Summer Olympians say g’bye to Calgary and g’day to Sydney

By Jan Creaser

In a rousing show of sportsmanship, the first event on the schedule for the send-off of Calgary’s Olympians featured Celine Dion crowing about the "power of the dream" as clips of sometimes triumphant and sometimes unsuccessful athletes flashed across the movie screen. Apparently, the emotional gains and traumas of the sporting world are meant to touch us somewhere deep inside where we’re soft. Sure, I’ll buy that… I think.

The Power of the Dream is actually a promotional film for the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but I have to say, Celine Dion should switch from pop-rock to the world of cheesy, feel-good advertising. It suited her perfectly.

However, despite its somewhat mushy pretense, the film does speak to the hard work and dedication of athletes to their sport. They’ve turned their bodies into glowing temples of fitness, achieving feats that cause vertigo or nausea in the average person who’s just watching it on TV. Bodies spiraling and twisting off 10-metre diving boards, cycling at crazy speeds around cambered tracks, and swinging and smacking against high bars, pommel horses, vaults and other implements of torture in the gymnastics arena are just some of the tricks we’ll witness in Sydney during the live, practically round-the-clock coverage this month.

And what do the athletes and coaches have to say about all this? Well, it depends on whom you ask.

Cyclist Tanya Dubnicoff spoke eloquently about the competition athletes face, about the support of family and friends before big events. Her funniest comment was a meant-to-be-inspiring joke from her little brother.

"Your opponents have butter on their heads," he apparently once told her.

When she asked why, he replied, "Because they’re toast."

Although the mark of a good athlete is to always display professionalism and sportsmanship, that doesn’t mean those not competing are required to as well. In some ways, the jokes dispel the nervousness an athlete feels before a meet. Let’s face it: they’re trained to go out and kick ass, but they’re still human, perhaps even plagued by self-doubt and performance anxiety. Maybe not all, but some maybe feel the pressure more intensely. Really, how many of us want to parade around and possibly lose in a tiny Speedo in front of millions? Not me.

Still, some athletes are so laid back, you’re not even sure what they think. Former University of Calgary student and third-time Olympic swimmer Curtis Myden drolly answered, "Playing golf," when asked what he would be doing if he weren’t going to the Olympics again. My, that’s a leisurely life compared to hours in the pool in each day. To his credit, he did mention he would be studying for and writing the MCAT exams when he gets back, in order to apply to medical school.

And this is perhaps another important hallmark of many competitive athletes: they strive and are successful in all aspects of their life, not just their sport–contrary to what those of us who excel at remote-control dexterity would like to think.

However, athletes aren’t the only ones who get to travel to the Olympics. Athletes need coaches and so where the athletes go, the coaches must follow.

The U of C’s track and field coach, Les Grammantik, is one of these necessary team components, serving as one of the athletics coaches for the Olympic team.

Grammantik spent his time as a young athlete bouncing from country to country, but never competed for Canada. Even so, he believes Canada is the best country to represent at the Olympics and looks forward to his second time around as a coach for the Canadian team. Although he’d rather be competing and does almost everything to help his athletes except massage therapy, Grammantik truly understands the meaning of competition.

"The essence of competition is to win," he said. "But there are plenty of goals one can meet and succeed at that don’t involve gold, silver or bronze medals."

That said, 38 athletes who train in Calgary were named to this year’s summer Olympic team, a few of whom are also U of C alumni. So watch your TV. closely if you have the time between classes; you might just see someone you know.