Canadian Olympians will tell you it’s a privilege to sport the maple leaf.
But with that often comes crushing expectations, especially when you’re a Canadian curler or hockey player and the expectation is gold or bust. Anything else is not good enough.
Now with just one year to go until the 2022 Beijing Olympics, the pressure is ramping up again. With added weight.
For the first time since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, when curling and women’s hockey were added, Team Canada will take to the ice for a Winter Games without being defending champions in any one of the four men’s and women’s curling and hockey events.
This is uncharted territory for a nation that prides itself on being the best hockey and curling nation in the world. But in PyeongChang, that wasn’t the case.
Neither Canada’s men’s nor women’s curling teams won medals, the first time either team missed the podium in five Olympics. It sent a shockwave through Canada’s curling community.
The men, skipped by Kevin Koe, finished fourth, while the women’s team, led by Rachel Homan, missed the playoffs entirely. There was a gold medal won by Kailtyn Lawes and John Morris in the inaugural mixed doubles event, but the shutout in the traditional men’s and women’s tournaments was difficult to process.
2018 called ‘an aberration’
“We are a sport that has produced medal after medal, world champion after world champion. I would characterize this as a bit of an aberration in our system,” Katherine Henderson, Curling Canada CEO, said at the time.
On the hockey side, the women’s team suffered a heartbreaking shootout defeat in the gold medal game to the Americans — the pain and emotion of the loss evident as Canada’s Jocelyne Larocque took her silver medal off during the ceremony.
She later apologized, saying “in the moment, I was disappointed with the outcome of the game, and my emotions got the better of me.”
‘Hurts to think about’
The men’s team, without NHL players, rallied for bronze after being defeated by Germany in the semifinal game, a loss that was devastating for Team Canada GM Sean Burke.
“It hurts sometimes to think about,” Burke said that February. “We played our best hockey in all but one period against the Germans.”
So after sweeping gold in all of those traditional team sports four years earlier in Sochi, there just was just one silver and one bronze in PyeongChang. While the hockey teams mostly dodged the wrath of Canadian fans — they still brought home medals after all — the same couldn’t be said for the curling teams. Team Homan and Team Koe faced unflattering headlines, pundits calling for a curling summit and a barrage of online hate.
“It was only a matter of time before we didn’t win everything in curling,” said Marc Kennedy, Koe’s second in 2018. “For so many years we had great results and hadn’t felt the wrath of people until that moment. For everyone in PyeongChang that was an eyeopener. It felt horrible. It sucked.
“Being such a dominant country in curling and in hockey, that pressure just comes with the territory. So many people are counting on you to perform well. You can’t hide from that pressure. Win or lose it’s really important to block out that noise. That’s what it’s become.”
Kennedy has been on both sides of it.
Eight years prior to PyeongChang he was part of a curling dream team along with Kevin Martin, John Morris and Ben Hebert. In front of a boisterous home crowd in Vancouver, the Canadian foursome didn’t lose a single game on their way to the gold medal.
Put winning gold in perspective
“I knew it couldn’t have gotten any better. Undefeated. At home. Kevin Martin getting his gold. It was a storybook,” Kennedy said. “And I think that’s what PyeongChang did for me. It put the incredible Games in 2010 into perspective. It’s still hard to put it into words”
From the highest of highs, to as low as it gets.
Hebert was also part of both experiences. When he walked off the ice in PyeongChang having just lost the bronze medal game, he said then it was “rock bottom” for Canadian curling.
“I know my quote at that point was rock bottom. But guess what? At the time it was rock bottom. I was living that life. That’s where I was,” Hebert said recently.
He’s not there anymore.
Hebert is still part of Koe’s team, alongside B.J. Neufeld and John Morris. Kennedy has moved on to a team with Brad Jacobs, E.J. and Ryan Harnden, a team that also knows that sweet taste of Olympic gold having captured it in 2014.
Nothing to do with redemption
While both curlers understand people will want to talk about redemption on ice for Canadian curlers and hockey players, they say for them personally it has nothing to do with that.
“I know that’s what the media is going to write. I know what gets action. I don’t think you’re wrong for writing it. I’m telling you my feelings on it,” Hebert said, never shy to speak candidly. “When you talk about the great curling nation, it’s not even close. We have six or seven teams on the men’s side and good depth on the women’s side who could represent Canada and win a medal at the Olympics.
“Could you imagine if Sweden sent their third-ranked team to the Olympics? I don’t think they’d win a game. Our third-ranked team could win gold.”
That pressure, both Hebert and Kennedy conclude, is a privilege — famous words once said by tennis star Billie Jean King. It means you’re the favourite. It means if you play the way you’re supposed to, you’ll be a champion.
“If there’s no pressure it probably means you don’t have a chance to win. Having pressure because you’re the favourite is my favourite kind of pressure,” Hebert said.
Kennedy agrees with Hebert about the storylines around redemption and also doubles down on Canada still being the best on ice in the world.
Could you imagine if Sweden sent their third-ranked team to the Olympics? I don’t think they’d win a game. Our third-ranked team could win gold.– Ben Hebert
“It’ll be played up and it’ll be an important tag line but for the athletes it won’t matter that much because we’re the best country in the world in curling and in hockey,” he said.
As for Canada’s hockey teams, NHL players will once again be back at the Games, which will no doubt garner a lot of attention.
