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Making it to the Olympics

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Lynne Bermel

Making it to the Olympics

Other than seeing everybody's favourite, that coveted Olympic event - lawn-bowling - you're going to have a problem getting tickets to any event at this summer's Olympics. Just ask Ken Parker. Since last April, the sponsor of Canadian Olympic triathlete Sharon Donnelly has been on the chase to buy a ticket to watch her live in Sydney. Short of threatening the lives of COA members - or bribing them - he's tried everything but he just can't seem to get a ticket to the women's triathlon in its Olympic debut. So far, he's come up against one bureaucratic hurdle after another in what he describes as "an exercise in frustration." But Ken Parker isn't one to give up easily.

It's fair to say that Mr. P. is not in any imminent danger of being too beloved by the COA. In this interview, he's refreshingly candid about how he feels the IOC and COA are handling ticket sales and his views on sponsoring Canada's Olympic hopefuls.

In a nutshell, Ken, what have you found to be the problem with ticket sales to the Sydney Olympics?

Ken: The problem, quite simply, is that there are almost no tickets available for the general public.

The Canadian Olympic Association and Carlson Marketing (Toronto) - who have the exclusive rights for selling Olympic tickets in Canada- have told me that Canada got a grand total of three tickets for the women's triathlon and none for the men. The Grandstand seats 3300 people.

I have been told via news groups postings that something like 60 tickets went on sale in Australia for the entire host country. Now if you assume 200 countries at 3 tickets (like Canada) each, that's 600 tickets + the Australia 60 makes 660 tickets. My question is: Where are the other 2,640?!! I'm afraid the answer is this: They're in the hands of the IOC and their friends.

What's more, if there were any tickets for the triathlon for sale one cannot buy just them. You must buy tickets for a tier 2 event even though you have no intention of watching something exciting like say, lawn bowling (sorry lawn-bowling fans).

Did you face this problem of trying to get tickets to previous Olympic games?

Ken: I have never been interested in going to the Olympics. I'm not a big fan of huge crowds. I have always preferred to watch on TV because you can see more.

Why do you want to go to Sydney so badly?

Ken: Two reasons, really. Having sponsored Sharon for the past three years and been a part of her dream to make Canada's team,it was always our intention as her sponsor to go to the Games to watch her if she made it. Secondly, while in the RCAF in the 1960s, I visited Sydney and have always wanted to go back and see how it has changed. The Olympics are the perfect reason to go back. I sat in the grandstand and watched Sharon compete in - and win- the PAN AM Games in Winnipeg this summer. There is nothing like being there to watch it first-hand.

Describe for us what it was like to watch Sharon at the PAN AMS.

Ken: It was great because spectators were able to move around the course and be very close to the event. I had been stationed in Winnipeg while in the RCAF and had frequented Bird's Hill Park many times. Our daughter loved to swim there. We also camped there and would go in the fall for picnics. I helped organize one of the first marathons in Winnipeg in the park.

The morning of the event, we drove out to the park and took a shuttle bus to the event area. I saw Sharon warming up and just waved to her as I knew she was in her pre-race mode. We met Dave, Sharon's husband, and chatted with him. Before the race, we overhead a Radio Canada TV commentator doing a pre-race summary state that he was picking Sharon to win the gold. He was actually one of very few. Most were picking Carol Montgomery. We also met up with Yan Huckendubler who was there as a volunteer and working as a liaison for the triathlon.

We were able to watch the swim, which was several loops in a small lake, from a grandstand. Sharon had told me that her strategy was to try and get out fast, lead the swim, and work with one or two Americans to get away from the pack. We were surprised that Sharon was not able to pull away from the field in the swim as she is a very strong swimmer. We later found out that she had a sore shoulder and in fact had been hit during the swim.

Nevertheless, she came out of the water first and ran the long transition to the bikes in first place. On the bike a pack of six formed - Sharon, Carol Montgomery from Canada, two Americans and two Brazilians. They hammered the bike course. They came through the transition area at least 3 times and they had a PA system and video board announcing split times and the lead pack's time ahead of the rest of the fields. The lead group set a course record for the bike and increased their lead over the field.

