Adam van Koeverden pleads with Canada to embrace the Games

Adam van Koeverden pleads with Canada to embrace the Games

'In the nicest, kindest Canadian way possible...Can we seriously shut up about the water?'

By Adam van Koeverden for CBC Sports
August 5, 2016
American rower Megan Kalmoe, right, wants people to stop complaining about the Olympics. (John Gichigi/Getty Images) American rower Megan Kalmoe, right, wants people to stop complaining about the Olympics. (John Gichigi/Getty Images)

Maybe you're concerned about Zika? Or you recoil in horror at the filthy water?

Perhaps you think the Olympics don't really matter or that this one is particularly problematic.

All of these concerns are fair game. Issues around preparedness, security, health and human rights are worthy of our attention. Sport is a lens for the world, so this discourse is really important.

If the Olympics were only ever held in perfectly pristine cities like Oslo or Copenhagen, we might not be as inclined to address these important global challenges.

But I have a little request, since today is opening ceremony day. Can we seriously shut up about the water? In the nicest, kindest Canadian way possible… can we talk about something else? I’ll even talk about what I eat for breakfast if I don’t need to answer one more dirty water question.

I’ll echo this awesome blog written by my twitter friend and American Olympic Rower Megan Kalmoe and say “Canada, stop trying to ruin the Olympics for us, I’m more than willing to paddle through crap for you, it is worth it” (She didn’t use the word crap, read her blog, it’s great).

There is no other gathering of this size that allows people from all over the world to meet and share their stories and showcase their talent to the world. We build goodwill, friendships and bridges at a time when building walls between us and our neighbours has dominated the daily headlines.

The water in Rio is disgusting. (William West/Getty Images) The water in Rio is disgusting. (William West/Getty Images)

Filthy water

Yes, the water we'll be racing in is dirty. There is sewage and it's disgusting. A doctor said that two teaspoons will make you sick and the Americans are wearing anti-biotic racing suits (okay guys, sure).

It’s not that I don’t appreciate the concern; I just think it’s a little overblown, and a bit sanctimonious given that I paddle on the Humber River and Lake Ontario and it’s rare that people express concern or disgust at that prospect and that water is also filthy.

It may not be as unsafe as the Lagoa in Ipanema… but I try pretty hard to make sure it doesn’t get in my mouth. So at least I have practice. I paddle and race in dirty water all around the world, and here at home, and nobody has ever been concerned until this media driven hysteria drove them to care. 

The living conditions of Brazil’s favelas have sparked conversation, which again, is one of the positive aspects of hosting a big event in a city like Rio. But while we’re discussing water quality and how terrible the living conditions are in a country so far away, I’m drawn back home to consider the living conditions that some of our First Nation’s communities experience, and the boil-water advisory that some of them have endured for years.

We are quick to expound on the faults of Olympic host cities, and their organizing committees, but it’s also a good opportunity for reflection.

Adam van Koeverden was Canada's flag-bearer at the 2008 Beijing Games. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press) Adam van Koeverden was Canada's flag-bearer at the 2008 Beijing Games. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Zika won’t get you

I read today that the average Canadian feels apathetic about the Olympics because of Zika and because it seems too commercial.

Okay, fine but can we consider that for a second? The mosquitos will not come through your television, they will have zero impact on your viewing experience. Also, it is winter time in Brazil so I’m betting there won’t be a ton of bugs. Last time I was there I can confirm I got zero bug bites. On the commercial front… it’s on television!

Everything on television has commercials, it’s a good opportunity to get a lemonade or use the washroom or tweet something really hilarious or post a selfie with your TV screen in the background.

Flag-bearer pride

You can't know what it feels like unless you're there. Thousands of athletes from all over the world united in a way that isn't possible except through the power of Sport.

It is deafeningly loud. Flashes going off everywhere as frenzied marching athletes barely contain their excitement. I know how our flag bearer Rosie MacLennan will feel tonight when she marches into Rio’s Maracana Stadium. Team Canada proudly streaming in behind her, as she waves our Maple Leaf for the world to see.

The proudest moment of my sport career was eight years ago today when I was the flag bearer as we marched into the Bird’s Nest in Beijing.

As we entered the stadium one of us started to sing “O Canada”; our voices cracked and our skin tingled with emotion as we sang it together. It was a perfect moment.

It remains a perfect memory. It was, and will always be, my proudest moment as a Canadian Athlete.

Olympic gold medallist Rosie Maclennan is Canada's flag-bearer for Rio. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press) Olympic gold medallist Rosie Maclennan is Canada's flag-bearer for Rio. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Plea from me

So I have a tiny request, for all you folks at home: Dear Average Canadian: if you’ve had it with the pre-Olympic hype, I feel ya. The media has been dragging these games through the sewage! It’s been no fun. I guess they don’t have much else to talk about.

But hey! It’s about to start! The Olympics are really here, the athletes are marching in and then they’ll go back to the village and get a great night’s sleep and wake up and break all the records and win all the medals and it’ll be SO INSPIRING, RIGHT?

So promise me this: When you watch Team Canada march in, when you see some faces you recognize, hear about the Olympian from your home town or the one who does the sport you love, and you see those fireworks go off… let a little maple leaf fever take over. Let your skin tingle with Canadian Pride and smile and hug your kids and dream along with them. Feel our nerves and excitement along with us.

Welcome that tear in your eye and let it float down your cheek. Cheer loudly and jump out of your chair when we win. Look into that athlete’s face and experience their intensity and dedication to doing their sport really, really well.

Canada means something different to every single one of us, but one of the things we all share is the pride and gratitude we all feel when we think about how fortunate we are to call Canada our home.

Let’s feel that together. Each and every one of us athletes is desperate to make our country proud, and each and every one of us was once just a little kid on the carpet, watching sports on TV, dreaming a little dream.

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