B.C. athletes make up 39 per cent of Olympic team 

When the Olympic Games get underway in Athens this weekend,

When the Olympic Games get underway in Athens this weekend, British Columbians will have more than a few of their own to cheer on.

Although Team Canada will be smaller this year – only 266 athletes in 2004 compared to 311 in 2000 – 39 per cent of the athletes will be from British Columbia. B.C. athletes will also be competing in 27 of 30 Olympic sports.

In addition, B.C. athletes make up 24 per cent of the Paralympic Team this year.

All told B.C. sent more than 200 people to Athens, including athletes, coaches and officials – the most ever for the province.

Still, the team selection was not without controversies.

First of all, there was the Canadian Olympic Committee’s decision to cut back on the number of the athletes making the Games. In previous years you had to have a top-16 ranking or world championship result to get a green light for the Games. This year, in a move to increasing funding and support for athletes that the COC says have the best chance of winning medals, only a top-12 result or ranking would suffice.

As a result Canada is sending its smallest team to the Olympics in 32 years. In 2000 Canada won a disappointing 14 medals, and the COC hopes to improve on that this year.

Athletes who missed the top-12 cut are miffed by the COC’s decision to cut the size of the team. Not only did they feel that they should have been given notice earlier, they also pointed out that top-16 results are generally good enough for Commonwealth Games, PanAm Games, World Championship qualification and acceptance into Sport Canada’s own Athletes Assistance Program.

They also feel that the restrictions will take a lot of promising up and coming athletes out of the picture. Beckie Scott, who was recently awarded the Olympic gold medal for cross-country skiing, was not even in the top-16 when she went to the Salt Lake Games.

Two boxers in the top-16 successfully appealed the decision and were named to the team after an independent arbitrator found that they were not informed of the rule change early enough to give them a chance of meeting the new criteria.

Another source of controversy this year was the decision to name Montreal’s Nicolas Gill, a judo fighter with two Olympic medals in three Olympic appearances and three world championships to his name, as Canada’s flag bearer. It turns out that Gill, who is recovering from a ligament injury to his knee, voted for Quebec sovereignty back in 1995, and made comments that he feels "more like a Quebecer than I do a Canadian" and would like to carry the Fleur-de-lis at sporting events. He also said, on record, that "I don’t really compete for Canada, I compete for myself."

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