In some ways, Canadian hockey fans were more forgiving and perhaps didn’t care as much when the men’s team won bronze, because they made the argument the best of the best weren’t there.
It was the first time since 1994 NHL players hadn’t attended the Olympics and Canada had won three of the six gold medals up to 2014.
NHL players return to Olympics
Now the pros are back and the pressure will once again be ratcheted to an incomparable level. Storylines will swirl, predictions on who will be on the roster will run rampant and Canada will once again be expected to bring home gold.
Sidney Crosby might be playing in his final Olympics. Connor McDavid will be playing in his first Olympics. Canadian hockey fans will be whipped into a frenzy.
On the women’s side, there will be the same amount of pressure there always is to become Olympic champions.
The Canadian women have been dominant at the Games, having won four out of the six Olympic golds since it was added to the Olympic program in 1998.
After losing that first championship game in Nagano, Team Canada won four straight gold medals.
Marie-Philip Poulin, the team captain, has been a member of the last three teams. In her first Olympics, at home in Vancouver, she quickly rose to fame when she scored both of Canada’s goals in a 2-0 victory over the U.S. to take the gold.
She ascended to greatness four years later in Sochi, scoring both the tying goal in the waning seconds and the golden goal in overtime against the Americans.
But she was also on the ice in PyeongChang, feeling for the first time what it’s like to watch another country’s team flag rise to the rafters.
“Losing. It sucks. You want to win and it’s where you want to be at the Olympics,” she told CBC Sports. “I was able to be on both sides of it. Looking back on 2018 is motivating.”
Poulin, 29, and Team Canada just finished a two-week training camp in Calgary, the first time they’ve been together in nearly a year. The last competitive game Poulin and the team played was a rivalry series game against the U.S. last February. But being back together again in the same space reignited that desire to get back on top.
“I’m the most motivated I’ve ever been,” Poulin said. “Our goal is to bring back a gold medal to Canada in 2022. We learn through adversity. If we want to be back on top we’ll have to go through that.”
Quite simply, Poulin hates losing. And wants that winning feeling back for herself and all of Canada.
“Every time we have the chance to wear that jersey it’s something that’s super special. I know there’s pressure coming with it. But it’s an honour,” she said.
None of the athletes will call it redemption.
But make no mistake, getting back to the Olympics and winning gold is the only thing on their minds one year out.
The Canadian Olympic Committee has spoken to the federal government about having Team Canada vaccinated prior to going to the Tokyo Olympics.
In an interview with Ian Hanomansing, host of The National, COC boss David Shoemaker said he’s told the government it is the International Olympic Committee’s “desire” to have the team vaccinated ahead of the Games, scheduled to begin on July 23.
“We’ve spoken to the government and relayed the IOC’s desire for us to have our team vaccinated prior to going to Tokyo. They’ve recognized that we’ve got a need,” Shoemaker said.
“Certainly when athletes and all Canadians want to travel internationally under these circumstances, a vaccine would be preferable.”
The full interview can be seen Friday night on The National at 9 p.m. ET.
Two days ago, Shoemaker took to Twitter regarding the vaccination issue, saying:
“As for vaccines, frontline workers and vulnerable individuals must continue to have prioritized access to Canada’s supply. We continue to plan on the assumption that vaccines may not be widely available to our athletes prior to the Games.”
As for vaccines, frontline workers and vulnerable individuals must continue to have prioritized access to Canada’s supply. We continue to plan on the assumption that vaccines may not be widely available to our athletes prior to the Games. 2/2
When asked by Hanomansing after his response about where Shoemaker felt Canadian athletes would fall in the vaccination queue, Shoemaker wouldn’t speculate.
“Those most vulnerable, the frontline workers, have to come first and then we’ll see. But it will depend on so much, including what’s available and how quickly the provinces have been able to vaccinate Canadians,” he said.
WATCH | COC boss speaks to The National:
In an interview airing on Friday’s The National, Canadian Olympic Committee President David Shoemaker tells Ian Hanomansing they have discussed the International Olympic Committee’s desire to have athletes vaccinated for the Tokyo Olympics with the Federal government. 0:52
Pound suggests Olympians jump vaccine queue
Shoemaker’s comments come just weeks after longtime Canadian IOC member Dick Pound suggested athletes must be given priority access to the coronavirus vaccine. That suggestion did not sit well with a number of Canadian Olympic champions.
“I want to represent Canada in Tokyo. I want to continue to inspire the next generation of young boys and girls. But I need my community to be safe first and that means a measured, risk-based vaccination plan,” 2016 Olympic gold-medal wrestling champion Erica Wiebe tweeted earlier this month.
Speculating that there would be no public outcry if athletes jumped the queue, Pound argued that, “the most realistic way” of ensuring that the Tokyo Olympics could safely forge ahead was for athletes to be prioritized.
Wiebe wasn’t buying it.
“I think the Olympic movement stands in its purity for a lot more than just putting athletes on stage to entertain the world,” she said. “The most important people that need to get the vaccine are front-line workers; those most at risk and people in long-term care homes — they are the ones that need to be prioritized.”
Olympic gold medallist in gymnastics Kyle Shewfelt also scoffed on the suggestion athletes should get vaccines before others.
“They’re already healthy, they’re in an age bracket that hasn’t been shown to be super vulnerable to fatal outcomes from this disease,” said the Calgary native.
