Initially, I thought that London 2012 was a pretty good Olympics for Canada; after all, we were winning medals right from the first day of competition, whereas it took us a full week to do so in Beijing. The colour of that first medal was bronze, earned by the synchronized diving pair of Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel. Twas a colour we’d become quite familiar with when all was said and done, winning 12 bronze medals in total, along with five silvers and just one gold. So, was this a successful Olympics? Well…
For a country of some 30-million people that puts a lot more interest and investment into winter sports (Vancouver 2010 will always be the greatest Olympic Games from a Canadian’s perspective), having won one medal for each day of competition, plus two more for good measure, is not too shabby. Ten of the 12 countries that earned more medals than Canada also have significantly larger populations, with the exceptions of Australia, which invests a whole heck of a lot more money into summer sports (it’s not like they have much of a winter to speak of) and Holland, which only won two more medals than we did–with more than a third of their medal haul, seven medals in all, coming from the rigorous athletic pursuits of sailing and equestrian. Not that I’m knocking show-jumping; after all, it did earn us two medals in ’08.
Overall, Canada’s performance was tied for the second-most medals earned by this country at a non-boycotted Summer Games (don’t think we’ll ever top the 44 medals awarded at the ’84 L.A. games, nor our fourth-place finish in the overall medal count–12 more medals than China!!!!!), the most medals ever collected by a country that only won one gold, and the most bronze medals won by this nation aside from 1984, when the Soviets stayed home. I think we can safely say that we’re number three, in a dozen disciplines, anyways.
You may remember that in ’08, the message seemed to be more “We’re number four,” what with Canadians constantly just missing the podium as the week-long medal drought raged on. But for all those fourth-place finishes (10 in total), Canada still managed as many medals in Beijing as they won in London, which seems more impressive when you consider that they were all won in the second week of competition. In fact, Canadian competitors still finished fourth six times in these games, and I can think of a few high-profile fifth-place finishes as well. But many of those bronze medals were truly won, from young athletes putting themselves on the map in disciplines as varied as judo, high-jump and marathon swimming, to a couple paddlers for whom the Olympic bronze was finally earned after long careers in the sport–not to mention the women’s soccer team earning Canada its first medal in summer team competition since 1936. I really don’t think there are too many bronze-medal winners that are disappointed in the colour of their rewards.
Of course, the eye is always on the prize, and a one-to-12 gold-to-bronze-medal ratio doesn’t look so good on paper. But it’s not like Canada’s used to owning the podium in the summertime–in fact, we’d only won three golds in Beijing. Of those three medalists, two still took home some hardware this time around, Carol Huynh winning bronze in wrestling and the men’s eights being knocked down one step to silver in the rowing competition. Unfortunately, our other gold-medal-winning athlete passed away before the games–no, not rider Eric Lamaze, but his stallion Hickstead, who he rode to gold in the individual jumping competition in ’08. Meanwhile, Tonya Verbeek went from bronze to silver on the wrestling mat, as did Ryan Cochrane in the pool. Our women’s eight, which missed the podium in Beijing, finished just behind the U.S., while Adam van Koeverden earned us another silver, albeit at a different distance. But aside from van Koeverden, the other ’08 silver medalists didn’t come through four years later, and that’s largely the reason why our podium scale leans heavily to the right.
For one thing, we went from four rowing medals to just two, with the likes of Calder and Frandsen, who won the first Canadian medal of the Beijing Games, retiring from competition. Simon Whitfield fell off his bike in the triathlon, while Jason Burnett fell on the trampoline and his teammate Karen Cockburn was just bumped off the podium on the women’s side, finishing fourth. The equestrian team found itself at a disadvantage when a minor injury to one of its horses left them a rider short in the competition, while Alexandre Despatie, who injured himself in training a few weeks before the Olympics, came up short in the springboard diving final. Emilie Heymans, who won a silver in platform diving in Beijing, switched to the springboard, where she still managed a bronze in the synchro event, and Karine Sergerie, who won Canada’s first silver medal in Taekwondo, couldn’t repeat the feat, finishing ninth. Mind you, most of the aforementioned athletes were in the later stages of their careers, and with the possible exceptions of Sergerie and Burnett, they won’t be around come 2016.
That’s the thing with the Olympic Games; four years is an awfully long time in an athlete’s career. You can go from the top of the podium to the back of the pack, to not even competing at the Games–and vice-versa. For instance, our golden girl, “Whole Lotta” Rosie MacLennan, finished seventh in Beijing. (Mind you, she was only 19 at the time.) And with London 2012 bronze-medal winners Richard Weinberger, Derek Drouin, Antoine Valois-Fortier and Jennifer Abel all born in the ’90s, well, I’d like to think this is just the start of good things to come. With a little luck, and a whole lotta training, the medal scale should tip to the other side in 2016.