Thursday, July 16, 2015

Canada owning the podium in the Whatsitcalled Games

Well, the 2015 Pan American Games are well underway here in sunny Toronto, although you might be forgiven for not knowing.
There has been much huffing and puffing about the Games here locally for months, nay years. The Mayor in particular has been singing their praises at every opportunity, even though he was somewhat unimpressed with the news that Kanye West (who is booked to be the head star among other stars in the Closing Ceremony) is actually American and not Canadian, as he had previously thought. It does seem rather a strange decision, I must admit - Canada is not short of high-profile musical talent.
Among the hoi polio, however, opinions are rather more mixed. There is a certain amount of national pride and excitement around the Games, and most (but by no means all) of the events are adequately attended, if not sold out, after a very slow initial roll-out.
Most people in the street, though, are probably more likely to equate the Pan Am Games with traffic queues, and the under-utilized and much-berated high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes that have been introduced on some local highways for the period of the Games. Personally, I would like to see the HOV lanes continued indefinitely - they are supposed to be lightly-used, that is the point of them, so that public transit and multi-person car travel is expedited.
But, other than some sporadic viewing on television, the Games have not exactly blown me away. As one letter to the paper put it recently: "When was the last time you interrupted your summer to watch the Pan Am Games?" My American sister-in-law, herself a reasonably sporty person, had never even heard of them.
Although apparently the third largest international multi-sport games (after the Olympics and the Asian Games), they definitely do not have the cachet of the Olympics. And that is perhaps best exemplified by the teams fielded by many of the 41 countries involved. Many of the top names are notably absent. Indeed, home country Canada is one of the few countries sporting its "A" team, although even here there are several athletes who have chosen to "save themselves" for the IAAF World Championships (which clearly have higher prestige in the minds of some competitors). Some top athletes are also quoted as having had to choose between attending the Pan Am Games or an Olympic qualifier meet in their sport, and so of course they chose the Olympics.
That said, Canada are doing exceptionally well, and are, at the time of writing, easily top of the rankings in terms of gold medals, and only barely below the United States (which has ten times the population) in overall medal numbers. In the rather embarrassing and un-Canadian language of recent Olympics, Canada is indeed "owning the podium". Whether this is an objective and representative test of international athletic prowess, though, is another question entirely.

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