“From a moral standpoint, it doesn’t sit right [with me].”
WATCH | Olympian DeBues-Stafford talks importance of vaccines:
Jacqueline Doorey speaks with Canadian middle distance runner Gabriela DeBues-Stafford to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine, how it can affect the Olympics, and whether athletes deserve to cut the line. 5:51
Israel, Denmark will vaccinate their athletes
Several countries, including Israel and Denmark, have already said they would vaccinate their athletes and staff against COVID-19 ahead of the Tokyo Olympics. The Belgian Olympic Committee (BOIC) has asked its government for “400 to 500” vaccines for Olympic athletes and their entourage to travel to the Tokyo Games but insists it is not asking for preferential treatment.
The British Olympic Association, as well as the United States Olympic Committee, have made it quite clear athletes will not be jumping the queues to get vaccines and that the priority remains with the most vulnerable.
As for the IOC, President Thomas Bach has said that although participants will be encouraged to get vaccinated, it will not be mandatory.
“The health and safety of all participants is paramount. And we’ll be guided by the Chief Medical Officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee and public health officials here in Canada on how we make those determinations,” Shoemaker said.
Reigning Olympic wrestling gold medallist Erica Wiebe instantly thought of her parents upon reading the headline.
Even the suggestion, as made by long-time IOC member Dick Pound on Wednesday, that athletes should be given priority access to COVID-19 vaccines caused her to ask, “would I want to get vaccinated before my mum and dad?
“They’re actually planning on going to Tokyo with me, and they hope to be vaccinated prior, but they’re in an at-risk population,” says the Stittsville, Ont., native. “So, if I had the choice, no I wouldn’t want to be prioritized over them.”
With her parents squarely in mind, Wiebe decided to push back against the speculation on social media by writing:
“I want to represent Canada in Tokyo. I want to continue to inspire the next generation of young boys and girls. But I need my community to be safe first and that means a measured, risk-based vaccination plan.”
I want to represent Canada in Tokyo. I want to continue to inspire the next generation of young boys and girls. <br><br>But I need my community to be safe first and that means a measured, risk based vaccination plan. <a href=”https://t.co/cNKDqzUuz3″>https://t.co/cNKDqzUuz3</a>
Wiebe took pride when fellow Rio gold medallist and two-time defending trampoline champion Rosie MacLennan liked her post. Because, as she puts it, “this is simply bigger than just sport or the Olympics.”
With COVID-19 cases spiking throughout Japan — threatening to yet again derail the already postponed Summer Games — Pound sparked the debate following an interview with Sky News.
Pound accelerates debate
Speculating that there would be no public outcry if athletes jumped the queue, Pound argued that “the most realistic way” of ensuring that the Tokyo Olympics could safely forge ahead was for athletes to be prioritized.
A debate Pound accelerated on Thursday after Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga declared a state of emergency for Tokyo and its surrounding prefectures.
Speaking on the future prospects of the embattled Olympics — which are a little more than six months away and already over budget — Pound told the BBC, “I can’t be certain because the ongoing elephant in the room would be the surges in the virus.”
Wiebe, however, isn’t swayed.
“I think the Olympic movement stands in its purity for a lot more than just putting athletes on stage to entertain the world. The most important people that need to get the vaccine are front-line workers; those most at risk and people in long-term care homes — they are the ones that need to be prioritized.”
Like Wiebe, three-time Olympian and gymnastics champion Kyle Shewfelt also believes that Canadian athletes aren’t interested in jumping any queues.
“They’re already healthy, they’re in an age bracket that hasn’t been shown to be super vulnerable to fatal outcomes from this disease,” says the Calgary native. “From a moral standpoint, it doesn’t sit right [with me].”
In fact, both Shewfelt and Wiebe, take inspiration from last March when the entire sports world was still reeling from the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, and the Canadian Olympic Committee announced it wouldn’t be sending its athletes to the 2020 Tokyo Games before the IOC officially postponed the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Right side of history
Athletes were on the right side of history then, says Shewfelt, and he wants them to remain that way with the vaccine rollout.
“The vaccine is liquid gold; it needs to be protecting the vulnerable and front-line workers first.”
And while he understands the economic incentives of the IOC, Shewfelt adds, “Our entire society has been ripped to the core, businesses are closed, people are dying. As much as I want the Olympics to move forward — because I love the Olympics — there’s isn’t a doubt in my mind where [vaccines] need to go. The Olympics can still move ahead safely, regardless of whether athletes get vaccinated or not.”
While the Games themselves may look different, he points to the recent success of the NHL bubble, or even in his sport of gymnastics where a successful test event was held just this past November in Tokyo.
Shewfelt says the key for athletes “is to find ways to safely allow them to return to their gyms, pools, weight rooms, and tracks.
“That’s where they need to be — focused on their training and keeping their body healthy and in shape.”
As for a vaccine, Shewfelt believes athletes can afford to wait.
“Sorry, I’ve trained for 20 years in [Gymnastics]. I went to three Olympic Games and they were the most important moments in my life. But the vaccine is a larger societal problem. And the solution is getting it to the most vulnerable and exposed; not to the athletes.”
More than ever, Kylie Masse realizes she loves swimming and being in the water.
The two-time world champion has been without pool access during the COVID-19 pandemic and while she does dryland training and home workouts to stay fit, nothing can simulate a swim stroke in the water.
