Canada entered the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with a pledge to “Own the Podium” by winning more medals than any other at all costs, and wound up eating its words and then some.
Canada began Own the Podium in 2004 to guarantee its athletes performed better than any other country, in the medal standings in Vancouver. The program funded research in a variety of areas, from studies of sweeping techniques in curling to the use of wind tunnels for testing cross-country skiers and speed-skaters.
The Canadian Olympic Committee requested $22 million from the federal government in additional funding each year, in anticipation of decreased monetary support from corporate sponsors for future games not on Canadian soil. The request is separate from the $47 million Canada already invests in elite training each year.
Canadians like winning as much as anyone however, Canadian Olympic officials seemed to miss the mark with this operation.
We acknowledge this campaign was ambitious and our Olympic officials should be applauded for having such supreme confidence in our hometown athletes and their abilities, however, one must remember the intended purpose of this crusade. The goal was never to set a mandatory target for medals. The objective here was simply to finish first atop the medal standings.
In the eyes of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Canada needed to aim high and capture the imagination and support of the Canadian public.
Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, conceded the expectations of this promotion may have been slightly too high.
"There's going to be a lot of questions asked about Own The Podium," Rudge acknowledged. "We will eviscerate this program in every detail when we're finished. It's painful to go into the autopsy while the patient is still alive and kicking,” Rudge said.
While there were some positive individual achievements during these games such as freestyle skiing gold medalist Alexandre Bilodeau the first Canadian to win gold on Canadian soil. We also must remember taking on such a enormous venture such as owning the podium at the Olympic games takes time and won’t happen overnight.
As Gold-medal speedskater Christine Nesbitt pointed out, it took a decade after the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary for Canada's speedskating team to begin winning medals on the international stage.
“Own The Podium hasn't been around for 10 years and it's going to take time I think and I think it's going to pay off for me in the end," Nesbitt said.
Naturally, our goal at the Olympics should’ve been to win. What other goal should we have had? It should also be our goal in everything we do. The fact that our standard operating procedure as Canadians is to settle for mediocrity is at the centre of our core national problem.
While other nations such as South Korea are leading the pack when it comes to generating interest, innovation and excellence while Canadians are left competing to be second best.
South Koreans were able to build an international auto industry, they’ve also created Samsung, an international corporate powerhouse. Canada needs to reach a point where our nation is competing to win on every level all the time rather than 2 ½ weeks every four years at the Olympics.
Our problem isn’t with our country’s patriotism or passion its with our national approach. The own the podium campaign had the right idea but its fundamental premise was flawed.