Road To The Olympic Games

Summer Sports·Blog

With 6 months until Rio 2016, focus shifts to athletes

Though the Zika virus, water pollution and corruption dominate the headlines about the Rio Olympics, with just six months to go it's time to focus on the athletes, writes CBC Sports host Scott Russell.

Zika virus, water pollution, corruption can't outshine the Olympics' brightest stars: Olympians

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      In every extended race there are signposts along the way to the finish line.

      When it comes to the Rio Olympics, you might say we've just entered the bell lap.

      The road to these Games has seen its fair share of bumps and hurdles.

      Brazil's economy, once booming, struggles. There are serious concerns about water quality in venues where many aquatic athletes will compete. The Zika virus, after an outbreak in Brazil in 2015, is now a global emergency. Rio's perceived crime rate is a concern. Track and field specifically is embroiled in an ugly mess with allegations of crooked governance and serial cheating by Russia, a powerhouse.

      Even in Canada, the Olympic movement has taken a hit, with allegations of sexual harassment against the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee, who then resigned. Three other high-ranking officials were also dismissed in the wake of the scandal.

      As the controversy swirls, the athletes — the performers in this spectacular show — are relegated to supporting cast status. 

      A new era

      Yet they continue with laser focus towards Brazil, and what for many is a life's work.

      "I think most of us want to be able to put our minds towards training and competing and not have to worry about decisions that are being made behind closed doors," Lanni Marchant, the marathoner, told me before leaving to train in Kenya. 

      "I think the recent coverage of the doping scandal and the COC drama has made us all painfully aware that there is more to sport than just working your tail off to represent your country."

      This time, athletes enter the debate over the relevance of the Olympics as a much more sophisticated lot than they've been in the past. They are more connected to their audience and more in control of what they do.

      Rio will be kayaker Adam van Koeverden's fourth Games. The 2004 Olympic champion is the vice-chair of the COC's athletes' commission, and has become an outspoken advocate for clean sport and the evolving rights of competitors.

      "Corruption, cheating in sport and chauvinistic abuse in the workplace are not new things at all," van Koeverden, a four-time Olympic medallist, concedes.

      "Despite the news, I actually think there is less cheating and less chauvinistic abuse than there was 25 years ago. Athletes are more involved than ever, and I think that's a good thing since most of us are pretty good people. I hope that will continue to usher in change and a new era."

      'Good for Canadian athletes'

      So with six months to go, let's look toward that new era.

      Let's shift our attention to the athletes as they make their move in this lap and stride into the spotlight. They are, at long last, set to become the leading lights. And some are especially bright.

      Will the amazing Usain Bolt, of Jamaica, be able to win three gold medals in the 100 metres, 200 and 4x100 relay for a third consecutive Olympics?

      Is young Canadian sprinter Andre de Grasse for real?

      Can Christine Sinclair and the Canadian women's soccer team conjure up the same kind of magic they did in London in 2012?

      Will the wild abandon of Rugby Sevens, which electrified the Pan American Games crowd in Toronto this past summer, have the same kind of impact in its Olympic debut?

      Will American swimmer Michael Phelps, who has accumulated more gold medals than any Olympian in history, back from legal issues and rehabilitation, be as great as he undeniably was in the past?

      Will teenage gymnast Simone Biles, also from the United States, command the same kind of adulation for the near impossible feats she performs, the same way Romania's Nadia Comaneci did at the Montreal Olympics nearly 40 years ago?

      Who will emerge as a hero of these Games?

      "I say this entire process may have been good for Canadian athletes," offers Jean-Luc Brassard, Canada's chef de mission at these Rio Games.

      Nobody can be without emotion when they witness the courage that these athletes show.- Jean-Luc Brassard, Canada's chef de mission for Rio 2016

      "Finally, they may have an equal chance to compete under fairness and equity. Lots of nations use the Olympics as a propaganda tool and for their own agenda. But I still believe that every time an athlete from anywhere is trying their best that it gives hope and courage for every individual to try something difficult for themselves.

      "Nobody can be without emotion when they witness the courage that these athletes show during the Games."

      It is, after all, what the Olympics are supposed to be about.

      That and the grandeur of a unique gathering of people from more than 200 countries comprising every race, faith, gender and circumstance, brought together in one place and at one time in order to peacefully celebrate human potential.

      It's what we're optimistically racing towards in six months' time in Brazil.


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