“You don’t realize how much it means to you until it’s taken away,” Masse said from her family home in LaSalle, Ont., near Windsor. “I feel I’ll be more appreciative for going to practice when we get back than I was before.”
Earlier this week, Swimming Canada unveiled its plan for the return of aquatic sports and said a return to pools for a small group of top athletes, including the 24-year-old Masse, would be a phased approach.
“I’m trying to think positively and this break will have been wonderful for my body, both physically and mentally, and I’ll be able to grow personally,” said Masse, who understands there will be a period of adjustment upon her return to the pool. “It’ll take a bit of time but I’ve been swimming for such a long time my body’s not going to forget what to do.”
CBC Sports spoke with four other Canadian athletes – Brittany Crew (shot put), Jay Blankenau (volleyball), Mike Mason (high jump) and Erica Wiebe (wrestling) – about how their training has been impacted with the sports world on pause and how their performance might be affected in 2021 after a long layoff.
For Masse, having a pre-pandemic routine that often featured two-a-day practices also forced her to be disciplined outside of the water, so she would eat meals at certain times and be in bed by 9:15 p.m. She is trying to maintain a routine these days but pointed to having “days and weeks when I’ve been more relaxed.”
Masse working toward kinesiology degree
Masse’s goal to build leg strength during this pause could lead to improved strokes for the backstroke specialist. However, she admitted to not being the best at slowing down and practising swimming-specific yoga, meditation and mindfulness.
“They’re so important to help the mental game,” she said. “Those are things during the year that are so easy for me to push aside. I need to get myself comfortable and confident doing those things so I can schedule them into my daily routine when we get back.”
WATCH | Masse relieved by Olympic postponement:
The Canadian Olympic swimmer told CBC Sports’ Andi Petrillo that she feels even more appreciation for the sport now that she’s physically not able to swim. 2:24
Masse, who is looking to complete a degree in kinesiology in December, envisions a future in healthcare, especially after developing a greater respect for front-line workers the past few months.
“I know a number of nurses working in hospitals and one who was living in an RV in her driveway. I think the entire world has recognized [what they’re doing for us],” Masse said. “It’ll be wonderful to see people, hopefully, be a bit nicer to health-care professionals, nurses and people doing their jobs to help them.”
Crew using makeshift home facilities
Shortly after her Canadian record-breaking performance on Feb. 8 at the Ontario Indoor Championships, Crew moved from Toronto to a farmhouse in Breslau, Ont., near Kitchener, where she lives with her uncle, aunt and two cousins.
With facilities closed, Crew’s uncle built a shot put circle on his big property for her to practice and work toward her second Olympics next summer in Tokyo.
“There’s enough room for me to throw and not be disturbed,” she said. “I got the idea from my training partner, Sarah Mitton, whose dad built a circle in their garage for throwing into a tarp.”
Crew, 26, has also turned her family’s living room into a small gym, complete with dumbbells her uncle had in the basement and weightlifting plates she borrowed from a former high school teacher.
“I haven’t had any interruptions in my training,” said the 2019 Pan Am silver medallist, who plays guitar and video games with her 12-year-old cousin when not throwing. “I’ve been able to do everything to train. I’m only missing my teammates and coach [Richard Parkinson]. I try to send videos to him for feedback and talk with him every few days to stay on course.”
Diamond League meets continue to be dropped from the summer schedule, with the first event provisionally set for Aug. 14 in Monaco.
“We all miss it. The feeling of competition keeps us going in our training,” said Crew, who is confident a long layoff won’t disrupt her progress. “The worst part is the uncertainty. I don’t know how it’s going to affect the sport, sponsorship, the Olympics, anything.”
Blankenau’s mental strength tested
A veteran setter for the Canadian men’s volleyball team, Blankenau has been living at his parents’ cabin on McGregor Lake, 170 kilometres south of Calgary, since arriving home in late March from a season with his Turkish pro club Arkas Sport.
The 30-year-old native of Sherwood Park, Alta., has enjoyed some down time – his first off-season in eight years – using the break to add strength and return to peak level after playing the pro season at less than 100 per cent following back surgery last August.
“At the same time, I was geared up and ready to go this summer for the Olympics,” said Blankenau, a member of the 2016 Olympic squad that placed fifth in Rio. “We have big goals and I was looking forward to working through the pressure and stress with the guys.”
Blankenau and his teammates, who are ranked 10th in the world, recently began a muscle mass/strength program outlined by Mike Cook, the national team’s strength and condition coach. When Blankenau first returned from Turkey, he spent a month using elastic resistance bands and doing bodyweight exercises to get his nervous system working but not stress his body.
“They set us up on an app so we can all log our weights, workload and time of workout,” said Blankenau, who trains in the basement of the cabin. “It’s a life-saver.”
The hardest part, he added, is staying mentally strong. Blankenau has found games, such as playing H-O-R-S-E with some setters from his former Mouth Royal University team in Calgary, to be good for mental training (see below).
“It took 40 to 50 tries,” conceded a laughing Blankenau of the almond-in-the-mouth trick. “Your brain doesn’t get turned on like it would in game-training but I liked the challenge of this.
“When things open up, I’m going to keep my skills. Those are ingrained in us after such a long playing career. It’ll just take a few days to get up to game speed.”
