It was a good day for Canada's Olympic athletes.
In Montreal the sun rose in a clear blue sky only to reveal the national newspaper filled with pictures of boxers, divers, paddlers and swimmers. "Give Your Everything," the slogan blared or "Tout Donner," in French. At the bottom of the page, the Olympic rings and the red maple leaf of Canada found a prominent place.
Then at the Champs de Mars, in the heart of the old city, a transit bus freshly painted with the image of synchronized swimmer Elise Marcotte rolled up. As the athletes disembarked a horde of little kids from the Pierre de Coubertin School hooted, hollered and waved placards bearing the new mantra of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
They heard from a Canadian diving legend, 1984 Olympic gold medallist Sylvie Bernier, who will be the assistant Chef de Mission for Team Canada at London 2012.
"Everything has changed since I won that gold medal," Bernier told the crowd. "The way athletes train has changed, the science, the nutrition, the financial support. But what hasn't changed is the passion we feel for the athletes as Canadians."
A hopeful diver from Laval, Jennifer Abel, bounded up to the microphone to tell her story. She had just won a gold medal with her partner Emilie Heymans at the Canada Cup the day before. But there was much more to her tale. Abel's mother, Sylvie Danis, works for the Montreal Transit Commission and she was the one driving the bus bearing the athletes to the launch of the campaign.
"A huge thank you to my Mom," Abel enthused. "She drove me to so many practices and meets for so many years and she's made everything possible for me."
It was indeed a brilliant morning in Canada's first city to host the Olympics. It was a day that began with the athletes at the very centre of the stage.
Later in Toronto, a splashy media event rolled out. It comprises the most ambitious marketing campaign in the history of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Billboards, newspaper spots, digital shorts, and a multi-platform advertising strategy aimed at shining the spotlight on the men and women who will try and earn medals in London in less than 15 weeks time.
"We're using the Canadian team brand as a symbol of Canadian pride," said Chris Overholt, the CEO of the COC. "We need to foster a personal conversation between Canadian athletes and the Canadian people."
Derek Kent, the committee's Chief Marketing Officer, went one step further.
"We want to inspire Canadians through the lens of Canadian athletes," Kent said. "A key objective is to help them become household names."
Then Adam van Koeverden who has won every colour medal in his illustrious kayaking career, took the stage along with the synchronized swimmers, the rowers and the current Chef de Mission, Mark Tewksbury, himself an Olympic champion. Before a theatre jammed with people and television cameras they all watched "Relentless" the video spot that makes its debut on Hockey Night in Canada.
The images were breathtaking and the message powerful. A subsequent video short on van Koeverden called "The Patriot" was equally enlightening and dramatic. The promise of seven more featuring, Mary Spencer of boxing, triathlon's Paula Findlay, swimmer Ryan Cochrane and others caused anticipation.
Afterwards, the athletes were surrounded by media scrums, an unfamiliar situation at anytime other than during the Olympics themselves.
Mark Tewksbury was beaming.
"I'm happy to be back," said one of the country's most celebrated Olympians. "I'm happy because the athletes are finally front and centre."
This time the strategy of the Canadian Olympic Committee is clearly unapologetic. There is no whiff of disappointment that the athletes are under funded. There are no excuses that times are tough and that this is predominantly, after all, a winter sports nation.
No, this campaign is in your face and it celebrates the work that the athletes do to put it all on the line against the best in World. This is a campaign, which showcases an impressive array of Canadian sporting talent and the values that Olympians espouse. It aims to continue the momentum that was established during the Vancouver/Whistler Games in 2010.
This campaign has at the core, a belief that Canadians have a lot to cheer for.
It's about time.
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