They say that any publicity is good publicity. You can believe that to a certain extent, but I think this week, in Patrick Chan's case, he would have preferred good publicity. Patrick Chan is Canada's and the world's best men's single figure skater right now. In only his mid-20s he is a world champion and holds the record for the highest point scored in the free skate than any other man in history! Go Canada go! And since figure skater was my first sport, I have vested interest in keeping up to date with the happenings of figure skating.
This week, Patrick Chan came under scrutiny for saying basically that if he was skating for China, where his parents are from, he would receive more support and funding. To be honest, there is a modicum of truth to that statement however controversial it was. He later apologized and then went on to win the competition this weekend.
I agree with one aspect of what Patrick said- we need to pay more attention to our athletes. How many people know that Patrick is a record holder? How maybe people know of the amazing talent that he has? I would bet you my lunch money that the average Canadian doesn't even know who he is. How sad. Yet, if I ask you who Sydney Crosby is, or the backup goalie for the 5th round pick of the Minnesota Wild- more people would be familiar with those names than any other athlete in any other sport. Hockey is not only our national pastime, but our nation's obsession, and it is coming at the detriment to our other amazing talents.
This week, I looked into how hockey is taking over our sporting world in Canada. In Canada, NHL hockey is broadcasted every Saturday night on CBC's, Hockey Night in Canada starring the man everyone loves to hate, Don Cherry. On a similar note, it is a little disconcerting that when the CBC asked Canadians to vote on the greatest Canadian, Mr. Cherry was a frontrunner. Although I do find he knows his hockey inside and out, and I appreciate his support of the Canadian forces- does he really deserve to be up there with Frederick Banting and Terry Fox?
CBC also carries many international hockey tournaments, and major games like those of the 1972 Summit Series or the 2002 Winter Olympics that received some of the highest ratings in Canadian television history. Hockey Night in Canada, or HNIC, is by far CBC's most profitable show and supports many of the corporation's other ventures. HNIC broke its own NHL playoff viewership record during Game 1 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins, with an average audience of 5.6 million and a peak of 7.8 million. And in Canada, that's pretty much 1 in 5, assuming every Canadian has a television. In contrast, hockey on American television hasn't been so successful, especially in comparison to the NBA, MLB, or the NFL. I was also shocked a few weeks ago when CBC bought the rights to air Sydney Crosby's return to hockey after suffering from a concession a year ago. That night, all other programing or schedules when out the window in order for us to tune in to see Sydney play about 7 minutes of ice time. I am a huge Crosby fan, a Canadian boy who is the best in the NHL and just happened to score the winning goal in the Olympic finals? Who wouldn't be? But we as a nation have become obsessed. We have elevated him to "god-like" status, and the coverage of his concussion has been ridiculous. We receive updates and breaking news coverage at his every move. I am surprised it doesn't make headlines when Crosby burps or needs to go to the bathroom.
We need some balance here in Canada. There are more sports here than simply hockey. I think we need to recognize all the athletes in Canada and their successes. I feel for Patrick Chan. He has the highest score every scored by a male figure skater, and the only time when he gets front page news is when he says something controversial. What about his quad? What about the hours upon hours of hard work that got him to the elite status?
It got me thinking of my own sport- running. Sure I know some names. Paula Radcliffe, Karrie Goucher, Kenneth Mungara, to name a few. We are also very aware of some track stars like Asafa Powell and most recently, a certain Usain Bolt. But what about the Canadian like Reid Coolseat, and Ryan Gilles who qualified for the Olympics recently at the Toronto Marathon? So many athletes in our day in age in running are getting the shaft because they simply aren't getting publicity. Good or bad. Maybe Patrick Chan should count his blessing.
But let me take it back even a step further. What about our historical figures that we simply forget about. I read an article about Tom Longboat, arguably Canada's greatest runner.
Tom Longboat was a marathon runner and around the time of the First World War was basically the Wayne Gretzky or Tommy Burns of his sport. He was also an Onondaga Indian, one of the six tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, and in a time where international sport was a white man's game, broke through so many barriers.
In 1906, at age 19, he entered the 20-mile Hamilton Bay race as a nobody, and to everyone's surprise he not only won with a time of 1:49:25, but came within seconds of setting a new course record. A couple of days later he entered and won the 15-mile Ward Marathon in Toronto. All of a sudden, he was the favourite to win the monarch of marathons- Boston. He won and crossed the finish line at 2:24:25, setting a new course record that remained unbroken until the course allegedly was made easier years later.
Longboat then went on to train seriously and win numerous of other races. Unfortunately war broke out and he enlisted his services. He continued to run, both in competitions and exhibition matches set up for the forces. He also took up the role as a dispatch runner and took messages between posts when other means had failed. Unfortunately after the war, racing was no longer the draw it once had been and, Longboat focused his attention on making a living somehow else. In 1949 he developed pneumonia and, on Jan. 9 at the age of 61, Tom Longboat died. Longboat has been called the greatest marathon runner of all time, and one of the greatest Canadian athletes that ever lived. But who knows this? He has been recognized among the aboriginal community and certain awards and honours have been awarded, but certainly not enough.
I feel sorry for every athlete out there who is trying to get funding of some sort or trying to get support with no avail. I hope that one day we can turn our attention away from Sydney for a moment and look into our other nation's hard-working, talented and devoted athletes. Sport is universal. And the drive and dedication that all professional athletes have deserves recognition. I do agree, that I get taken away sometimes in the excitement of a hockey match and watching a three hour marathon is not everyone's idea of a replacement for Don Cherry, but please, the least we can do is make sure that a hard day's work gets noticed. So, Patrick, if you are out there- keep jumping those quads- I am watching! And to all those marathon runners and runners- keep plugging away at those miles. One day, I hope, you'll run into something great.