Mason can do everything at home… except jump
The 33-year-old high jumper hasn’t struggled to train during the pandemic since the majority of his workouts the past two years originated from his childhood home on Vancouver Island in Nanoose Bay, B.C., where he lives with his wife and parents.
“I have a gym with all of my weights and enough space that I can pretty much do everything I need to, except jumping,” said Mason, who’s hoping to compete at his fourth Olympics next summer.
He’ll lift weights three days a week, work on speed endurance for two days and do short sprints and longer runs another day. Mason will also spend time doing plyometric hurdles, other jump exercises, core work and stretching.
WATCH | Mike Mason finishes 7th at 2019 track and field worlds:
Mike Mason of Nanoose Bay, B.C. finished in 7th place after clearing 2.30 metres in the high jump at the world track and field championships in Doha. 1:17
Should the potential for a Diamond League competition arise later this summer or early in the fall, he pointed out coach Jeff Huntoon has a plan in place that would have the 2019 Pan Am silver medallist ready in six to eight weeks.
“I would take at least a few weeks to get into a good routine for jumping,” he said, “but as long as I get on a track [in the near future] I’m not concerned. My body knows what to do technique-wise right now and I feel confident.”
Ranked fourth in the world, Mason is coming off the most successful season of his career with seven top-two finishes in 11 events, including his fifth Canadian title. He jumped a season-best 2.31 metres following “not many” jump practices after hurting his back early in 2019.
Wiebe excited by challenge of uncertainty
The 2016 Olympic champion has just finished a Zoom call with an Arkansas-based high school wrestling squad, one of several chats Wiebe has had with teams across North America during the pandemic.
“I’m training full-time, sharing my sport experiences and hopefully encouraging people to stay motivated and excited about sports,” said the Calgary resident.
Every second day, she talks and does an exercise on FaceTime with the nine-year-old granddaughter of her former high school coach. And once a week, Wiebe and Calgary Dions Wrestling Club coach Paul Ragusa host online practices in which they do video analysis and break down matches from a technical perspective.
With more free time off the mat than she’s had in 15 years, the 30-year-old can juggle riding a spin bike in her apartment or take to the road. She also enjoys reading fantasy fiction and memoirs. Sometimes, Wiebe will do alternative training and practice her moves on a throwing dummy she brought home from the club or take up other challenges from friends (see below).
<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID</a>-19 Training Diaries – Wrestling Edition <br>❄️<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HealthyAtHome?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#HealthyAtHome</a> <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HealthyAtHomeAB?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#HealthyAtHomeAB</a> <a href=”https://t.co/NCB2fIPdwR”>pic.twitter.com/NCB2fIPdwR</a>
“I’m used to wrestling eight to 10 hours a week at high intensity,” said the Stittsville, Ont., native and two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist. “It’s been such a big change in my day-to-day life not to get on the mat and wrestle.”
One night, she sat down to watch the first episode of the 10-part documentary on Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls teams of the 1980s and ’90s.
“I didn’t realize how hungry I am to compete,” she said. “I don’t know if Tokyo will be my last dance but it really put things into a different perspective for me.
“It’s a new gift we have and new challenge [to better ourselves in insolation]. It’s exciting for me to figure out how to be optimal when it matters most, despite all these uncertain circumstances.”
A study of the worldwide Olympic bureaucracy’s finances concludes there’s far more money available for athletes than what they receive, and that they would be best served by the sort of collective-bargaining arrangement that’s common in pro leagues.
The study, a collaboration between the Global Athlete advocacy group and the Ryerson University Ted Rogers School of Management in Toronto, said the IOC — the largest and most integral cog in the Olympic system — averages $ 1.4 billion US per year in revenue and spends 4.1 per cent of it on athletes.
Even since the Olympics departed from the amateur-only model on which it was founded, the majority of athletes have been largely dependent on their own sports organizations and national Olympic committees for funding. Lucrative sponsorship deals exist for only a small percentage of top-tier Olympians.
At the same time, the study says, because the IOC receives most of its revenue (91 per cent) from TV and marketing and virtually nothing from donations, its model is more in sync with the NFL, NBA and other pro leagues than the family of non-profit organizations it is part of.
WATCH | Dr. Tam on when pro sports might return to Canada:
Chief Public Health Officer of Canada Dr. Theresa Tam says plans from sports commissioners would have to be examined before decisions can be made but confirms that crowded conditions and mass gatherings are not in the near future. 2:43
The study says those pro leagues return between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of their revenues to the players, while the Olympic movement gives back 4.1 per cent, the bulk of which “is mostly through scholarships, grants and awards for successful competition, numbers which athletes cannot negotiate.”
“If the IOC and its affiliates are unwilling or unable to compensate its athletes, collective bargaining will change the face of the Olympic Movement,” the report concluded, while also underscoring athletes’ chance to grab a central role in reshaping the movement in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic that has delayed the Tokyo Games by a year.
IOC disputes claim of low payout
The IOC called the claim that it spends 4.1 per cent of of its revenue on athletes “just plain wrong.”
“It redistributes 90 per cent of all its income generated from the Olympic Games to assist athletes and develop sport worldwide,” the IOC said. “As a result, every day the IOC distributes about $ 3.4 million around the world to help athletes and sporting organizations.”
