Summer Games athletes deserve support

When I worked for the Nanaimo Daily News, I was lucky enough to get to produce a column. I enjoyed writing the following piece on the Olympics. In it, I predicted that Canada wouldn’t get a bucket-load of gold medals, but argued that these athletes deserve our admiration even more than some of the gold-medal winning Winter Olympians.

Tommy Gossland dives into the UBC Aquatic centre pool. Picture Copyright Geoff Lister/The Ubyssey.

Tommy Gossland dives into the UBC Aquatic centre pool. Picture Copyright Geoff Lister/The Ubyssey.

Canadians need to start embracing the Summer Olympic Games like they embrace the Winter Olympics.

For a nation that professes to love sport, we are too often prone to ignore some of our best and brightest athletes.

NHLers like B.C.’s Dan Hamhuis and former Nanaimo Clippers player Jason Garrison are household names, yet there are sportsmen and women who are competing with the best of the best on a world stage and most of us could walk by them without evening noticing.

We tend to concentrate all our fanaticism on one sport in particular, men’s hockey, and as a result, the passion for everything else just pales in comparison.

I’ll admit it, I’m guilty of putting hockey players on a pedestal.

Who wouldn’t feel a swell of national pride watching Team Canada sweep to Olympic glory? It’s what we’re programed to enjoy.

But let’s face it. There are approximately 80 countries competing in the Winter Olympics, compared with the more than 200 at the Summer Games.

And there are just 12 hockey teams at the Winter Olympics because only about 30 countries are even able to pull a team together.

It means a hockey medal for Canada is almost inevitable.

Meanwhile, our swimmers, like Tommy Gossland from Nanaimo, are competing against swimmers from nearly 100 countries. It’s incredibly tough just to get to the competition in the first place, never mind reach the podium.

Plus the hurdles these summer athletes face, both literal and figurative, can be much greater than any winter sport athlete.

Training programs for summer sports are generally not as well organized, widespread or well funded as winter programs, with a few exceptions.

That’s why we should feel the same amount of pride for the Canadian men’s relay swim team that we feel for the Canadian men’s hockey team.

Their battle to get to the Olympics has been hard-fought and almost certainly thankless.

They are not doing what they are doing for fame and fortune – there would be much easier ways to achieve that.

They are simply trying to be the best in their field in the face of tough opposition.

The good news is the signs are there that Canadians are taking more of an interest in the Summer Games.

The manager of Nanaimo’s Boston Pizza restaurant, Jim Mercer, said Olympic coverage had been attracting a lot of viewers over the weekend.

Most of the restaurant’s 21 TVs had been tuned in to the Summer Games, he said.

Meanwhile, media monitoring company BBM reported that more than 6.4 million Canadians tuned in to the London 2012 opening ceremonies.

It was a record for a Summer Games, beating the previous record, Atlanta, by more than two million viewers.

However, viewer numbers didn’t reach anywhere near the level that Vancouver’s opening ceremonies got (13.5 million).

And it’s difficult to say if those tuning in on Friday were interested in the Canadian Olympic team or if they merely wanted to watch Academy Award-winning director Danny Boyle’s epic stage production highlighting Britain’s role in the Industrial Revolution and their impressive roster of pop stars.

A breakdown of viewing figures for the duration of the Games will not be out for a few weeks, so we’ll have to wait and see if that initial enthusiasm continues.

I for one hope that it does.

These Canadian athletes have worked tremendously hard to get to the Games.

We should remember that just because the team is unlikely to come home with bucket-loads of gold medals, doesn’t mean these athletes work less hard than their Winter Games counterparts. Their job is a tough one and they deserve our admiration.

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