Monday, August 13, 2012

We OWN the Podium

The games of London are half over and the 'Own the Podium' sports training plan is placing Canada in the solid middle of the pack with such other Olympic mediocrities as Botswana and Tuvalu. The essential difference is that one doesn't hear the Botswanians, or Tuvalese, crowing about how good they are before the actual competition. For a nation that has long prided itself on a quiet can-do spirit, the Great White North has taken to trying to outcrow 'Claghorn Leghorn'. He,  at least, has something to crow about.

We have three media networks 'covering' the games and all indulge, along with our losing athletes,  in various degrees of excuse-making, (or extolling that 'Olympic spirit' that says being there is just as good as winning  - it's participation that counts. If that were the case, why not just have ordinary Joes show up to compete for Canada and screw the contrived 'official' olympic athlete-generating system we have here? I mean, if there are althletes who can show up and take part on their own dime, isn't that better than supporting an athlete to 'train like a bunny' when the best they're capable of  is well-down the records of the world leaders?

Some announcer was talking about how he hoped a 'new generation of Canadian women' would be inspired by  some of our vaunted track stars who, somehow, failed to place anywhere near the medals. Why couldn't a generation of Canadian women be inspired by the Australian runner who placed first? It may be all about the 'glory of the sport',  but there should be a better-than-even expectation of winning,  given the time and resources put into training, keeping and transporting an Olympic team.

Obviously in Canada we're still not doing it right.

I think the first mistake is the 'Own the Podium' idiocy. It first appeared at the last winter games and - even though cold weather sports should be winterland's forte - it proved to be spectacularly emabrassing in some "sure win" events like downhill skiing. Summer Olympics is even spottier for Canadians and going to any place else, with 'owning' anything as a team motto, is just asking for it. Canada's performance has been so abysmal that the national hubris hasn't been talked about since it was used an an excuse for the men's eight being forced into repassage. That they ended up with silver should be more a tribute to the team, than to the 'advisers' who reconstructed the rowing crew and the practice rouitine in order to 'own the podium'. If it ain't busted, etc should work for Olympics, too. Hell, there so much other stuff they've left alone - like an equestrian who's appearing (again) in his Nth olympics and is well past his 'best before' date. Mind you equestrians don't grow on trees, but if you're betting that 'bunty' will be able to coax another gold medal out of a different horse, well you could be ignoring an up-and-comer to keep a 'prestige seat' on the team - filled with an aging bum. What Mark Tewksberry was doing, leading the team, is beyond me. He did, after all, hie off to Australia for some bread-buttering and swim program development that he hasn't been able to repeat here. I guess you take your gold medallists where they may be found.

So far we have one - in women's trampoline - and that came as a shock. For  I don't even think our 'networks' were planning to cover trampoline, as our badminton aces had accidentally been seeded into medal competition when the 'best' were disqualified. A gong - especially a golden one  - was a very pleasant surprise. Let's hope it's an ice-breaker.

Update: Canada's "Own the Podium" committee was proudly announcing that Canada had achieved its collective 'Olympic Dream' by finishing a solid 15th in the number of medals awarded.  They must have been computing total medals like the 12 for the rowing team and the 23 for the soccer side - coaches, etc. What they weren't counting, this time, was gold - for their remained, after all the good times', just the one.

The committee - or Tewksberry - wouldn't 'center her out' by letting her carry the flag at closing. That honor was reserved for the captain of the bronze-winning soccer side - who hasn't just 'lucked into' it.

Auschwitz East

When you read about the trials and sufferings of western military personnel hurt in our wars, it can't help but make you wonder what happens to the other guys?

 We know that military deaths from combat are at an all-time low in proportion to the numbers serving, compared to previous wars. This is due to quick and effective medical treatment in response to the injury. The 'golden hour' is a reality for most injured western soldiers. They are treated for shock, pain and bleeding and if circumstances are favorable, can be under a surgeon's care within 40 minutes. The result is that the ratio of wounded to dead  has grown from 6 to one to something on the order of 15 to one. For every soldier who comes home dead,  13 or more come home with various stages of severe physical  injury. An unknown number, estimated now at up to 20 percent, suffer emotional or psychological injury - again to varying degrees of severity.

To manage these wounded warriors most western countries have organized a system of military care. Medical resources are available.  Counseling and transition resources are available. Pensions and assistance for retraining or home conversion, etc are available. There are some levels of support, beyond the wounded him (or her)self and their immediate family. But even at this,  the changes in life are tough, long term and significant.

But what about the other side? In comparison, the 'insurgents' facing western forces are fighting, and living, a very primitive form of war. We're told that many wounded and dead are removed from the battlefield by their comrades. This because it is a rare battle where the evidence of corpses could indicate the degree of loss. OK, so removed to where and how? We know the Taliban, or Iraqi insurgents, have no access to helicopters, that most of their fighting took place in areas where a search of built-up areas could rapidly be done and where hospitals might, to some extent, report treating suspicious injuries. Or they happen in inaccessible areas where assistance is not a ready option due to constraints of topography alone. Either these people die of their injuries at much higher ratios due to the lack of immediate basic medical attention, or there are large numbers of them recuperating in fairly primitive conditions at any given time.It seems that, charitable payouts to martyrs aside, there would be little for them in the way of restorative programs or retraining to overcome injury. It would appear that, for them, as in primitive times, the war-wounded are objects of charity as opposed to mandated beneficiaries of the public purse.