As detailed in its annual report, among the areas the IOC sends money to are international sports federations, national Olympic committees and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
WATCH | IOC’s Dick Pound believes in Olympic movement amid tough times:
CBC Sports’ Scott Russell spoke with International Olympic Committee member Dick Pound about the power of the Olympics and why it’s important to still hold the 2020 Games. 4:00
The IOC also sends about 28 per cent of its budget to local organizing committees for the Olympics; in 2016 and 2018, that amounted to $ 1.7 billion, the study said. Without the Olympics there would be no grand stage on which the athletes could perform. That has long been an IOC argument in defending its overall model, as well as Rule 40, which limits the amount of sponsorship-related revenue athletes can generate during the games themselves.
Over recent months, the IOC has allowed countries to relax some of those restrictions, but the study argues athletes would be much better off if Rule 40 was abolished altogether and replaced by collective bargaining.
The study outlined a complex web of Olympic finance and bureaucracy that it says is outdated. It describes a system in which the vast majority of money flows in from broadcasters and sponsors, then filters through hundreds of Olympic-related subsidiaries across the globe before, eventually, a small amount gets to the athletes themselves.
The study estimated the average Canadian athlete in 2013-14 spent about $ 15,000 more than he or she made in a year.
“If the IOC is truly against the commercial abuse of athletes, it will find a way to pay its athletes back,” the report concluded. “If not, it will be up to the athletes themselves.”
Donovan Bailey awoke on the morning of July 27, 1996 with two items on his personal to-do list.
The first was to set a world record in the men’s 100-metre Olympic final. The second was to claim Olympic gold as the world’s fastest man.
“My coach, Dan Pfaff, felt I was going to break the world record,” says a reflective Bailey, now 52. “So the time really was not going to matter to me. I knew I was going to run faster than I had ever run before.”
Initially, Bailey thought Pfaff was playing a mind game when he told him a bomb had exploded at 1:25 a.m. in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, the free concert zone with no metal detectors, no scanners and no controlled access
Without another word, Pfaff left the room.
“That’s just the relationship between Dan and myself,” Bailey says. “Dan is always trying to test me.”
WATCH | News coverage of Atlanta 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing:
CBC News’ Eric Sorensen reports on the infamous Centennial Olympic Park bombing on July 27, 1996 from Atlanta. 5:16
So Bailey sat down to eat his omelette, fresh fruit and toast, while sipping his English breakfast tea with milk and honey. The house manager flipped the television on and the mind game became real.
“I didn’t know how many people had died,” Bailey says of the carnage he saw on the screen. “I didn’t know if they were going to cancel the Olympic Games. I didn’t know what was happening.”
That same morning, Marnie McBean woke up and saw a yellow Post-it note slipped under her door by her coach, Al Morrow.
The note read: Last night, a bomb went off at Centennial Olympic Park. People were injured and/or killed. Expect security delays and/or cancellations. You might want to get an earlier bus.
“Personally, I had 30 family members come down to Atlanta,” McBean says. “And my family, they’re all precarious adventurers. People barely had cell phones, so I couldn’t call them up and make sure everyone was okay.
“So we got on an earlier bus. We didn’t know what was going on, and we’re on the bus that’s supposed to go to our Olympic final.”
Bailey and McBean are among scores of Canadians who remember the terror depicted in the new Clint Eastwood movie, Richard Jewell. The film is based on the true story of Jewell, the Atlanta security guard wrongly suspected in the Centennial Park bombing.
Jewell likely saved many lives that night when he discovered an unattended backpack containing three pipe bombs during a rock concert attended by about 50,000 people. He helped clear the immediate area before a bomb exploded, killing a woman and injuring 111. (A Turkish television camera operator also died when he suffered a fatal heart attack as he rushed to the scene.)
I didn’t know if they were going to cancel the Olympic Games. I didn’t know what was happening.– Donovan Bailey, 1996 100-metre champion
Initially hailed as a hero, Jewell’s life fell apart on July 30 when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran the headline: ‘FBI suspects hero guard may have planted bomb’.
Though police never charged him, many people still thought Jewell — who died in 2007 from complications of diabetes — was responsible for the bombing. It wasn’t until 1998 that authorities charged Eric Rudolph, who pleaded guilty to the bombings in 2005 and is serving a life sentence.
“I think most of us still had the feeling in Atlanta that Olympic security would keep everybody safe and sound and that nothing like this could happen,” says Mark Lee, a broadcaster who worked the 1996 Games for CBC. “It was pre-9/11. You still thought with all the security, you would be safe.”
After a long day of calling volleyball, Lee and commentator Charlie Parkinson arrived back at the International Broadcast Centre. In a scene familiar to every Olympics, they stood outside waiting for a bus that never came.
They managed to arrange a ride, and at around 1 a.m., less than half an hour before the bomb would explode, the pair found themselves about 100 metres from the sound tower at Centennial Olympic Park waiting to be picked up.
At 3:30 a.m., Lee’s phone rang.
“Are you okay?” a CBC manager asked.
“Yeah, I’m asleep,” Lee replied. “What’s going on?”
The manager told Lee he was listed as last being seen leaving the broadcast centre around the time of the explosion.
We started chasing people down. We were trying to find everybody.– Dave Bedford, Canadian Olympic Committee media attache at 1996 Olympics
It was also where Canadian Olympic Committee media attaché Dave Bedford had trudged through Centennial Olympic Park at around the same time before heading back to his sleeping quarters at Clark Atlanta University.
The ringing phone interrupted his slumber with an order to report to the Main Press Centre as soon as possible.
