There was quite a bit of reaction on yesterday’s CTV torch bearers post. Read the comments if you get a chance, they're quite interesting. Also had many people in the Olympic community tell me they totally agreed with me -- off the record. These things are pretty tough for those in the fray, unfortunately.
But the ridiculousness of 27 “media celebrities” carrying the torch really struck me yesterday afternoon when I attended a Special Olympics event to celebrate the launch of a book commemorating the 40th anniversary of the movement in Canada.
Looking at the volunteers, coaches, athletes/kids in that room, I thought ‘These are exactly the kind of people who should be carrying the torch.’
One of the readers, Nigel, posted a request for contacts at CTV and RBC where he could provide feedback on the issue.
Gibson and several of his fellow fire fighters and friends each carried a 20-litre jug of water approximately 12 kilometres from Canada Olympic Park in Calgary to his older son’s Gedion’s school.
Gibson and his wife Jen adopted two young boys, Gedion and Taye, from Ethiopia last year and have asked that the funds they raise be used in that region.
Gibson got the idea for his dare watching a documentary on television that showed a young girl who every single day of her life walked two hours to a well and filled up what appeared to be a 20-litre container of water.
His fundraising goal was $7,500. One generous couple who chose to remain anonymous doubled that total once he reached it.
Among those doing the walk with Gibson was Olympic speed skating champion Clara Hughes, fresh from the World Cup trials in Richmond. Hughes also chipped in a donation -- she gave $10,000 to Right To Play after her Olympic win in Turin -- wisely chose not to lug the 20 litres of water.
“I can’t carry that much weight right now because I probably wouldn’t be able to skate for two months,” Hughes told Kristen Odland of the Calgary Herald.
Here’s a cute video of Gibson and his sons leading up to the big trek:
AKSEL BEATS IT: Speaking of cute videos, you’ve got to hand it to Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway, one of the top skiers in the world who wasn’t afraid to poke fun at himself by filming this Michael Jackson tribute with some teammates during a training camp in Portillo, Chile.
Svindal is a great friend of the Canadian team and was training with them at that camp in Chile. So the question lingers: Where is the Canadian ski team music video?
Canadians tend to be a shy bunch. Take our video today on Cindy Klassen. When we asked her if she did any imitations, she sheepishly admitted she did one of her pet budgie.
After much prodding, she still couldn’t bring herself to do it – on or off camera.
CTV put out a news release yesterday that 27 of their “storytellers” (translation broadcasters) are going to carry the Olympic torch as part of the cross country relay. Pardon me if I can’t get excited about that.
In fact, it strikes me as being totally counter to the spirit everyone associated with the Olympic torch relay loves to espouse, not to mention journalism ethics.
The CTV Group of 27 – ranging from Brian Williams to Ben Mulroney to Stephen Brunt of the Globe and Mail – are basically jumping to the front of the line ahead of the Canadian public, not to mention all the worthy Canadian Olympic athletes present and past who aren’t going to get or be offered that opportunity (See speed skater Kristina Groves’ story).
They’re getting that chance because Olympic sponsor RBC is bestowing it upon them. It’s all part of the CTV-led Olympic broadcast media consortium’s game plan to use all the platforms available to them to market themselves and the Games.
Fair enough. But don’t spoon feed us all this stuff about how special and sacred the Olympic torch is as it gets lit today amid much pomp and pageantry in Olympia, Greece, and then go right ahead and use it as a crass marketing tool.
Okay, Brian Williams carrying the torch is understandable. The guy’s been the face of Olympic TV coverage forever. Carolyn Waldo, Olympic champion synchro swimmer turned broacaster, is another worthy candidate in the Group of 27.
But Ben Mulroney? Michael Landsberg? Local CTV broadcaster Ken Shaw?
Perhaps they don’t have a choice in the matter. Perhaps this is a CTV edict. Maybe they’re embarrassed by it.
Surely, they’re thinking: What’d I ever do to deserve to carry the torch?
