Thursday, January 26, 2006

Hey Canada, I Stand On Guard For Me

It's fitting that it went to a hockey player from Quebec.

After the mini-scandal of a number of Canadian Olympic Athletes opting out of carrying the Canadian flag at the opening ceremonies in Turin, Italy, on top of the election noise Gilles Duceppe made about la belle province dressing its own Olympic team, I am happy to see that Danielle Goyette, from St-Nazaire, Quebec will be carrying the Canadian flag.

Much has been made about Canadian Olympians who rebuffed the chance to represent their country as a flag-bearer-- Beckie Scott, Cindy Klassen, Clara Hughes, and Edmontonian Pierre Lueders all said no-- and I have to admit I am on the side of those who think it is shameful. While I understand that many of the athletes have to compete the next day, and that many of them often skip out on the ceremony entirely, it doesn't outweigh the fact that you should accept the honour when your country asks you to serve. I simply don't buy the argument that it is too grueling of an exercise to walk around a stadium with a pole in your hand and then spend some time hanging out with fellow athletes. I mean, what does Pierre Lueders have to worry about, dehydrating himself before he gets into a bobsled? Furthermore, most of the "amateur" athletes are funded by Canadian taxpayers. Is it too much to ask for these athletes to return the favour by carrying a Canadian flag? And whatever happened to the Olympic spirit? The very reason people enjoy watching the Olympics so much, in addition to being able to make triple sowcow jokes for two weeks, is that the athletes participate out of a love of country and sport. That is to say, they don't act like professional athletes, who far too often choose money and fame over the love of the game. Sad to say, it looks like Scott, Klassen, Hughes and Leuders don't mind carrying that flag at all.

On a final note, it is too bad that the NHL's season overlaps the opening ceremony. It would have been nice to see Ryan Smyth carrying the Canadian flag. Forget how much money the guy makes, you know he would have accepted the honour in a heart-beat, and been grinning like a cheshire cat the entire way.


At 10:30 PM, Blogger Nathan Muhly said...

While Smitty makes millions of dollars playing in the league, "amateur" athletes basically have one shot every four years at pulling in a living that will sustain them through the majority of their retirement.

I've never carried a flag around a stadium for forty-five minutes, so it is difficult for me to comment on the difficullty of such a task. However, I can imagine that training for four years straight for a few days in your life isn't to be taken lightly. If an athlete feels that carrying a flag will somehow upset their chances, then I can live with that. Olympic athletes are damned either way, if they don't carry the flag, they are called unpatriotic, but if they don't sacrifice everything (including being the flag bearer) they are criticized by the media.

Not to make Olympians seem like almighty heroes, but I think that the majority of them are patriotic. If they weren't I doubt they would have the motivation to dedicate their lives to representing their country in sport.

It occurs to me that the COC probably shouldn't make the flag bearer decision process as public, so we can all live in a world where everyone is happy and gets along, and Grapes doesn't comment on things he has no business talking about.

At 11:11 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I am not suggesting they are unpatriotic. I am suggesting they are so focused that they are selfish. How the hell does carrying a flag adversely impact athletes who have been training their whole lives? It's not like we are talking about out of shape individuals.

Furthermore, we don't provide them funding so that they can gain corporate sponsorship for the rest of their lives.

I recognize that this probably happens every four years, and that they likely always pass over people who compete the next day, but if you are asked you should serve. And Pierre doesn't even compete until like 8 days in. What is his excuse?

At 8:51 AM, Blogger sacamano said...

I'll be back to give a fuller answer, but I disagree with you completely.

Those ceremonies are exhausting. You have to remember that it isn't just the 45 mins in the stadium. They have to lineup to get the busses to get there, they have to lineup behind the scenes in the stadium, lineup to get home. All in all they are on their feet for hours and hours, with no food, no opportunity to rest, etc.

As someone who has been in a fair number of those ceremonies, I can attest that they are brutally tiring - both physically and emotionally.

I really think they should get an alumnus to carry the flag.

Bring back Gaetan Boucher!

At 11:54 AM, Blogger Amateur said...

First, I should point out that nobody declined the honour when asked. Several athletes asked in advance not to be nominated by their sport federations because they aren't going to the opening ceremonies. This is absolutely not about carrying the flag; it's about going to the opening, period.

