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A holiday break from broken dreams

Posted: Wednesday, December 23, 2009 | 10:52 AM

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Canada’s Olympians have arrived at the short holiday break battered and bruised but with hope in their hearts.

In spite of a rash of injuries that threatens to become epidemic, international performances have been encouraging and the aim to “Own the Podium” in Vancouver/Whistler in less than 50 days is still in tact.

But the dream of maple leaf men and women winning 30 medals at the home Games appears to have been shaken given the number of broken bones and torn ligaments sustained by alpine skiers in recent days. Five skiers including legitimate medal threats, Kelly Vanderbeek, John Kucera and Francois Bourque, have now lost their seasons and must wait for another Olympics somewhere down the road.

“Life goes on and there is always another race,” contends Kerrin Lee Gartner, who won downhill gold at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville. “The skiers must now stay in the present. Think about right now and focus on the task at hand and everything will unfold as it should.”

In other words, the advice from a champion is to get on with the business of performing and to forget about the injuries that have occurred or those that might be yet to come.

There are other ailments that have some of Canada’s high profile athletes worried including figure skater Patrick Chan who has been adversely affected by a torn calf muscle that cancelled the first part of his competitive season. Meanwhile, the renowned bobsleigh pilot Pierre Leuders has a nagging and untimely groin injury. In addition, speed skater Cindy Klassen who won five medals at the last Olympics is still not fully recovered from double knee surgery and Jeremy Wotherspoon is not the same after a serious gash to his arm more than a year ago.

The point being, injuries can and do occur at just the wrong time. And in Canada’s Olympic history it’s nothing new.

In 1992 just ten weeks prior to the summer Games in Barcelona, rower Silken Laumann nearly lost her leg in a training accident. She miraculously recovered to win a bronze medal. At Nagano in 1998, figure skater Elvis Stojko disguised a ripped groin muscle to courageously capture silver. But then again not every story of adversity has a happy ending.

Hurdler Perdita Felicien couldn’t get to Beijing on a bad ankle. In 1992 World figure skating champion Kurt Browning’s back was so bad he could only manage a sixth place finish in the French Alps. Meantime, Paul Kariya’s fourth concussion robbed the men’s hockey team of its brightest young star in Nagano as NHL players entered the Olympic fray. We all know about that heart wrenching fourth place finish and severe blow to national pride.

Injuries and illness are part of the process and something Olympians live with every day. The enormity of such occurrences is magnified because the Games happen once every four years and sometimes careers are lost while ambitions are shattered.

But as skier Robbie Dixon spectacularly crashed into the netting at a World Cup race in Italy just prior to his Christmas break he must have known all along he had signed up for this. As he bounced up and dusted himself off to discover he was still in one piece, Dixon signaled to the crowd that he’d return to fight another day.

“Shit happens,” Dixon deadpanned in his post race interview.

Indeed it does, and that’s the price Olympians pay for competing at the highest level against the very best.

This holiday season Canadian men and women must be very thankful to have a rest from dodging broken dreams on the road to Vancouver/Whistler in 2010.

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