Veteran Canadian luger Regan Lauscher didn’t pull any punches in chastizing the community of Whistler for their indifference – and, she says, hostility – towards the team as they train on the Olympic track there. She lays out her case in the blog she is writing for CTV.
"My biggest challenge at the moment is surviving life in British Columbia," writes Lauscher.
be honest I'm not exactly sure what the people in Whistler dislike
more, the fact that I'm Albertan or that I'm a participant in their
perceived '‘Olympic abomination.'"
Lauscher later adds: "I mean, I get it.... we aren't saving lives, putting guys in the moon
or improving the deteriorating environment, but seriously, I have to
ask, in a country full of opportunity and prosperity, and with room for
everyone, "why the hate?"
A friend with strong Whistler roots, Michel Beaudry, believes it's a gross over-reaction on Lauscher's part and that people there aren't negative towards the athletes at all.
This will no doubt spark a good discussion in them thar hills. Hopefully, it doesn't increase any hostility there may be there.
There's no denying a tension in Whistler about the coming Olympic extravaganza. Could be very interesting come Games time.
Does IOC Really Care? Olympic cross-country champion Beckie Scott made a plea to the International Olympic Committee last week to do more to help athletes cope with the tough transition after their careers are over.
Unlike many of their pro counterparts who also tend to struggle – let’s face it, it’s hard to adjust when the peak of your career comes when you’re in your 20s – most Olympians don’t have a large financial cushion to help them out.
The sad part is it's not likely much will ever be done for these athletes because they don’t have the clout of a union.
There are programs in place to be sure – the Canadian Olympic Committee has one – but it’s hard to know how effective they are and the biggest problem as Scott pointed out is in the developing countries. It's incumbent upon the IOC to try to help these athletes out because they can be future leaders.
There are groups in some sports, such as the athlete-led recently developed DemocraSki in the International Ski Federation, which are looking to have an impact on these issues. But they only just recently began getting invited to the annual congress so you know they’ve got a long way in making any progress.
The problem tends to be that the athletes with these concerns tend to come and go based on the longevity of their career, while the sports officials who seem not to care that much about their future stick around forever.
Too many of the former athletes who end up in positions with the IOC such as the athletes’ commission tend to be – unlike the aforementioned Scott – self-serving individuals more concerned with their own upward movement than their peers welfare.
Let’s face it, the IOC has the richest television and sponsor contracts in sport and does very little for the athletes. And they won’t unless they’re forced to.
Here’s a perspective on this home advantage kerfuffle from a guy who’s been there -- Paul Henderson, the former Olympic sailor and longtime international sailing pooh-bah.
Henderson wrote in an email this morning …
I am so proud that Vancouver 2010 is giving our athletes, within the rules, a "Home Court Advantage".
I want to throw up when I here the "Holier than Thou" crying coming out of the U Sof A.
Let me explain:
Each sport has a pre-Olympics Trial to test the site and organization. In 1975 Sailing had such a trial in Kingston for the 1976 Montreal Games. We gave each country 3 entries.
I got a call from the manager of the USA Sailing Team who asked for the USA to have 6 entries in each event. I naively said "Sure, No problem." Canada and the USA were allowed 6 entries each.
In 1983 L.A. had their test event the year before their 1984 Olympics and they limited the entries to 2 per nation. The manager of the USA Sailing Team was the same manager as in 1976. I asked that they reciprocate giving Canada 4 entries double as we had done.
His answer was: "We are out for winning Gold for the USA not Canada!" and hung up. Canada was only allowed 2 entries in each event but the USA allowed over 10 in each event for their "Home Court Advantage" Canadian sailor won 3 medals in L.A.
Then there’s members of the Canadian long track speed skating team (You can play “Where’s Cindy” and try to spot Cindy Klassen, five-time medalist from the Turin Olympics). World champion Christine Nesbitt is in green to the left and just behind her left shoulder is Olympic medal contender Denny Morrison. The group is carried by medical team leader Gordon Bosworth, (red jacket, folically challenged), an opera caliber singer imported from Great Britain.
