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Posted: August 7, 2004

Athletics: Bruce Deacon Comments on Canadian Olympic Committee Athens 2004 Standards

Bruce Deacon is a two time Canadian Olympian (1996 and 2000) and 1994 Commonwealth Games team member. The Runner's Web asked him to comment on the controversial Athens Olympic standards set by the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC)

Bruce Deacon

It seems like a day does not pass when someone doesn't ask me whether I am off to Athens. I patiently explain that I have the international standard set by the International Olympic Committee, but that I am less than a second per kilometer off of the Canadian standard. Most people respond that it doesn't seem fair. I can't help but agree. I cannot help but find the Canadian Olympic Committee's standards and top 12 policy to be flawed logic, inequitable comparisons, and short-sighted policy.

Consider the logic that would equate small teams with better results. The logic goes that if we raise the standards then the athletes will rise to the challenge and compete at a higher level. This just doesn't ring true. The biggest Canadian medal haul (from a non-boycotted Games) came in Atlanta. At the time, it was one of the largest teams Canada had sent. More difficult standards may have led to a smaller contingent, but it would not have increased the medal count. In fact, it may have decreased the medal count. More rigid standards can lead to athletes peaking early in the season or getting injured or sick.

I read with interest that the COC is expecting 16 medals in Athens…remarkably similar to pre-Sydney estimates. Despite the supposedly stronger team due to the exclusion of "Olympic tourists," Canada's medal hopes have not risen.

It stands to reason that the athletes that are left behind have no chance to place well, but the athletes that are sent can rise to the occasion. For many athletes, a championship is an opportunity to make a breakthrough. For instance, using the current criteria, Simon Whitfield would not have qualified for the 2000 Olympics. But on the day, Simon was golden. Similarly, I entered the 1995 World Championships seeded 70th and finished a very respectable 11th (within the COC's top 12 definition of success).

The COC standards are inequitable. The whole notion of top 12 is artificial, and is not truly reflective of success in all sports. If the principle of tough standards were applied evenly across all sports, then the top 12 criteria would be adjusted to accommodate sports where more nations participate. If a marathoner must demonstrate top 12 potential, and there are well over 100 nations that have competitive marathoners, then a sports with few competitive nations should be required to demonstrate much higher potential.

The fine print imposed by the COC is a real injustice. Athletes were required to nominate the races that would count as qualifiers. The maximum number of marathons that would be counted for all Canadian marathoners was only 4. In other events, the athletes had until July 11th to qualify, despite the Athens entry deadline of August 9th. Canada will leave behind athletes that made the COC standards in late July. It seems to me that these are exactly the athletes that are peaking in time for the Games.

The COC selection procedures are poor strategy. In trying to raise the level of performance they cause unintended effects that will manifest in two or three Olympiads.

The power of the Olympics to motivate, to inspire, and to transform individuals and communities is incredible. I was 12 years old when I first met my first Olympian, Hugh Fraser. He was working out at the local indoor track in Ottawa and I was in awe. Here before me was a real live Olympic athlete. It inspired me to dare to dream of competing in the Olympics-a goal that would take 17 years to attain. Ironically, using the current COC criteria, he would not have qualified.

When I visit my parent's cottage, there is a mural on the local grocery store wall of me running. I am the only Olympian that has ever come out of that community, and even though I live on the other side of Canada, they still appreciate my accomplishments. I am reminded of some past teammates whose whole communities have raised money to support their training effort. The entire town adopted the dream.

Every year Canadian Olympic athletes speak to thousands of school children. We bring a positive message that hard work is worthwhile, that dreams are achievable, and that living a healthy lifestyle has great rewards. Why would a nation that values its youth want to limit this positive influence by restricting the number of qualified athletes that it will send to the Games?

Recent studies found that a quarter of all pre-school children in Newfoundland and Labrador are obese. I bet that the other provinces are not all too far behind. Why would a forward thinking nation not want to use the cache of the Olympics to promote physical activity to our youth? Why would we not be sending as many athletes as we could to the Games and then using them to motivate and instruct a generation?

The Athens Olympics begin in a few days. I suppose that if I were convinced that the heightened qualifying standards would lead to much better performances at the Games, I would be a bit more supportive of the Canadian Olympic Committee's stance. But I remain skeptical. A quick survey of all events and all sports indicates that the world of summer sports is improving at a rapid rate. If the best we can do to keep up with the world is to raise standards, to throw a couple of thousand dollars at the qualified athletes in the few months leading to the Games, to send more support staff than athletes, and to berate Olympians who finished outside of the top 12 as being "tourists," then we are a sports system in trouble.

Read an interview with Rob Brodie of the Ottawa Sun prior to this year's ING Ottawa Marathon from: SLAM! Sports.

About Bruce Deacon:

From Athletics Canada

Bruce Deacon Victoria, BC - Marathon
    Sex:   Male    Height:   166 cm / 5.6. 
    Born:   05 Dec 1966    Weight:  54 kg / 119 lb 
    Birthplace: Ottawa, ON . CAN  Marital Status:  Married 
    Hometown:  Nepean, ON . CAN    Club:   New Balance 
    Residence: Victoria, BC . CAN  Coach:   Wynn Gmitroski 
    Languages: English, French   Occupation: Education Coordinator 
      Marathon  2:13:18  08 Dec 2002   California International Marathon, CA . USA 
2nd   2:20:35  09 Aug 2003   Pan American Games, Santo Domingo . DOM 
2004 London Marathon  25  2:18:30 
2003  Pan American Games, Santo Domingo . DOM  2  2:20:25 
2002  California International Marathon, Sacramento, CA . USA  4  2:13:18 
  Long Beach International Marathon, Long Beach, CA . USA  2  2:17:04 
  National Capital Marathon, Ottawa, ON . CAN  2  2:15:46 
2001  World Championships, Edmonton, AB . CAN  46  2:30:22 
  National Capital Marathon, Ottawa, ON . CAN  2  2:18:54 
2000  Olympic Games, Sydney . AUS  44  2:21:38 
  Canadian Marathon Championships, Ottawa, ON . CAN  1  2:17:13 
1999  Fukuoka, Fukuoka . JAP  18  2:13.55 
  World Championships, Seville . ESP 27  2:20.25 
Year Age  Marathon 
2003 37   2:20:25 
2002 36   2:13:18 
2001 35   2:18:54 
2000 34   2:17:13 
1999 33   2:13:55 


Deacon is a two time Olympian (1996 and 2000) and 1994 Commonwealth Games team member... has competed at 4 World Championships in 1995 (11th), 1997 (16th), 1999 (27th) and 2001(46th)... has been a member of the national team since 1991... ran his personal best of 2:13:18 at age 36 in the 2002 California International Marathon. won silver medal at the Pan Am Games in Santo Domingo

Deacon attended Brookfield High School in Ottawa... graduated in 1989 with a degree in history and in 1990 with a teaching certificate from Simon Fraser University... currently completing a masters in education. works for the BC Ministry of Education as a coordinator for Independent Schools. his wife Rosemary is a full time mother to their two young children (Robbie born Apr 18, 1999, and John born Oct 1, 2002) . they married on April 6, 1996 in North Vancouver... father Bill is a dentist... mother Gail is a teacher... has a sister Beth Cairnie... he enjoys playing with his children. career goal is to become a school principal.

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