Monday, July 21, 2008

The pursuit of mediocrity

The COA will name Canada’s flag bearer for the Beijing opening ceremonies on Wednesday. As The Star’s Randy Starkman points out there is really only one choice—Adam van Koeverden—but that doesn’t mean they will make the right choice.

Canada always tries to be “fair” when making choices like this. “Political” would be another way of describing it. “Half-assed” another. There is a bunch of unwritten rules—French/English, male/female rotations, only once per athlete, etc—that conspire to ensure that an uninspired choice often gets made.

(Equestrian Ian Miller would be the leading candidate for such a choice this time around).

As Starkman rightly points out, the honour should go to the most deserving athlete, period. That’s how most of the world does it. However, most of the world actually understood long ago that the Olympics are about the pursuit of excellence, which is something Canada is only sort of coming around to now.

Whether the COA throws out its old “be fair” policy this time around will be a good indicator of how it will handle things in two years time when the really big decision will be made—who gets to carry the flag at home and who gets to light the flame. The flag bearer question can’t be addressed until the lead up to the Games. It should go to our best performing athlete. But, the flame lighting question is one that we can start to debate in earnest.

Canada went all cutesy the last two times it hosted. A French man and English woman did the trick in Montreal (symbolizing the unity of our “founding nations”--don’t worry, there were teepees in the closing ceremonies, so we got the natives in there. The cliched natives anyway). In Calgary a 13-year-old girl lit the flame because she represented the “future generation of athletes (I bet she had an attitude the next few weeks in her grade 7 classes-- Who do you think you are lady. I lit the Olympic flame. I don’t think I need to worry about your precious “homework.”

If, on the off chance, anyone that will be making the Vancouver decision is reading...RESIST THE URGE FOR SYMBOLISM.

The person who lights the flame in Vancouver should represent excellence, pure and simple. It’s a chance to scream out to the world “We are Canada. We want to be the best. We have been the best in the past.”

My pick is Clara Hughes. As previously mentioned here, she is one of just four women in history to have won Olympic medals in both the Summer and Winter Games and she has captured medals in three different Olympics. The topper is her selfless volunteer work for Right to Play. Hughes epitomizes all that is good about the Olympics and would be a wonderful choice.

She would also be an unexpected choice as she competes in a sport that most Canadians only pay attention to every four years and, well, she’s missing a certain body part that is needed for a Canadian athlete to have a true national profile.

The other choice out there that isn’t half-bad is the obvious one. There are few Canadian athletes that have ever obtained a true international profile. But, there is little doubt that this one did. We tend to shy away from celebrating excellence. But, it’s time we got over that hang-up. This guy is ours, he was likely the best athlete in the history of his sport and for many people in the world he is synonymous with this country.

Yes, we can be way too hockey centric. Yes, his greatest accomplishments were away from the Olympic playing field. And, yes he is one of the many Canuck athletes that now lives south of the 49.

But that doesn’t mean that Wayne Gretzky wouldn’t be a great choice to light the flame in Vancouver.

Related: The Star is having a poll on its main Olympic page about who should carry the flag in Beijing

1 comment:

Greg said...

Canada: We never let anyone raise the bar. We lower for everyone.

Our flag should be an arial shot of a group hug.