Half asleep, Bedford rushed back but shortly after arriving, the facility received a bomb threat and went into lock-down.
“That kind of scares the hell out of you,” he says. “You’re in there by yourself and none of the other COC staffers can get in or out. It’s a little disconcerting.”
The phone in the COC office rang constantly, with panicked parents calling to check on their loved ones.
“We started chasing people down,” he says. “We were trying to find everybody.”
Olympic security protocols are much more sophisticated these days, but back in Atlanta, Bedford and his colleagues connected with the manager assigned to each team. The manager then physically went out and found each team member.
No injuries to Canadian team members
“Once we determined everyone was accounted for then the messaging was really simple,” he says. “It was just, ‘hey, you, everyone’s accounted for and there are no injuries with Canadian team members.’
“Parents and family members were very happy to hear that.”
Lee woke up around 7:30 a.m. — he had willed himself back to sleep for fear of not being at his best on air — and immediately called his wife.
“I needed to let her know I was okay,” he says. “The Olympics are such a huge undertaking. When you have your loved ones away from an Olympics and they hear something has happened — like a bombing or shooting — everyone thinks you’re right in the middle of it even though it was nowhere near you.”
Except in this case, Lee was way too close for comfort.
That morning, all was quiet when the bus pulled up to the Olympic rowing venue at Lake Lanier. At the entrance, the driver killed the engine and crews conducted their routine bomb sweep before granting the vehicle entrance.
McBean looked over and saw actual spectators in the grandstand — which she saw as a good sign. After all, they wouldn’t let people in if the event was cancelled.
Once inside, McBean huddled with her coach and found out the band Jack Mack and the Heart Attack was performing the night before at Centennial Park.
“[The band] was nobody my family had ever heard of,” McBean says. “So I was like, ‘Odds are super high that my family never went.’ It was just a guess that my family was fine and then we went on with the race day.”
In Lane 4 for the women’s double sculls final, McBean and her partner, Kathleen Heddle, sat in their boat with gold in their sights. Heavy favourites, the Canadians lived up to the hype.
‘Huge chunk of perspective’
Holding off the Chinese and Dutch at the finish, McBean leaned over and kissed her oars in sweet celebration of Canada’s first gold of the Atlanta Games.
Around 2 p.m., McBean and Heddle walked into the lounge in the athlete’s village and saw Olympians from around the world glued to the TV in hopes of learning more about the bombing.
“Kathleen and I were staring at real life,” McBean says. “We had just done this sporting thing, but there was this huge chunk of perspective that came into that moment.”
Already guarded by the RCMP at a safe house in the upscale district of Buckhead, Donovan Bailey received word mid-morning that his 100-metre race was on. From that moment, he intentionally banished any thought of the bombing.
“The 100 metres is the biggest event of every Olympic games since 1896,” he says. “So, for me, coming in being the reigning world champion, and obviously, being a favourite to win, my responsibility was to stay focused and compartmentalize as best as I could the events of that day so that I could really get the job done.”
WATCH | Donovan Bailey reacts to news of Atlanta bombing
Donovan Bailey discusses his reaction to the infamous Centennial Olympic Park bombing, in an interview with CBC Sports’ 1996 Atlanta Olympic host Brian Williams. Bailey won 100 metre Olympic gold on the same day the bombing took place, on July 27, 1996. 1:01
Competing in spite of a torn left adductor, Bailey concentrated on his game plan.
“I felt that the semifinals and obviously the finals would kind of undo the negativity and the clouds around the Olympics,” he said. “And I’m no stranger to that because I did compete for Canada.”
On Bailey’s ample shoulders rested the hopes of Canadians still scarred by memories of 1988 when Ben Johnson was stripped of his Olympic gold after testing positive for steroids at the Games in Seoul, South Korea.
That night, Bailey rode to the stadium in a motorcade with police vehicles both in front and behind him.
“I was the king of the world.” he says with a chuckle.
In the final, the king was the second last man to burst out of the blocks.
“I realized I had a terrible start,” he says. “What I had to do was step back, breathe a little bit and get into my drive phase knowing that when I hit top speed, I would pass everybody.”
And pass everybody he did. Knowing he would win at 70 metres, Bailey glided over the finish line and saw a sea of Canadian flags to his right.
He looked at the clock: 9.84 seconds — a new Olympic and world record.
“I opened my mouth,” he says. “It was a reactionary thing. I got it done. Let me take my flag and take my place in history.”
Standing to the right of that historical moment was an exhausted Dave Bedford, still working after the terrifying experience at the Main Press Centre.
“Donovan ran right by me with both his arms down going at his side and his mouth gaping open,” says Bedford, now the chief executive officer of Athletics Canada. “It was wild for sure. Highs and lows to the extremes.”
All these years later, Bailey hopes people will look back at the highs of Atlanta even when reliving the lows while watching Richard Jewell at the local movie theatre.
“The Olympic Games should never be about politics — about somebody with some sort of agenda,” Bailey says. “The Olympic Games are all about sports and celebrating the greatest athletes on the planet.”
Jon Montgomery walking through Whistler, B.C., with a pitch of beer in hand. Mark McMorris stepping onto the Olympic podium, just weeks after breaking a rib. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir sticking a final pose, proving a picture-perfect long program does exist.
The common ground? These Canadian Olympic moments transformed into careers off the field of play.