The six of them came into transition together and headed off on the run. Soon they were down to three as they headed off on the last lap. I was high up in the grandstand at this point and could see down the course as the athletes came towards the finish line. As they came into view, I could see that Sharon had broken away and was leading with Carol in 2nd. The course came right by the grandstand for the last 100 meters or so and Sharon came as close as she could to the crowd slapping hands and then was given a Canadian flag which she carried over her head to break the finish tape for a gold medal for Canada. Because of all the cheering we had been doing for Sharon and the fact that I was wearing a Sharon Donnelly, Triathlete golf shirt, one of the people in the crowd asked me if I was Sharon's dad.

Sharon did interviews in the finish area and phoned her mom. Then she came over and we hugged and congratulated her and had some pictures taken.

It was really special to be able to be so close to the action and watch Sharon win. She was a very gracious winner and she made it very easy for Canadians to be proud of her accomplishment. As it turned out, the newspapers did an excellent job of covering the race but the TV coverage wasn't anywhere near what you'd think it should have been given that Canada had two potential medallists in the race. We were just thankful that we were there to see it live.

Why do you think it is important for sponsors like you to support amateur athletes in Canada like Sharon?

Ken: It has always been my feeling that athletes need the most support in the years leading up to the Olympics. Anything that can be done to assist them in qualifying for the Games is more important than jumping in after they have made the team in my view.

In Sharon's case, the Olympic qualifying criteria meant that she had to travel around the world competing in ITU events to score qualifying points. The travel is very expensive and, of course, Sharon had zero support from Canada (which is what she has now, I might add.) I knew Sharon personally and was impressed with her commitment to her Olympic dream. I saw a chance to play some small role in helping her towards Sydney. So, we approached her and offered to sponsor her.

I have always felt that Canadian companies could do a lot more in terms of supporting amateur sport. It is a shame that more do not get involved. Sirius feels that we have benefited from sponsoring Sharon and we have already told her that we would be interested in staying involved with her beyond Sydney if she continues with her athletic career.

Do you think the Canadian Government is doing a good job in supporting our Olympic hopefuls?

Ken: I think that the Government could not be doing a worse job in supporting Olympic hopefuls and amateur sport in general here in Canada.

It's been that way since my involvement in amateur sport in the 60s. Their level of financial support should embarrass them. When athletes are asked to pay their own way across the Atlantic to represent Canada in a world championships meet wearing a Canadian uniform, it's no wonder that athletes like Canadian runner Kathy Butler just pack up and leave the country to compete for Britain.

The Government seems to have no end of money for some things. I will not mention any names because apparently some of these people at the trough are sensitive and threaten to sue anyone who exposes their waste. Now, apparently they've found $20 million per year of our hard earned taxes to help subsidize the NHL millionaires. The entire Athletics Canada budget is only $1 million. Let's consider this - tell Kathy Butler to pay her own way to compete in the World XC championships and give the NHL $20 million. Only a politician could make a decision like that.

Despite the fact that they do not support the athletes financially, the COA then makes the athletes sign a contract that they will not represent their sponsors in a period surrounding the Games. Again, this is logic that only a politician could support. Let's see - a company supports the athlete for 4 years while we (the government) do nothing.. Now it is time for the Games - the highest profile period in 4 years -. Okay athlete, you cannot profile your sponsor. Canada owns you know. I think that this policy stinks.

Ken, don't hold anything back.

I've never been one to shy away from controversy.

What will you do if you can't get tickets to the Olympic triathlon? Will you still go?

Ken: Yes. I am trying everything to get tickets. I have spoken with the COA, e-mailed Les McDonald of the ITU and I've even asked Sharon to see what she can do in Australia while she is there for her winter training season and have had a friend of a friend make contact with someone they know in Australia. In the end if we have to watch Sharon from some overpass, we will still go.

How do you think Sharon will do in the Olympics?

Sharon will do as she always does - her best and that is all anyone can ask of her. The fact that she has qualified for the Olympics is a realization of her goal which she set four years ago. Sirius is proud to have been her teammate thought this journey.

Thanks, Ken. We're cheering for Sharon, as you are.


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