They’re followed by alpine skier Jan Hudec wrapped in the flag. The reason he looks like he’s moving funny is he’s actually on a stationary bike, part of his rehab from his latest knee injury. They were all reluctant to sing, but no one more than Hudec. The only thing that probably swayed him was the presence and encouragement of his mom Vladi that day.
The guy holding the mic is snowboarder Matt Morison, who’s in the barn at the family’s hobby farm in Burketon, Ont. I don’t feel so bad after hearing young Mr. Morison sing the anthem. I mean my wife and daughter won’t let me sing in our house because the experience is too painful for them.
But I will say that Matt was a tremendous sport, as were all the athletes who sang for us.
The reason he couldn’t was because of a crash in the final World Cup of the season. It’s painful to watch – see below – so you can imagine what it was like for Rousseau, or “P.A.” as he’s known.
The former world champion said he went through the "worst three months of my life" after the accident last March, but is now back on track for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He leaves today for a training camp in Argentina.
The bad crash in La Plagne, France, broke his shoulder blade, a rib and knocked most of his teeth loose. He found himself in rougher shape than the time he broke his neck and missed the 2002 Salt Lake Games.
“Because of my jaw, I had to eat mushy stuff for a while," said Rousseau this week. I couldn’t hold a two-litre of milk. I needed two hands to do that for two months. It was much more brutal to come back from than my neck injury. It was hell.”
Rousseau, who was part of two Canadian podium sweeps last year with a second- and third-place finish, was disappointed after finishing 17th at the world championships and was pushing hard in La Plagne. He was too far forward going off an icy bumpy and ended up crashing hard on his shoulder.
“It was boom, boom, boom,” he said. “It was the first time I crashed hard when I was going 100 percent and on my game.”
Rousseau returned to training in Whistler one month ago and trained on snow for 20 days. He was able to build himself back to the point where he was able to do all his jumps again.
“I was weak in the beginning, but my physical background is long so I came back right away. “Now, I’m better than ever. I could compete tomorrow.”
That's a good thing considering he's battling for an Olympic berth on a powerhouse men's moguls team.
VANOC says they need that time to prepare the Richmond Olympic Oval fully for the Games, to put in all the additional seating, lighting, get the concessions built. They say it’ll be a construction zone and they don’t want that to make the trials unfair for the athletes because the ice would be in poor shape.
In other words, they’re saying it’s not a big deal and they’re doing what’s best for the speed skaters.
What’s best for the speed skaters is skating on the Olympic ice two months before the big show.
That’s the way it was planned for a long time. It was on the Richmond Olympic Oval schedule. It was on the Speed Skating Canada schedule.
VANOC’s also known for a long time they’d have to do all that construction. So, it appears like poor planning from this angle, poor planning that hurts the athletes.
The thing is they’re not just making the Oval inaccessible to Canadian athletes from Dec. 27-Jan. 5 – the dates of the trials, which will now be in Calgary – but they won’t be able to skate there for a month and a half.
This isn’t the first instance of VANOC letting a sport down when it comes to trying to maximize home advantage. The Canadian cross country ski team has run into a litany of problems in dealing with VANOC, including also being unable to hold their Olympic trials in the Callaghan Valley because of all the construction there in December.
There was a telling quote recently from VANOC head of press operations, Lucia Montanarella, who despaired in an interview with Associated Press about what the economic problems were doing to her plans.
"My vision is gone,” she said. “I live in damage control now.”
Let’s hope that’s not the VANOC motto during the Games.
This has potential to be a great duel at the 2010 Games.
Dominick Gauthier, who coaches Bilodeau and reigning women's Olympic champ Jenn Heil, said they tried hard to negotiate some sort of exchange, but the Australians refused to budge.
The end result is the Canadians will train on snow in Argentina for the second straight summer. They leave shortly. The conditions in Argentina are more similar to what they’ll face at the Olympics, but it's clear they love it in Australia and there are much fewer hassles there.
