Canada’s Olympic woes

Canada’s performance at the summer Olympics in Athens was one of its worst in recent memory. From track and field to rowing to swimming, many Canadian athletes who were expected to do well fell short of their potential.

A leading cause of Canada’s Olympic woes involves money. For a country as wealthy as Canada, government funding of athletes is surprisingly low. This point was clearly brought home when Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, singled out Canada for its lackluster level of funding.

Much more should be done to encourage athletics from a young age, particularly in sporting events featured in the Olympics. Sports like discus throwing or pole vaulting are almost entirely absent from elementary and high school gym classes. No wonder Canada produces so few Olympic caliber athletes in these events.

At the University level, Canada has nothing comparable to the United States where athletic scholarships are widely available and provide financial incentives for athletes to continue their training. It may thus be more difficult than it needs to be for Canadian athletes to support their livelihood while they train.

Canada should also establish more elite funding for top athletes. Australia will almost certainly testify to the success of such targeted funding. Australia’s medal count in Athens last month, as well as in Sydney four years ago, was simply phenomenal and the Australian government is certain that their high level of funding for athletes was a leading cause of their country’s success. Perhaps Canada may wish to consider adopting a model of athletic funding similar to the one currently employed in Australia.

Canada has hosted the Olympics twice before—Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988. Incidentally, Canada did not win a single gold medal in either city. Vancouver will host the Olympics in 2010.

If Canada wishes to safely avoid an embarrassing three-peat, the government should seriously consider granting a significant increase in the level of funding for Olympic athletes.

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