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Olympics2012A country of team players

Posted: Sunday, August 12, 2012 | 06:34 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Karen Cockburn, left, and Rosie MacLennan, ride on the shoulders of Canadian teammates during Sunday's closing ceremony in London. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press) Karen Cockburn, left, and Rosie MacLennan, ride on the shoulders of Canadian teammates during Sunday's closing ceremony in London. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

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The "team" word kept surfacing with reference to Canada at London 2012, reinforcing that this is a country of team players and a group that chose to focus on the success of the entire delegation rather than the near misses of talented individuals.
 
At the end of the day, as the Olympics came to a close and with 18 medals as the final tally, Canada played the only card left in its hand.
 
"Everybody saw us as one team," said Marcel Aubut, the President of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "It looks like we'll be just outside the top 12 but we'll continue to have audacious and ambitious goals."
 
The "team" word kept surfacing with reference to Canada at London 2012. Above all, we were expected to understand that this is a country of team players and a group that chose to focus on the success of the entire delegation rather than the near misses of talented individuals.
 
"It's the uniqueness of sport," said Christine Sinclair, the ultimate team player here. She was chosen to carry the flag into the closing ceremony. "It is by far the proudest moment of my athletic career," said the captain of the soccer bronze medalist. "This entire group is the most amazing team that I've ever been a part of."
 
Make no mistake it was Sinclair's team that ignited the passion of the folks back home, first by tenaciously resisting the ultimate advancement of the rival Americans and next by dispatching the ambitious French. At long last, this soccer squad captured Canada's first medal in a traditional team sport at the summer Games since 1936.
 
It was the seminal moment of these Olympics from a Canadian perspective.
 
This makes sense because Canada is a country which has always fancied itself as being built on the team concept. We are the collective, the provinces in a confederation and a complex community of diverse people who inhabit a vast place.
 
"There is no I in team," has become the Canadian mantra. Indeed at the Olympic Winter Games the entire success or failure of the enterprise hinges on the success of the hockey teams, both men's and women's. This is meant as no disrespect to the wonderful individual athletes who bring such honour to the country. But in Canada many long to get behind a winning team.
 
We also love to sacrifice for the good of the group.
 
Listen to the leaders of the Canadian sport movement. They're beginning to understand that team play must become a larger part of the picture at the summer Olympics.
 
"The impact of that women's soccer team on the entire Canadian team here in London was profound," said Anne Merklinger, CEO of Own the Podium. "But the impact of that team on the country was even more profound."
 
"I agree," said Sylvie Bernier, Canada's Assistant Chef de Mission. "We need more teams, we want more teams."
 
Bernier made her mark as an individual athlete winning diving gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. The Chef de Mission or delegation leader here in London, Mark Tewksbury, won medals at the Olympics as a swimmer. But here he became aware of the need for the entire group to excel.
 
"The effect of the women's basketball team was also profound," Tewksbury said of Canada's other squad in London. "They are a solid group of women who lived in the athlete's village and became an integrated part of the group. They fostered much of the magical feeling that surrounded us all."
 
Canada fell shy of its target in terms of medals won. There was only one golden triumph, Rosie MacLennan on trampoline, and top 12 in 2012 just didn't materialize.
 
That said, the soccer team stood on the podium, the basketball team battled hard and the women gymnasts engineered a breakthrough by finishing a landmark fifth in the team final.
 
Even the men's 4x100 metre relay squad lifted our hearts by proving it could run with the best in the World. In many nations Jared Connaughton would be vilified for stepping on the line and leading to that disqualification.
 
Not in Canada.
 
Instead, he stood up and accepted the blame like the good Canadian team player that he is and the country loves him for it.
 
"That's what we came to do. To show everybody that was supporting us that we were a team," Connaughton said in our conversation the day after the race. "We were going to win a bronze or whatever the case was, as a team. But if we failed we'd do that as a team too."
 
Canada's future success at the Games rests with a continuing focus on getting more teams into Olympic tournaments. Basketball, soccer, volleyball, water polo and field hockey are sports that many Canadians play.
 
The exploits of these teams on the Olympic stage could create continuity as well as stories for Canadians to follow and momentum for the individual athletes to feed off. It's a phenomenon that has the potential to last not once for a few seconds, but for days on end.
It only makes sense that we should encourage more of our children to play on teams, and to dream of wearing the Maple Leaf on their uniforms at the Olympic Games.
 
"This is about something bigger," said Sinclair. "I've had parents coming up to me and saying they want to sign up their little girls for soccer because of what our team did. To me that's what this is all about."
 
Well said "Captain Canada."
 
This is a nation of team players.
 
Our bright future at the Olympics means, increasingly, we need to get in the game.

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