Less than 100 days to go until London 2012 and much of the talk surrounds the number of medals Canadian athletes will win at the upcoming Olympics.
Hope springs eternal...for those who've made the cut.
But increasingly there are those whose dreams have come to the end of the line. As the qualification process gyrates toward the Opening Ceremony in late July, the road to England is littered with broken hearts and odysseys that will never reach desired destinations.
It's the reality of risking so many years of youthful potential in order to be an Olympian.
"I wanted to be a part of something bigger than me or my family or their dreams," gymnast Alexandra Orlando told a recent symposium at the University of Toronto. "I had no plan for failure and I missed making it to the Athens Olympics in 2004 by a tenth of a point."
Orlando, a six-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist, recovered from that failure to compete as the only North American rhythmic gymnast at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Others won't get a similar chance.
In Edmonton recently, the Canadian men's water polo team finished fifth in a tournament where they had to be at least fourth to get to London. For 31-year-old goaltender Robin Randall it might be the end of the line.
"I'm a little bit overwhelmed right now," Randall said after bing eliminated . "It's been a long road. Am I able to make another four-year commitment? I've learned in my life that making any kind of commitment beyond next week is probably a mistake."
Randall chuckled at the time, but making a long-term commitment is a must to make the Olympic grade. It's an all or nothing proposition for the modern athlete. The days of the part-time, amateur are long gone when it comes to major international competition.
The Canadian women's water polo team has enjoyed success in recent years. A bronze medallist at the World championships in Montreal in 2005, it upgraded to silver in Rome in 2009. At the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico Team Canada lost the gold medal match to the United States in a 27-26 shootout. A slightly different result would have automatically qualified Canada for London 2012. Instead it was on to a last chance effort in Trieste, Italy last week...again the goal was to finish in the top four.
In the quarterfinal Canada staged a dramatic comeback counting on veterans like goalkeeper Rachel Riddell and power forward Krystina Alogbo. But the squad lost 7-6 to Russia and was immediately and irrevocably locked out of the Olympics.
"Devastating loss," was the reaction posted on the team's Twitter account, @womenwpc. "Thank you everyone for your kind words and unconditional support. Our hearts are broken but we always feel loved."
It's the last entry and that was a week ago.
In Beijing four years ago one of the most dramatic events from a Canadian standpoint was Mike Brown's race in the final of the men's 200m breaststroke at the Water Cube.
I remember watching from the packed stands alongside Olympic gold medallist and current Chef de Mission of Team Canada, Mark Tewksbury. Brown staged a ferocious late charge and posted a Canadian record time of 2:08:84 but wound up fourth, missing the podium by a few hundredths of a second.
It was deflating and exhilarating at the same time. The assumption was that Brown would be back to try again in London.
But in May of 2009, Mike Brown retired from swimming and went into the corporate world. Perhaps, he thought it was time to get on with his life.
Itchy and nagged by the feeling that he had unfinished business in the pool, the Perth, Ontario native undertook a comeback in mid 2011. At 27 years of age he had been a World championship silver medallist and a Commonwealth Games champion but the lure of Olympic success and how close he had come to glory in China was too strong to deny.
"I love the sport of swimming and I love my country. I will be leaving no stone unturned in my preparation for the 2012 Games in London, England," Brown announced on his website.
Indeed, he rededicated himself to the rigorous training and the Spartan lifestyle that most Olympians encounter. Brown qualified for the World championships in Shanghai last summer and twice swam times under the Olympic standard. His training was going extremely well and all he had to do was finish first or second in the final of his race and make the cutoff time at the qualifying trials in late March in Montreal and he was bound for London.
He wasn't even close.
"There is no explanation as to how or why I posted such a slow time," Brown said of his failure. "To be six seconds off my Canadian record is unexplainable, inexcusable...I should be on that team."
But suddenly, he isn't on the team and Mike Brown's career as an elite athlete is over. He's been swimming competitively since the age of seven and 21 years down the line after coming close at the 2004 Athens Games, where he was sixth, and the gut-wrenching near miss in Beijing, he's faced with status as a Canadian Olympic footnote.
Does he question the comeback?
"Not for one second," Brown said in the wake of the Trials. "I'm happy I made my comeback and achieved what I have in my sport. A person is not defined by a single moment, but by a lifetime of moments. Looking back on my career, I know I've accomplished great things and couldn't be prouder to be Canadian."
Mike Brown is a class act but you can tell his heart is broken.
Then again that's the chance these athletes are willing to take in living the Olympic life. The final cut is the deepest of all.
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