My daily trek to the sports pages of the world has come to a fairly abrupt halt. After a few post-Olympic weeks searching for the latest sports news, results and profiles of Canada’s finest alpine skiers, lugers, figure skaters, cross-country skiers, and otherwise unknown, but incredible athletes, I came to a deflating conclusion: it’s just not there anymore. Now that the Olympics are over, so too is the era where a profile about Heather Moyse or Devon Kershaw trumps an NBA score for the top headline. The days where our World Cup results made it beyond the bottom right corner of the webpage under ‘other’ and into the actual sports pages seemingly, are over. One word – hockey. Oh, and basketball, baseball, golf, football and Formula 1 too…
Admittedly, in the months and weeks and days leading up to the Olympics in Vancouver, I was ever careful about extending myself too far into the media fray, both in reading what was out there, and having what was out there be about me. It took a lot of time and energy to fulfill the erupting requests for everything from profile interviews to TV commercials to appearances at special events. In the last couple of years we became accustomed to more than just a two-minute post-race interview. It seemed that for once, outside of the usual 16 days, people, and the media, were truly interested in who we were and what we were doing.
I once commented to a sports reporter that they only seemed to be interested in us when we did well, i.e. made it to the podium. He told me that the sign for knowing you’ve got it made is when they start to notice when you don’t do well and want to interview you about that too. Hence the constant dissection of a pro-team’s every result, good or bad. For a short time, the media also became interested in us when we didn’t make the podium and wanted to know why. Seems we had it made, for a while anyway.
Never in recent history has there been so much attention, focus and interest shone upon the unsung heroes of Canada’s sporting world. In the days and weeks leading into the Games, it was like standing on a stage in a dark theatre, where the lights are on you but all you can see beyond them is a sea of black. You know there are people out there, watching you, but you can’t see them or anything at all. And then, when the Games began there was an explosion of light and colour and the entire nation became captivated by the excitement of competition, and we all saw, felt and experienced that.
In the end, we now know that Canadians were simply overjoyed with everything Olympic, and didn’t seem to care how many medals were won. Of course it helped that the team won more medals than ever and the most ever golds. But ask any Canadian (of the non-media persuasion) and they will all tell you that most of their favourite moments and stories had nothing to do with medals, but rather personal moments they experienced throughout the Games with other Canadians, gained simply through the experience of being there and being a part of it.
I just spent 10 days at home in Ottawa and 2 days in Toronto, and I can tell you, without a doubt, that although the media spotlight has indeed faded away, the Olympic flame continues to burn brightly in the hearts and minds of everyone I crossed paths with. In Ottawa I spoke to close to three thousand school kids at four different schools, from kindergarten to high school, and every single one of them was over the moon with Olympic spirit. I attended receptions and celebrations and saw friends and family and everywhere I went people were all still so happy. Somehow, even though the media spotlight has gone away, people have not forgotten.
It’s fair to say that because most winter World Cup competition is over, and summer sport is not yet in full swing, it is only natural there is nothing left to report in the amateur sport world. I can accept that, but it is my sincere hope that when things do pick up again that the media will continue to showcase, profile, celebrate and show-off the best Canadian athletes in the world.
No doubt it will take time for Canada to digest and absorb the legacy of these Games. What we are left with now, momentarily at least, is a massive potential to keep this new culture of sport in Canada alive beyond those 16 days that we are all hanging on to. It is momentary potential, because if we wait too long the flame will burn out and we’ll be back at square one.
Naysayers will tell you it’s a waste of time, money and energy to support high performance sport in this country. But they haven’t lived what I and so many other Canadian athletes have lived in recent months. My mailbox is still overflowing with letters and cards and photos from school children all across Canada. In three Olympics, I have never connected with so many young kids as I have this time around. I’ve seen first hand what this connection can do for them, and it is worth every penny.
Mostly, Canadian athletes toil away, anonymously, for years, decades even, to become the best in their sport. For me, sometimes I wonder what it is all for, beyond my own personal satisfaction. It is so nice to see that now, finally, what it is for is the next generation of Canadians, athletes or otherwise. I’m thankful for the media, who have given us the chance and the platform to make strong connections with Canadians and with young Canadians in particular. I just hope we don’t let that connection get lost.