And lots of other people couldn't be nominated, either. For example, if Hockey Canada had considered nominating Ryan Smith, he would have had to say no, because he knows that he won't be at the opening.

In your mind, it's "too bad" that the NHL players aren't going to the opening ceremonies, but gosh darn it, they have something more important that they have to do. On the other hand, for a mere bobsledder, that's being "selfish" and "shameful." I guess the difference is that the bobsledder owes it to you to go to the ceremonies, is that it?

Well, I hope I am not giving my tax money to amateur athletes so that they can make me proud by walking around a stadium carrying the Canadian flag and wearing a funny hat. I hope that they will make be proud with their athletic performances, and I think I'll leave it up to them how best to accomplish that.

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

I know that the athletes were never officially invited to carry the flag, but in essence they said "don't ask me because I won't." All they did was cut it off before they could be asked, and that isn't any better.

My point about Ryan Smyth was that the professional/amateur line is becoming blurred, and that the Olympics is no longer just about the love of the sport. How is Pierre Leuders any better than say, the Basketball Dream Team, who refused to stay in the Olympic Village with the amateur athletes? It is a disregard for the other athletes and the Olympic movement. If we wanna talk about whether the pros should be in the Olympics, we can have that too. I don't think they should be there either.

We give money to the athletes to perform. That is true. But they are representatives of our country, and they shouldn't just get to pick when it is convenient for them to do so. Again. Leuders is a BOBSLEDDER, and he doesn't compete until 8 DAYS in. I have difficulty feeling his pain.

And what is this b.s. about the opening ceremonies being exhausting? Does anyone realize how insane that sounds? It's like millionaire athletes saying they need extra money to "maintain their lifestyle." It is so out of step with the real world, it's ridiculous. Exhausting? I am sure that goes over huge with the Canadian military.

Sac, when were you at the Olympics?

At 4:33 PM, Blogger Nathan Muhly said...

The line between amateur and pro athlete is becoming blurred, but that shouldn't be put on the athletes. True amateur sport at high performance levels has ceased to exist and is likely gone forever. The demands of Olympic sport require you to be a professional and make sport your living. If there were the slightest chance that being a flag bearer could affect your performance (and there is IMHO, even for the aforementioned Leuders), then I would never begrudge an athlete for not taking the opportunity. It would have been nice if none of this had transpired, but I again, I can't really blame an athlete who puts their livelihood on the line.

My guess is that they were probably told, whether by their conditioning coach or some other member of their contingent to abstain from flag bearer duty lest it affect them negatively. Individual athletes such as Scott or Leuders have every aspect of their daily routine controlled, from what they are eating to a specific workout that has been planned out, probably months in advance. It is certainly conceivable that carrying the flag could burn x amount calories or over utilise the glycolytic system, which could lead to decreased performance further on down the road.

The bottom line is that every athlete faces potential success or failure for a four to eight year training cycle in an event that will likely last no more than an hour. I don't think it is fair to criticize them because you are missing some feeling of innocence or purity of sport. You won't find in any proffessional league or in the Olympics. It's a miracle if we get through the three weeks without a doping scandal.

The Olympics are becoming less and less like, well...the Olympics. If an athlete competes in an Olympic competition, it is their job to win.

At 9:56 AM, Blogger Amateur said...

My point about Smyth was that he has also effectively asked not to be asked, right? He's not going to the opening. Now Hockey Canada knew that, so they didn't actually ask him if he wanted to be nominated. But if they had asked him, he would have said no. But you seem to be OK with that, because he's a professional? I don't get why it's OK for Smyth to "cut it off" before he could be asked, but not OK for Leuders.

And no, they shouldn't just get to pick when it's "convenient" to do their job. But it's appropriate to let them prioritize their responsibilities, isn't it? Isn't the "duty" of performing at their best more important than the "duty" to appear with the flag? That's certainly what the athletes think. Maybe they misjudged.

And since you brought it up, have you ever been in the parade of nations at the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics? I have. And no, it's not ehxausting, but it is tiring. It's about like being at a five-hour party being thrown in your honour, that runs until late at night; and at the Winter Games, it would be outside in cold weather. Nobody's saying it's going to kill them; but a few of them are worried that it might have an impact on their performance.

I'm not even going to comment on efforts to compare this to the military.


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