Well, another Olympiad has come and gone, and for the XXXth consecutive quadrennium, Canada somehow failed to top the medal count. But cheer up! Not only did we take home the most bronze per-capita (just in time for the coming penny shortage!), but the nation's editorial pages are practically brimming with encouraging sentiment about national pride and junk.
Watching the Olympics I asked myself over and over again why an individual chose his or her particular sport, and what passion and drive moved them from a simple love of a sport to become an Olympic athlete? It's a question perhaps without one absolute answer. I've also been curious if innate talent is at the root of the decision as to which sport an individual chooses to pursue. Are great athletes born or are they nurtured and made? I've read repeatedly that it isn't necessarily that certain people are gifted and just naturally excel in a particular area.
The Olympics have a great atmosphere, dedicated athletes and the spirit of goodwill. That leaves us with but one characteristic of the Olympics to explain why we don't care about the Olympics when the Olympics aren't staring us right in the face: the games themselves, and here, I think, is where the problem lies. It's that the sports competed in at the Olympics don't keep our attention. In other words, they are not interesting to us when not framed by the Olympics.
In two days, three Jamaicans won medals in sprinting. These victories mean a lot more to the country than deciding who can run fastest while stripped down to underwear. There's a marvelous symbolism involved. Even, perhaps, revenge. For almost three hundred years Jamaica was more or less owned by the British and ruled from London.
As he is the most decorated Olympian of all time, we may never see another athlete accomplish what Michael Phelps has in our lifetime. But, does that make him the ultimate athlete of the Olympic Games? Since creating their Competitive Index for Sport, Mitchell and Stewart found that it was possible to rate the competitive quality of a given sport and the chances for success, whereby the lower the competitive index score the greater chance an individual stood to be successful at the Olympic Games. After seeing the index, it's no wonder why winning the gold medal in the 100 metre is one of the most coveted medals in the world.
Earlier this week three Sudanese athletes who had been part of their country's Olympic training squad also disappeared from the Olympic village and are expected to seek political asylum in Britain. There are certain to be empty seats on planes returning to a number of countries in the Middle East and Africa after the closing ceremonies. The Olympics are a tribute to human athleticism and dedication but they are also an anachronism in which some are competing for glory and pride whereas, others, like gladiators, are competing for the lives of their families or in fear for their personal security.
So if you're reading this it means a) it's raining or b) you are in full-body traction, because every other Canadian is out celebrating... what? Maybe it's time for a large corporation to buy the rights to our lamely titled "Civic Holiday." Let's just put it out to the highest bidder, shall we? Tim Hortons Day. Labatt's Blue Day. Surely those are themes all Canadians could rally around?