I've decided, inspired by my friends who are with the Canadian team in Vancouver and Whistler, to take a daily detour from obsessing about math and medal counts. Welcome to the first installment of the Team Canada Svein Tuft of the Day.
I know that some of you are thinking, "What the hell is a Svein Tuft?" Well, if you're a Canadian sports fan, you should already know that, but you probably don't. I can only change that situation for the few of you who read this blog, but I'm going to do my best.
Let me go back in time to day 5 of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. For 2008, the Canadian team had set a goal of finishing in the Top 16 countries as measured by total number of medals won. By Day 5, no Canadian had won a medal, and the Canadian media had started to mention that fact prominently in almost every team story.
Svein Tuft was a member of Canada's Olympic road cycling team, competing on Day 5 in the Men's Road Time Trial. The Canadian men's cycling team is a relatively unheralded group, especially in the road discipline, which includes many of Europe's highest-profile athletes. Tuft had an early start number in Beijing. He posted the fastest time and was the leader of the race for most of the event, as he watched the best in the world fail to beat him. He eventually finished seventh, just ahead of three-time world champion Michael Rogers. (Tuft later won a silver medal in the same event at the 2008 World Championships.)
Tuft's achievement, in a time where Canadians were searching for positive Olympic stories, deserved a celebration. Unfortunately, he didn't get it. A couple of hours after the road time trial finished, Sherraine Schalm was eliminated in the first round of an event where she was expected to contend for a medal. Even better for the media, the elimination came with more than a little spectacle. Tuft, who was on his way to a CBC television interview when the Schalm story broke, never had a chance.
Canada went two more days without a medal, and our team spirit survived the negative press; eventually Canada won 18 medals, our best Summer Games total since 1996, and good enough (so far) for thirteenth place. In case you think I'm exaggerating about the media coverage from Beijing, note the following quote from that CanWest News story about Schalm's result:
The latest Canadian to fail to live up to expectations in Beijing, Schalm indicated she'd be able to tune out the criticism about to coming the way of her and other athletes who've come up short here.
I think we're in danger of entering a similar time period in the 2010 Olympic games. Last night, Jennifer Heil won Canada's first medal, but we all know that Jennifer Heil was hoping for gold. And Canada has very high expectations this year, at home, so every setback is going to be examined with even more angst than usual. When we're all concentrating on the podium, it's easy for each day's small successes to get lost. For what it's worth, I'm going to do my small part to make sure that doesn't happen.
I want to finish this introduction by making a couple of things clear. First of all, I'm a big supporter of the Own the Podium program. I think it's important to say, out loud, what you want to achieve. I don't believe it is somehow un-Canadian to want to win.
Second, the Svein Tuft of the Day is not going to be about celebrating mediocrity. I don't believe that the Olympic spirit is best exemplified by the overmatched or the underprepared. Svein Tuft was a great Canadian athlete who had a great day on the world's biggest stage. That day didn't include a medal, but it should have been noticed. Maybe Randy Starkman put it best, when he challenged us all:
Are you really behind this unique group of athletes about to lay it on the line? Or are you only behind them gold, silver or bronze?
This year, I'm getting behind the team from the comfort of my couch, and I'll be cheering loudly for all the medallists; but I'm also going to do my best to notice the unnoticed victories each day.
February 13: Chloe Dufour-Laplante
The women's moguls competition at Cypress last night — held in atrociously bad weather conditions — was full of successes for Canada. Jennifer Heil skied well and was narrowly beaten by a great performance. Kristi Richards reached for the medal that was within her grasp, and just crossed over the edge.
If you're Canadian and you've been reading about the 2010 Olympics this morning, you've heard all about Heil. But my Svein Tuft for Saturday is Canada's third qualifier for the women's moguls final, Chloe Dufour-Laplante. Dufour-Laplante entered the Olympics ranked eleventh in the 2010 World Cup and third on her own team. She placed ninth in qualification.
In the final, she was dazzling. She finished fifth.
I just can't realize it right now, I'm so full of emotion. I did amazing and I'm so happy. It was really a good long way to come here.
Dufour-Lapointe, who lists Jennifer Heil as one of her heros, has earned one World Cup medal in her career, and none this season. She will turn 19 in December.