Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Would I Even be Proud Then?

Earlier I conceded that there might be some circumstances in which one might be proud because some athlete from Canada won an Olympic medal or did something great.
But that was a bit reluctantly, and it's Dan Gardner I will again recruit, as I outsource much of the rest of my work.
He asks in effect whether Lindsey Vonn's parents should feel proud.
Her father, a former junior ski champion, first put Lindsey on skis at three. Living in Minnesota, he would drive 16 hours so his daughter could ski in Colorado. By the age of seven, Lindsey was spending her summers skiing on an Oregon glacier. She was nine when she took her first trip to a competition in Europe without her parents.
Her parents decided the family was holding Lindsey back so they sold their home in Minnesota, pulled her four siblings out of school, and moved to Colorado. Vonn was 11. "Vail was wonderful to me," Vonn recalled in the Times, "but I missed all the traditional things of childhood -- sleepovers, school dances, making friends in a conventional way."

Vonn was soon skiing and travelling all year, including summers spent training in the southern hemisphere. "She was 15, and it just kills you, because she had left home already," her mother said. "People say to me, 'How did you give up your child like that?' Lindsey wanted to be an Olympian. I gave her to the country. I saw it as a noble thing."
Those who follow this know it did not go well.
Her father got in a conflict with Vonn's coaches. Vonn sided with the coaches. She hasn't spoken to him in years.
And she is not unique.
The elite tier of major sports is filled with athletes just like Lindsey Vonn, people whose adult life has been consumed by training and competing, as their teenage years were, and their childhood. Anything less than an absolute willingness to do whatever it takes to win isn't good enough.
The tragedy is that this is all somewhat new.
Olympians were amateurs once. They were sons and daughters, husbands and wives, even fathers and mothers. They had jobs. They had ordinary lives. They trained to the extent that the demands of those lives permitted. They went off to the Games, did their best, and shook hands when it was over. They said things like "it's not whether you win or lose" without embarrassment. They didn't hawk Big Macs, they didn't get rich, they didn't let sports consume their families and themselves.
They were athletes who deserved respect and made the Olympics the institution we continue, quite wrongly, to honour.
I thought one of the most disgusting sights during the Olympics was Melissa Hollingsworth in tears. She effectively apologized to the country, so to me! I had never heard of her before I saw her crying - what did I care? Nor had I heard of the man who got a gold, Jon Montgomery, who then swaggered before cameras for hours. Did that make me feel good? No, it was unseemly.
One thing I did not like in this year's Olympics was the automatic apparent allegiance of all the individual athletes to Canada, and the sense they had a responsibility to me, as a Canadian. They had none.
Where oh where today are the Myriam Bedards?


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