The Chinese were pretty smart about this one. For a couple years, lots of folks were writing lots of stories about how China was going to eclipse the U.S. in the Olympic medals department come this year’s Summer Olympics. As the Games crept closer, The Chinese went into denial (okay, they’ve had lots of practice at it, but still). Oh, no, they said, it’s going to be very tough. We might do as well as the Americans.
Well, who’s laughing now. The pressure, we think, was somewhat reduced and now the Chinese are going gangbusters, leaving us to ponder what medals might be left for Canadians to win in 2012 or 2016 if the Chinese keep coming on. And at least we know that, barring a really big shift in the San Andres fault, they won’t be at the Toronto Pan American Games in 2015 should that come to pass, right?
The Canadian Olympic Committee, on the other hand, came out with a pretty aggressive stance; standing up at the Royal York Hotel and here in Beijing prior to the Games and suggesting that 13 to 19 medals might be in order for 2008. This despite the fact that Canada usually brings home 12 or 13 medals at Summer Games if you take Atlanta out of the equation as the “blip” it appears to have been.
A conversation with an Australian colleague the other night revealed that the Aussies also are coming up a little short. “The Australian Olympic Committee projected 45 or 48 but I think 38 medals is more realistic,” she told me.
Before you get sick to your stomach at the idea of so many baubles for a country about the size of ours, consider that the Aussies poured a ton of cash into sport prior to the 2000 Summer Olympics; something Canada has done to top the podium in Vancouver but not so much to do anything in China.
What might be more interesting is the politics behind the decision. My colleague suggested that the money going to sports in Australia hasn’t been increased to take care of inflation, which means the actual dollars have dropped since we saw those closing ceremony fireworks lighting up the Harbour Bridge. It’s possible that the Australian Olympic Committee knew that 48 medals was unrealistic, and that by suggesting that number they were setting themselves up to take a run at the government in Canberra to hike funding back to 2000 levels. Who knows if it’s true, but it would be an interesting strategy.
We wonder if maybe the Canadian Olympic Committee wasn’t doing the same thing. Somehow, though, we doubt it. And given the way the Canadian public back home reacted to the lack of baubles hanging around Canadian necks over here for the first seven days of the Games, it would appear that setting high expectations didn’t exactly sparked a run on angry emails to all those hard-working MP’s – not to mention the over-burdened senators – in Ottawa.
There’s an old axiom in sports journalism: no cheering in the press box.
Folks from the outside at first don’t get it. But covering sports isn’t like watching sports. If you watch sports, have a beer and paint your face and yell and scream all you like. Maybe even throw some batteries if you’re from New York. But don’t do that when people are working and trying to write objectively about a sports team.
As a sports reporter, you naturally feel something when your team wins. It was a thrill to sit in the press box at the SkyDome and see Joe Carter’s home run against Philadelphia. It was heartbreaking to see Mike Weir lose to Vijay Singh at the Canadian Open. But there wee no outward signs of emotion.
The Olympics tend to be a little different. I remember calling home to talk with my family on the phone when Canada won gold in hockey at the Salt Lake Games. And I dashed down to the Canadian Olympic Committee office to shake hands with folks when it was over; mostly because I was surrounded by Americans in the main press centre.
But I’ve never seen Canadians jumping up and down when a Canadian wins an Olympic medal. It may happen, but I’ve never seen it.
A chap from the Globe and Mail and I were watching Carol Huyhn win her gold medal in wrestling on Saturday. Partly it was because we had to dash off words for our web sites, but when she won neither of us seemingly felt the urge to leap into the air and yell, “Go, Canada, go.” Instead, we smiled, looked up at Huyhn sobbing into her hands and said, “Awww, that’s nice.”
On the other hand, the Brits who sit near me in the press centre, most of them great guys from what I can tell, were going nuts watching their men’s four rowing team win a gold medal Saturday. True, it’s a great sport for Britain and we don’t know a lot about Huyhn. But I think some of the way we approached the Huyhn story has to do with being Canadian.
There really is a great wall in China. The air was so clear today that when we left the Water Cube after filing reports on Michael Phelps’ seventh gold of the games, we looked up at the mountains (who knew they had mountains?) to the west of town and could see the wall snaking high up one of the peaks.
Truth be known, it gave me goosebumps.
Colleague Dave Perkins mentioned something the other night that still resonates.
We don’t see any animals around here.
I’m staying in a media village, not a residential area with lots of locals. And the Olympic sports centre where most of the activities take place is closed off to people without tickets. But we haven’t even seen a bird floating in the sky since we got here, at least not that we can remember.
I did hear a dog barking in an apartment when I walked by one day a while back. But we haven’t seen any dogs or cats about, and nary a bird.