Wednesday, September 03, 2008

A sober (and complete) look at Canada's Olympic performance

Having had the time to let things settle, it’s easier to take an objective look at the status of Olympic sport in this country.

For most of the two weeks in China the consensus was that Canada was having an awful Games. We were underachieving, lacking in ambition and desire. Although a second week comeback eased the pain a bit, there was little doubt. Something Must Change.
But was that analysis fair? Is the status of the so-called amateur sports in this country as bad as most think? It’s hard to gage, especially when you consider two important factors.

First of all, Canada is located directly above the world’s richest and most successful country in terms of pure medals. It doesn’t matter how hot the bridesmaid is – when you are at the wedding everyone is still going to look at the bride. In our sports media and outlook the U.S. always will wear the white.

Secondly Canada is one of the few countries that equally divides its Olympic resources between both the winter and summer games. If you are going to look at the whole, look at the whole. And if you consider that Canucks have captured 10 golds, 19 silvers and 13 bronze in Turin and Beijing—the current Olympic period—it suddenly seems a little silly that we were standing on the ledge less than two weeks ago.

That’s not to say there isn’t ways to improve. Too many of Canada’s medals come in sports with a small depth of field, for instance, and too many Canadian world champions fail to convert. But, let’s try and keep things in full perspective. Below the jump a couple different ways to look at the medal count that might make you reconsider your position on Canadian sport.

Traditional medal standings, combined Turin and Beijing:

1-China 53-25-33
2-USA 45-47-43
3-Russia 31-27-36
4-Ger 27-22-21
5-UK 19-14-15
6-Kor 19-13-10
7-Aussie 15-15-18
8-Italy 13-10-16
9-France 10-18-21
10-Canada 10-19-13

Total medal count, combined Turin and Beijing:

1-USA 135
2-China 111
3-Russia 94
4-Ger 70
5-France 49
6-UK 48
7-Aussie 48
8-Korea 42
9-Canada 42
10-Italy 39

Per capita medal standings, combined Turin and Beijing (population per medal):

1-Norway 164,827
2-Austria 320,804
3-Switz 347,618
4-Aussie 445,985
5-Holland 657,920
6-Canada 794,369
7-Korea 1,148,190
8-Germany 1,174,157
9-UK 1,270,312
10-France 1,315,778

*USA 2,259,474
*China 11,944,864


Anonymous said...

Comparisons to the US are pointless.
The Americans have the depth of talent and money to back their athletes so they should be on top.
Ditto the Chinese.
A more valid comparison can be made with the Aussies.
For a country that has but two thirds our population, Australia had a remarkable performance at the Beijing games.
But then again they were very good in Athens and awesome in Sydney.
Now it has to be said that Australia is almost exclusively a summer games power.
Apart from a curling team, Australian participation at the winter Olympics is next to nil.
So obviously all of the funding their government puts into athletics goes for summer games athletes, while we split the pie.
The thing is, we already have a pretty small pie compared to the Wallabies.
Australia spends something in the neighbourhood of a quarter billion dollars on their athletic program.
Us?....about one tenth of that.
You get what you pay for, mate.

Duane Rollins said...

I agree that Australia is the appropriate measure (fittingly because we were their model in the early 80s when they revamped their sports system).

Overall, however, I think it's important to put Canada's performance in full perspective. I feel that with our wealth we should be closer to the Aussies and the Brits, but I also think it's important that we recognize that there has been a lot of improvement over the past decade. We're a bit blinded by the swimmers' collective failures. If Canada does in Beijing what it historically has done in the pool we likely are close to our Atlanta totals. And, since swimming is a marquee sport at the Games, the perspective that we suck isn't out there.

To me that's the thing. I hate the fact that many Canadians come away from the Games with the belief that we don't compete on the world stage. It's damaging, because that belief often transcends sports and influences Canadians self-efficacy in other aspects of life (business, art, academia, etc).

The truth is we do compete.

Of the top 20 medal winners in Beijing, Canada is the third smallest. That's a full context and one that is rarely articulated in this country.