning was the reward in itself right? The truth be told, the early competitors by most accounts were likely military recruits training for the honor of dying battle. In fact, in later ancient games (if that makes sense) in the case of Chariot racing, the victor was ‘the owner of the horse and chariot’…not the driver who won the race. You do the math. As much as things change, they stay the same. As events were added to the games that winning spirit remained. Take boxing for example; in ancient times the competitors wore thin leather gloves, there were no rounds or time limits, just a single champion crowned after either a competitor conceded defeat or died (and in the true spirit of the games, the athlete who died was pronounced the victor – perhaps the International Luge Federation should take that into consideration. Just a thought in respect of this year’s tragic loss.) Did I say enter the modern Olympics?
I watched the Men’s Olympic Super-G in Whistler today and saw remnants of the mythical US team in the 1969 film classic, ‘Downhill Racer’, and the lost spirit of the games. A string of Canadian racers were interviewed during a delay and without reference to their own DNF runs two skiers in a row cited mythical champion David Champlain’s (Robert Redford’s) excuses for crashing as he did early in the movie, “…it’s not fare…if only I had started earlier…I was in ruts up to my knees…”, to which his coach replied, “No, you just weren’t strong enough.” No congratulations to the winners, no applause to their team-mate who came in the top 5, no…they just weren’t strong enough. Like the US Ski Team Assistant Coach said in the film, “It’s not a team sport, is it?”
Back to LA in 1984…the night of the Olympic closing ceremonies…remember 1984? Dancing on the Ceiling, Carl Lewis, Alex Bauman and Victor Davis…the summer Carl Lewis won 4 gold medals and the Olympic games made a profit (that’s another story)? Remember? (If you’re old enough you do.) Did you know the US also won 61 silver medals and 30 bronze in LA? Neither did I…I had to look it up. The point is this, we remember songs, dead poets and champions. We remember Homer’s Odyssey and Ulysses and the Trojan horse but the dude who lead the Trojan army? His name is on the tip of my tongue but I don’t remember. It’s about winning Canada…the spirit of sport and brotherhood and all the other stuff too…yes…but gold is forever.
‘Own the Podium’, ‘B 2 Ten’…win, place or show? The goal is not to have a reason, or an excuse, or three shots at a medal. The bottom line is the podium is too big. The goal is to put the athletes on their game on a given day and find a champion. Take away the weather, the lights, the cameras, the sponsors, the organizing bodies, the therapists, the judges and all the other ‘stuff’ and they all want to win. We all know what Vince Lombardi said, “Winning is not everything…winning is a habit, but unfortunately so is losing.” Ask Shawn White what his goal was heading into the games? To get a medal? To have beat personal best? To beat the American record? You see where this is going. Ask the Canadian Hockey Teams what their goals are here in 2010. Better yet, ask Canadians what their goals are. Gold right? I’ve already ordered my #12 Jersey. Bring on the gold Canada.