While Whistler is more of a winter sports community there's no doubt that the community will be glued to televisions from July 27 to Aug. 12 as London, England hosts the Olympic Summer Games. Technically there's a two-day overlap with Crankworx Whistler this year, but that's why DVRs were invented...
London is eight hours ahead of us, which means it's going to be tricky to watch live events. A competition scheduled for noon BST takes place at 4 a.m. PST here, which is either very early or very late, depending on the hours you keep. Since most of us will be sleeping through the action, spoiler alerts should be in full effect — always ask a person if they know what happened before you start talking about it so you don't ruin the surprise when they sit down to watch the rebroadcast or press play on their DVR.
If you don't have cable or like the idea of laying on the grass while you watch, Whistler Olympic Plaza will be broadcasting the Games on two big screens. For more, see Page 53.
With so many athletes and sports — 10,500 athletes from 205 countries, 26 sports and 302 ceremonies with three medals awarded in each — it's going to be a hectic three weeks.
Although Canada is a longshot in a lot of events there are lots of good reasons to tune in this year:
1. Canada probably won't suck
Before the 2010 Games we were internationally infamous as a nation of chokers. We unperformed, were underprepared, were overhyped or sometimes lacked the confidence we needed to compete with the best in the world.
The low point came in 1988 when our national team in Seoul, Korea earned just 10 medals — down from 44 medals in 1984, when the powerful Soviet Union team boycotted Los Angeles. We bounced back in 1996 with 22 medals, dropped to 14 in 2000 and to 12 in 2004. It was a national crisis of sorts, an embarrassment that prompted the federal government to start funding sports and athletes once again.
In 2008 in Beijing the team showed life with 18 medals — our best showing in 24 years, and this year Canada, through Own the Podium, has set its sights on placing in the top 12 for total medals earned — a feat that would have required 24 or 25 medals.
There are a lot of reasons why this number is achievable.
Canadian cyclists are bona fide favourites in a number of events this year.
In mountain biking, Catharine Pendrel is the current world champion and consistently one of the top riders on the World Cup circuit. Emily Batton and Max Plaxton are also posting the best results of their careers.
In track cycling, Tara Whitten is a past world champion and Zach Bell has emerged as a top athlete with two World Cup medals.
In road cycling, Canada will be represented by Ryder Hesjedal, who proved he's world class after winning the Giro d'Italia in May `. No matter what happens, Clara Hughes also deserves a look — she won two medals for Canada in Atlanta on her road bike, switched to speed skating where she's won four more medals, and then recently switched back to cycling where she's established herself as a contender once again at the age of 39. This will be her sixth Olympic appearance, which is amazing and inspirational.
In BMX, Canada has some legitimate medal hopes in Tory Nyhaug who is coming back from injury, but has posted five top-five World Cup results.
3. Women's boxing
The International Olympic Committee finally decided to give the very established world of women's boxing a shot, and as a result women's boxing will be making its debut in 2012. Canada will be represented by Mary Spencer, the reigning PanAm champion who almost missed out on the Games after losing a bout to an American boxer. She's been training hard and is someone to watch for. As an added feel-good story, she's a member of the Ojibwe First Nation.
Watching American Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals in 2008, is always jaw-dropping. He needs two more medals to become the most decorated Olympic athlete of all time with 18. But while Phelps is always a threat, the level of competition has cranked up a notch and there are a lot of other solid medal contenders in the pool. Canada also has a few solid contenders this year, including Ryan Cochrane in the long distance events and veteran Brent Hayden.
5. Adam van Koeverden
Vancouver's van Koeverden has three medals to his credit from the Games in 2004 and 2008, and at 30 years old is still one of the fastest paddlers in the world. As recently as 2011 he was winning gold at the world championships. Winning a medal in his third Games would be the icing on the cake for his career. See Simon Whitfield...
6. Simon Whitfield
Canada's top triathlete, winning gold in 2000 and silver in 2008, turned 37 this year but Victoria's Simon Whitfield is still going strong. His pace has dropped off slightly, but he's still ranked 13th in the world in a sport where a few seconds can make the difference between first and fifth. If he's close to the lead group after the bike leg, expect Whitfield — our flag bearer at this Olympics — to bury himself on the run for a chance at another medal.
Some of Canada's top medal hopefuls are in the power events, like our eight-man rowing team, coxed by 2008 Olympic champion Brian Price, shotput athlete Dylan Armstrong from Kamloops and female wrestler Tonya Verbeek.
8. Veteran leadership
Experience counts for a lot in sports, and Canada has it in spades with Whitfield, van Koeverden, Hayden, Hughes, divers Emilie Heymans and Alexandre Despatie, tennis star Daniel Nestor and equestrian Ian Miller, who will be appearing at his 10th games at the age of 65.
9. Local connections
While none of Canada's Olympic hopefuls live in Sea to Sky, they do train and compete here from time-to-time. Catharine Pendrel currently holds the course record for both the Test of Metal and NimbyFifty, Geoff Kabush has the men's Test of Metal record, and Max Plaxton is a regular at local races as well. Before he switched to road, Ryder Hesjedal was a top-ranked mountain biker who also used to compete in the area. The men's kayak team spent two weeks training here over the winter months at the High Performance Centre, which has also hosted the women's soccer team for a camp. Whistler Gymnastics recently hosted the national trampoline team, along with top B.C. prospects.
10. The future
Since Canada won the right to host the 2010 Games, federal and provincial funding for sports and athletes has increased hugely, which is part of the reason Canada did so well with 26 medals — 16 of them gold — in 2010. No other nation has won as many gold medals in Winter Olympic history. Results like that made a lot of the current funding possible.
The more Canadians that tune in to the Games and show they care, and that earn medals and podiums at the Games themselves, the more secure sport funding becomes. As well, the Games do inspire people to become more active, especially kids — and statistics show that even small improvements to the overall health of Canadians result in huge savings in our health care costs.
One stat that gets thrown around a lot is 10,000 hours — that's, on average, how many hours of training and competition it takes to become a high performance, Olympic-level athlete.
The least we can do for that kind of sacrifice is to tune in and cheer for the red Maple Leaf.
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