Then there's the worst of both worlds.  In another glaring example of the adage about 'good intentions', comes the news of 'Auschwitz East',  the Dawood Afghan Military Hospital in Kabul. Designed and built  to work on the US VA model - a 'showcase' of  'modern' military medicine has been allowed to degenerate into a putrefying embarrassment  for ISAF and a disgrace to Afghanistan. To add insult to injury, the US military commander responsible for the mess tried deferring any investigation, which was first flagged two years ago, until after the November elections in the States.

It's All Over Now

The Stones didn't appear, but at least we were all spared a reprise of octogenarian Sir Paul doing 'Live and Let Die' again. And so ended the games of the 40th Olympiad in London.

The games themselves were fairly unremarkable - which is probably a good thing given all the security measures that went into that. A couple of new records set - one of them remarkably so. The glory of sport was duly celebrated and the world was at times thrilled. In the western part of the world at least, the games were largely a media event. Even for those attending, the media had to be relied-upon given the disparate venues and an awesome number of daily events and competitions. There were gold medals awarded from the early morning of the first day, until an hour and a half before the closing ceremonies. And the media did it's standard hack job on everything.

Canada had an 'Olympic Consortium", viz CTV et al, running things in London. The featured talking heads - one Brian Williams and the bountiful Lisa LaFlamme (I'm not making that name up) came across as a graduate of the Ted Baxter school of broadcast journalism and the High School Guidance councillor we all wish we'd had once, or even twice. Williams was ridiculous from day one when he pontificated how 'correct' US presidential candidate Mitt Romney had been, to 'call' the Brits on their game preparations. He concluded his final broadcast 'for the last time' wth equal fatuity. He won't be back, thank providence, as his former employer, CBC, has locked-up the next two Olympics and he had 'deserted' their ship to go with CTV.

LaFlamme was simply gushing but there's a significant cleavage there going unused.

Despite the gas, CTV couldn't outdo somebody in the Irish media covering a dinghy sailing competition, although I'm sure they tried; here's the Irish effort (which has gone viral - a good thing for comedian Chris Tordoff, who could replace Williams anyday.)

Irish coverage of Olympic sailing event.

And another Irish take on the Olympics - given the significance, in Irish history, of August 12th.

Overall the Canadian coverage yo-yoed between 'tragedy striking' (again and again and again - as the song says), 'deep disappointment' on many occasions and the unexpected triumph a gold medal in an event CTV had decided was too unimportant to cover. The surprise winner became a sudden non-icon given the rest of the team who weren't. We settled for adoration of the Bolt - even remarking on his 'triumph' over  members of the Swedish Womens handball team who visited him 'in chambers' for 'photos' - and who, apparently, were gone when he flashed the 'three for victory' sign as he sat on his rumpled bed later.

And so let the recriminations begin.

I'd start with firing Mark ("I'll discipline you later") Tewksberry, the 'chef de mission' who has a career plotted out in foreign affairs anyway. I'd also fire Merklinger who oversaw the $230 million spent over the past 4 years to develop a 'team of winners' to 'own the podium'. Somebody has to take responsibility for all the balderdash about our 'slam-dunk' athleticism and the consequent 20/20 hindsight and excuse-making that follow a failure to win. Back to the 'drawring board'  it may have to be, but the last set of 'draftsartists' shouldn't be designing the next effort.

And so to the show itself. I only saw the worst bit of the three hour extravaganza. The tail end of some realian and his phantom choir - a future concert for a close relative's punitive concert series. That was followed by a 'digital appearance' by the late Freddy Mercury getting the crowd worked-up with a Kodaly voice exercise and then the remains of Queen, with a rather fetching brunette, to sing the national hockey arena anthem 'We Will Rock You". After that the Brazilians embarrassed themselves with a preview of what may be  to come in Rio. The samba dancers and rainforst denizens, military snipers and a moveable array of  mysterious golden columns were topped-off with some slick willie dance instruction and a portuguese-speaking comedian, rap artist in a pimp outfit. That's all I could take.

Whaddi miss? Russell Brand in his unwashed glory. Annie Lennox on a pirate ship. Ray Davies of the former Kinks doing 'Waterloo Sunset' - a big hit of which most people who aren't Kinksters would never have heard. The Who closed out the evening with 'M-M-M-My  G-Generation' and of course the Spice Girls reunited in all their feminine puchritude to outdo a parade of supermodels and the world-class bathroom boy,  George Michaels. It was reportedly glorious. I did miss the fireworks.

I'll bet the Russkis can stretch their ceremonies to four hours and the Brazilians can go all night. So much to look forward to.