Sunday, August 22, 2004

SPORTS: Canada's doing OK

I know, I know, I know. The medal count is not up to snuff. Heck, I'm going to lose a pool I might have won had Canada gotten the 14 exected medals instead of the 17 I hoped for. The final count is going to be maybe eight. Yeah, that's disappointing.

But you know, I've been there and as lousy as fourth (or even lower) feels, sometimes that's the best that you can do. We are not a sports factory in Canada, discounting hockey players. Take one of the sports I got involved with at the worlds level: Softball.

I was still coaching boys rep softball when the first world junior championships were given to Edmonton Alberta to hold. As it turns out, the local junior girls were a good bet to win the Canadian championship (we hosted it) and earn the right to go to Edmonton the following year and wear Canadian colours. And, despite a spirited challenge from the Richmond BC Skunks, the Chinguacousy team did win that right. Many of the girls had trained with me and I couldn't have been more proud. Naturally, I tagged along to broadcast the Canadian games and act as a sounding board for my coaching mentor GrandPa Bob Sorenson, the team's pitching coach.

We landed in Edmonton augmented with three pitchers, one of whom was Lori Sippel, the colour analyst in this year's Olympic broadcast by the CBC. Otherwise, we were a town team. The Americans were the California team from their championships, with a few added players. And Japan, China and Chinese Taipei each sent national squads. Was this ever a set up to play the dutiful unoffensive host or what?

But a funny thing happened. We made it to the medal round. We'd lost three games early against the US, China and Japan, the latter in extra innings. We kept winning "or else" games until we MADE the playoffs!

In the playoff, we extended Japan to extra innings again. We had the potential winning run tossed out at home. The umpire's name was Oscar Romero. You remember calls like that for a LOOOOONNNNGGGG time. Eventually we lost. We felt horrible, just as many of the 'unsuccessful' Canadians do right now over in Athens. It helped not a bit at the time that Japan went on to upset China in an extra-inning semi-final and then the mighty Americans in a 1-0 gold-medal shocker later that day. I had been so sure that the Americans (not my favourite group of athletes) would win, that I turned down the offer to do the announcing for that game. That Japanese loss hurt too much.

Later the next day, a realization started to creep over the whole Canadian contingent. "We finished fourth. We finished fourth IN THE WHOLE BLINKETY BLANK WORLD!"

Somebody somewhere decided three places were all that were important. Gold, Silver and Bronze. What about fourth? What about a Copper medal? Is somebody's decision somewhere else, some other time, proof of invalidation of effort? Of course it isn't!! There's a WHOLE lot of people on this planet. To be fourth-best ... or seventh-best ... or just a competitor among the elite, is cause for celebration. Not repudiation.

I want Canadians to win. I want them to do their best. If it happens somebody from some sports factory nation is better, so be it. It truly is the effort against one's self that is the mark of the Olympian. To succeed there, is to win it all. The medals are just for the knick-knack shelf and the grandkids.

Congrats to ALL the Canadian Olympians!

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