Boxer Mary Spencer greets Canada's Governor General David Johnston.One of the many sports of the Olympic Games is predicting/guessing how many medals Canada will win. This is followed by a post-Games analysis where praise is dished out if things go well but criticism is heaped on a lack of government funding and an underachieving sports system if expectations are not met.
The public hand wringing over a bad Summer Games usually lasts until the puck is dropped on the NHL season, when the issue slides to the backburner for four years until the next Olympics.
With the London Games set to officially open Friday there has been plenty of discussion and dissection of the Canadian Olympic Committee's goal of Canada finishing in the top 12 countries for medals won.
Using the Beijing Games as a yardstick it will probably take 24 medals to leapfrog over countries like Belarus and Spain to finish in the top dozen. Even then Canadians probably won't run out into the streets chanting "we're No. 12, we're No. 12.''
Medals do matter, especially since Own the Podium is spending over $33.3 million mostly of taxpayers money in the 2012-2013 year on Olympic and Paralympic sports. But maybe a better gauge of an Olympics' success might be the heroes that emerge from a Games.
Few Canadians can list the sports that Canada won its 14 gold medals at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, but some images are seared into the national memory.
What's more Canadian than Jon Montgomery walking through Whistler drinking beer from a pitcher after winning the skeleton? A nation celebrated when moguls skier Alex Bilodeau won Canada's first gold medal on home soil, but the real glow of the victory came when he embraced his older brother Frederic who deals with cerebral palsy. A country acknowledged the courage and sorrow of figure skater Joannie Rochette as she won a bronze medal just days after her mother died of a heart attack.
Canada's most success at a Summer Olympics was the 44 medals (10 gold, 18 silver, 16 bronze) won in 1984 at Los Angeles. That achievement carries a huge asterisk because of a boycott by 14 Eastern Bloc nations. Even if a few of the L.A. medals were tarnished the Games produced names that still resonate in Canadian sport. Alex Baumann and Victor Davis set world records in the pool and caused a generation of kids to enrol in swimming lessons. Diver Sylvie Bernier set an example by becoming the first woman from Quebec to win an Olympic gold medal.
Carolyn Waldo made synchronized swimming cool. Willie de Wit and Shawn O'Sullivan proved Canadian boxers carried a punch. Curt Harnett and Steve Bauer proved Canadians could be competitive in cycling.
Canada's athletes in London won't match the 1984 L.A. medal haul, but they do have the potential to create heroes to inspire future Olympians.
Clara Hughes is already a Canadian sports icon, not just as an athlete but for her humanitarian work. If she finishes on the podium in cycling she will have more Olympic medals than any other Canadian. She is someone to look up too.
In the pool, Ryan Cochrane and Julia Wilkinson are proving Canadian swimmers are competitive again. Diver Jennifer Abel is capable of carrying the torch passed from Bernier to Alex Despatie.
Mary Spencer is leading a wave of young women in boxing. Shot-putter Dylan Armstrong matches his size and strength with a quiet humility. Jason Burnett can do jaw-dropping, high-risk routines on the trampoline. Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal is already the biggest name in Canadian cycling while 65-year-old show-jumper Ian Millar, who will be appearing in his record-breaking 10th Olympics, is proof age doesn't have to be a barrier in life.
The most medals Canada has ever won at a non-boycotted Games was 22 in 1996. Four years ago in Beijing Canada finished in 14th place with 18 medals.
Even Mark Tewsksbury, Canada's chef de mission, admits the bar has been set high for London.
"Goals aren't realistic,'' he said in an interview with Yahoo! prior to leaving to London. "It's a bit of a stretch and it's not going to be easy. We are going for excellence. Excellence isn't necessarily easy. Let's at least set the bar high.''
There's no guarantee people like Cochrane, Hesjedal, Spencer or even Hughes will win a medal.
That doesn't mean they haven't won the bigger prize of being a hero.
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