Gauthier said it would have been to Begg-Smith’s benefit to have Bilodeau training in Australia, because it would give him a benchmark in his comeback.
“I thought it was a pretty stupid move on their behalf, because Dale hurt himself and I think it would have been good for Dale to see how Alex was doing instead of training on his own and he’s thinking he’s okay and then he realizes in November he’s two seconds off the pace. To me, the more you can train with other people around, the better.”
Just one more day left in a two-week, pre-2010 Olympic swing out west with multimedia ace Chris So. Haven’t killed each other yet; though it’s been nip and tuck at times. (Just kidding. … I think.)
It’s not hard to pick out the highlight in what’s been a very cool journey that’s given us a chance to hook up with more than 30 athletes who are working their butts off to get ready to represent Canada in Vancouver.
It was a lot more than just the chance to get to know 16 of Canada’s top athletes better – from young lions like figure skater Patrick Chan, moguls skier Alex Bilodeau, and cross-country skier Alex Harvey to veterans like Olympic moguls champ Jenn Heil, skeleton racer Jeff Pain, an Olympic silver medallist in 2006, and goaltender Kim St. Pierre, a two-time Olympic gold medallist.
CHRIS SO/TORONTO STAR
Heather Moyse trying to climb onto the podium in 2010.
It was definitely the vibe of the whole thing that made it special.
With Miller’s financial connections and Gauthier’s guidance, Heil created a team of experts around herself led by strength and conditioning ace Scott Livingston, who recently retired from the Montreal Canadiens.
Heil felt that support group played a huge part in her winning Olympic gold on opening day at the 2006 Turin Games and she wanted other athletes to benefit from the kind of help she’d been getting.
Enter the creation of B2Ten. The “B” stands for a business-like, methodical approach to the whole thing. The “2Ten” is for the 2010 Games. You can’t use 2010 or you risk being sued by the Olympic trademark Stazi.
What B2Ten tries to do is give athletes that little extra help they otherwise couldn’t afford to get onto the Olympic podium.
In the case of someone like Chan, that means working with a spins coach who’s helping him hone that part of his game, as well as a dartfish video specialist who’s aiding him in better understanding what it takes to do that elusive quad jump.
No direct money goes to the athlete. It’s about such things as getting better equipment, help with transportation or housing or furniture.
The money comes from Canadian businesspeople who want to help the athletes out because they respect what they’re doing. They don’t even get a tax receipt from it. Maybe the most impressive thing about the four-day retreat is that there wasn’t a single corporate logo to be seen.
No, the most impressive thing was the camaraderie between the athletes and the other people involved. The athletes were exposed to people like Johann Olav Koss, winner of three speed-skating gold medals in a home Olympics at Lillehammer, Norway in 1994, and founder of Right To Play; Laurie Skreslet and Sharon Wood, the first Canadian man and woman to climb Mount Everest, and a wide array of health professionals.
They had some activities during the retreat designed to take the athletes out of their comfort zone, including mountain climbing (Pictured above is bobsleigh's Heather Moyse, the pride of P.E.I. who now resides in Toronto. Chris So endeared himself to the troops by falling in the river while snapping his photos.)
It was an eclectic and interesting group (would love to name ‘em all, but this post is a bit windy as it is.) Let’s just say there wasn’t a participant at the event that you couldn’t spend hours talking with and still want to keep chatting away.
B2Ten considers itself a “top up” for the athletes. The main providers are organizations like the national federations, Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own The Podium, the program started to help Canada to become the No.1 medal winning nation.
There’s been some resentment about the amount of attention B2Ten has garnered at times, but people like COC boss Chris Rudge has recognized its value and played a big role in helping the group stage a recent fundraiser for Chan.
With support for athletes sure to take a huge dive after the 2010 Games, an initiative like B2Ten may become more important than ever.
A two-time National Newspaper Award winner, Randy Starkman covered Team Canada at the Olympic Games since 1984 in Sarajevo. His passion for his work comes across on this blog. Randy passed away on April 16th, 2012.
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