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Posted: July 19, 2004

Athletics: Why is Canada ashamed of its best athletes?

July 19, 2004

Written by Nicole Stevenson - Marathoner

There has been substantial media attention regarding the presence of Canadian athletes in Athens this summer. Instead of following the international standards like most other countries, Canada has decided that its athletes must be ranked in the top 12 in the world to wear the Maple Leaf in Greece.

The criteria set by the International Olympic Committee to get to the Games aren't easily achievable, so why is the Canadian Olympic Committee making them even harder? Doesn't Canada want full representation at the Olympics? Apparently not - the COC is tired of not winning Olympic medals, so why send anyone if they haven't got a shot at coming home with some hardware? After all, the Olympic spirit is all about winning, right? Of course not - but the COC's making it appear that way.

Nicole Stevenson at the Toronto Marathon 2003

How did the COC decide on top 12 when all it really wants is medals? Why not send only those who are ranked in the top 3 globally to make the odds even better? Chris Rudge, head of the COC, recently stated on CBC that Canada's standards are comparable to our peer nations in the sporting world, however in my event, the women's marathon, the Americans, Australians and Britons have the same standards as the IOC. To what countries was he comparing Canada's standards?

The International Amateur Athletics Federation, the world governing body of Track & Field, posted a memo to all national Track & Field governing bodies late last year stating that the 2004 Olympic Marathon will be the premier event in Greece because that is where the event originated. The IAAF requested full participation (up to 3 athletes) per country in order to fill the men's and women's races. The IAAF even softened the international standard from 2:32 to 2:37 to ensure its goal was met. At that date, 4 Canadian runners had met the new women's standard, but none of us had achieved the insurmountable 2:28:14 that the COC had set. What was Canada's response to the IAAF? No change. One would still have to run faster than any Canadian women ever just to get to the Games. And so, for the second Olympics in a row, Canada will have no representation in the women's Marathon. How will we get someone to Beijing in 2008 at this rate?

I have met the International Olympic Marathon "A" standard twice this year, and I am Canada's fastest female marathoner, yet I am still not good enough to represent Canada in Athens. No Canadians will get to take part in the historic marathon this summer. Is it really better to have no one racing rather than an athlete who is not ranked in the top 12 globally, but who: trains 2 to 3 hours a day, doesn't take drugs, speaks in her community and works full-time? Sorry that Canada's best just isn't good enough.

In this generation of childhood inactivity and obesity, Canada should be focusing on athletes and sport development and not solely on winning medals. There is great value in being an Olympian, no matter how one finishes. The energy and optimism and hope you bring back to your sport community are outstanding. Surely sport participation will increase if Canada has the proper role models. Of course everyone likes winners, but how are we going to encourage athletes to even try out if Canada is sending only the "sure things?" When a child decides to join a sport, does the parent say, "only if you're going to be the best?" What message are we sending here? Don't even bother trying if you aren't going to win. You're not worthy of vying against the world's best unless you finish in the top 3, never mind that there are 100 competitors in the race.

Maybe I should be glad I'm not going to Athens this summer. The pressure for Canadians to medal is higher than it has ever been, and the COC's attitude is that you're a shame if you don't finish top ten at the world's ultimate competition. It's no longer adequate to be the best in the country at your event - the COC expects Canadian athletes to be the best in the world - in all sport disciplines! The Olympic Games are supposed to be competitive, yet if every country took the same stance as Canada, each event would have only 12 representatives!

The consolation I take is that I participate in a sport where the Olympic Games are not the be-all and end-all. There are many prestigious marathons, like Boston, London, Chicago, and many others that gain worldwide attention. I am a very good runner but not much of a politician. I suppose I should stick with what I know - I should race where organizers call me up and ask me to participate, not where I have to beg and plead just for an entry!

Nicole Stevenson

About Nicole Stevenson
Sex: FemaleHeight: 5'7"
Born: September 13, 1973Weight: 120lbs
Birthplace: Hamilton, ONMarital Status: Single
Residence: Toronto, ONCoach: Hugh Cameron
Languages: English, French Occupation: Pharmaceutical Sales Rep
5,000m - 15:54, Powerbar Rock'n'Roll 5km, Toronto, ON, July 2003
10,000m - 32:55, Sporting Life 10km, Toronto, ON, May 2003
˝ marathon - 1:12:51, Scotiabank ˝ Marathon, Vancouver, BC, June 2003
Marathon - 2:33:37, HP Marathon, Houston, TX, January 2004*
* Currently fastest time in Canada
2004Ottawa Marathon, ON32:34:45
  HP Houston Marathon, TX22:33:37
2003San Diego ˝ Marathon, San Diego, CA21:14:09
  Grimsby ˝ Marathon, Grimsby, ON11:17:
  Around the Bay 5km, Hamilton, ON116:41
  Cherry Blossom 10-mile, Washington, DC756:29
  Sporting Life 10km, Toronto, ON132:55
  Ottawa Marathon, Ottawa, ON12:39:37
  Scotiabank Vancouver ˝ Marathon, Vancouver, BC21:12 :51
  Rock'n'Roll 5km, Toronto, ON115:54
  Subaru 4-miler, Buffalo, NY121:10
  Crim 10-miler, Flint, MI855:20
  Toronto Waterfront Marathon, ON22:42
  Barbados Marathon12:55
2002Waterfront Marathon, Toronto, ON12:36:56
  Crim 10-miler, Flint, MI, USA656:02
  Sporting Life 10km, Toronto, ON132:56
  Around the Bay 30km, Hamilton, ON21:47:29
  Ironman Brazil Triathlon, Florianopolis810:37
2001 National 10km (road) Championships, London, ON134:30
  Ironman Canada Triathlon, Penticton, BC (age group)211:04
  Compugen 10km, Toronto, ON334:33

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