Saturday, December 11, 2004
Wouldn't it be nice if every country had a chance to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games?
How cool would it be if all of the athletes who entered the games had the same opportunities for training, financial support and access to equipment and high-level training?
But this isn't a perfect world.
In our world, most nations base their financial support of teams on how successful that team is in World Cup competition.
Top-10s, podiums and gold medals often mean money -- not only for the athletes, but also for their teams.
In the United States, the teams that have the most success or show a potential for success are often well-funded. But teams that fail to produce top international results typically have to fight for funding, and development is something that is left to the club system or to the athletes themselves.
But Americans are by no means the only ones facing such pressure to perform.
The Canadian Nordic combined and ski jumping teams are learning first-hand the importance of results.
Last month, the Calgary Olympic Development Association, the organization that supports winter sports in Canada, announced it would eliminate its budget for Nordic combined and ski jumping. If that wasn't bad enough, the Canadian teams also learned that the jump complex where they train is being closed. It's a move that most people close to the sport think will mark the end of the two Nordic sports in Canada.
I can fully understand the difficulty of funding winter sports anywhere in North America, and I know it's not easy to find money for sports such as ski jumping, Nordic combined and cross-country. In most countries on this side of the Atlantic, we also struggle to support Alpine skiing, freestyle and snowboarding. The American public prefers games such as football, basketball and, until recently, hockey -- so that's where the money is.
But I can't understand pulling support for a team based on that squad's odds of winning a medal.
If every country started thinking like that, the drama that makes the Olympic Games great would disappear faster than free beer at a Detroit Pistons game.
If everyone subscribed to the idea of only supporting winners, we would have missed out on the 1980 American hockey team beating the Soviet Union in the Olympics. We would have never witnessed the New York Jets top the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III (I was only 3 years old when it happened, but I've heard about it), and the Denver Nuggets never would have taken the court against the Seattle Super Sonics in the 1994 NBA playoffs.
Unfortunately, in the real world, the Canadian Nordic combined team is a long shot to win a medal in the 2006 or 2010 Olympic Games.
So why should Canadians support these sports?
Maybe because in a perfect world, the Soviets, Colts and Super Sonics would have won -- but they didn't.