Montgomery now hosts a TV show. Virtue and McMorris cashed in with a plethora of sponsorship and business deals.
But what about the hundreds of other Canadian Olympians? In today’s climate, where social media and sponsorship opportunities have skyrocketed, how does an athlete cash in on a medal, particularly gold?
It seems that making that happen starts well before the Games begin.
“Storytelling is the currency of the Games,” says Russell Reimer, president of Manifesto Sport Management, a company that manages Olympic, professional, and action sports athletes amongst other branding and content ventures. “In the same way you would put in all the time, mostly in anonymity, to train for your sport, you also have to put that level of care and time into what it is you want to become and telling your story going into the Games.”
Secrets to developing post-athletic success
Reimer’s company represents several of the most successful Canadian Olympians — names like Virtue, McMorris, Montgomery, hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser and sprinter Aaron Brown.
Before founding Manifesto, Reimer was a producer with NBC at the Sydney and Salt Lake City Olympics. There he noticed all athletes faced the same challenges of cyclical interest, partners that weren’t committed and marketing rights that fell into increasingly narrow windows.
It’s the same issues most athletes face today.
He also noticed the untapped business of bridging an athlete’s story and marketing opportunities. And since all Olympians are there to win medals, it’s what an athlete stands for that separates them from the crowd and makes them attractive to sponsors.
“I think from an Olympic perspective you get to tap into a more emotional connection than you maybe could with other sports,” says Matt McGlyyn, vice president of brand marketing at Royal Bank of Canada [RBC], a Canadian national team sponsor since 1947.
“Performance always goes up and down, but we always stay focused on athletes that have a strong and organic connection to our brand.”
Building a sellable brand is a big ask from athletes, considering they’re already working to be among the best in the world at their sport.
But so is every other athlete.
“Zero times an Olympic gold medal is zero,” Reimer says. “You should have no expectation of a commercial outcome if you aren’t willing to do the work and storytelling…before the Games.”
Of course, there are outliers. Think Penny Oleksiak or Andre De Grasse; two relatively unknown Canadians who turned Olympic performances into immediate success after the 2016 Rio Olympics. Both are Canadian red carpet staples with brand partnerships relevant to their sports — Vichy Canada for Oleksiak and Puma for De Grasse.
But coming into a Games with a defined mission statement, or being shrewd enough to capitalize on the attention is how a pitcher of beer multiplies a skeleton gold medal into a hosting gig on national TV.
Terry Fox is an inspiration to us all! 🇨🇦 Don’t miss an all-new episode of The <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/AmazingRaceCanada?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#AmazingRaceCanada</a>, tonight at 9/8mt on <a href=”https://twitter.com/CTV?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CTV</a>. <a href=”https://t.co/iJwfz7lxKP”>pic.twitter.com/iJwfz7lxKP</a>
“All you have to do is ask yourself a tough question about why [you’re doing this], what your deepest motivation was,” Reimer says. “And if you say something compelling in the moment you have Canada’s attention, the United States’ attention. You have created yourself a commercial and career opportunity.”
McMorris set the tone, Virtue doing it best
Take McMorris for example.
“He’s had a camera with him since he was eight years old,” Reimer says of the Canadian snowboarder. “And we were able to tell really great stories about Mark and we took the time to construct a real critical path of content going into the 2014 Games.”
McMorris was also a trailblazer in social media. He was named most socially engaged Olympian at Sochi 2014 by the Sport Business Journal and Hookit, a sport sponsorship analytics platform.
It didn’t hurt that McMorris has won enough X Games medals to be compared with American legend Shaun White. But when the comparison happened, McMorris’ story and content were primed and ready for when people Googled his name.
But right now, Reimer says the Canadian athlete doing it best is Virtue, now a figure skating legend.
“When you see the transition she’s made, it’s really a massive leap — a leap that hasn’t taken place in Canada from success on ice or snow to commercial success,” he says.
Since competing in her final Olympic Games in 2018, Virtue’s personal brand has aligned with endless high-profile companies: Nivea, Adidas, and MAC Cosmetics to name a few. She’s appeared on shows like Mr. D and MasterChef Canada. Rock The Rink, a skating exhibition, starts its Canadian tour this fall with Virtue at the centre of the show.
All this happened post-Pyeongchang, her third and final Olympic cycle, and arguably, her most successful.
“I was clear about my mission,” Virtue said. “And my goal was not to be a well-known figure in Pyeongchang, my goal was to be the best ice dancer in the world.”
That meant turning down sponsorship and media opportunities to focus on training. But Virtue found an effective way to stay visible and tell her story: Instagram.
Virtue wasn’t even on the app in Sochi 2014: her first post was the following summer. But through videos of practices and choreography sessions, alongside thoughtfully curated posts reflecting her personal and professional mission statements, Virtue built a following that grew by more than 200 per cent in Pyeongchang.
“There’s no easy way to the top of anything, but it’s a lot of hard work and I feel maybe I have the confidence in that recipe, or the confidence in myself,” Virtue says. “So maybe it’s an investment in myself and getting back to authenticity, just trusting in my story and who I am to the core.”
And that all comes down to what Reimer says is the bottom line.
“She’s the model for how you build enduring appeal… What matters is the story.”
CALGARY — The mood was somewhat celebratory — beer-drinking fans and supporters alongside Oympians all waiting for the big reveal.
A Calgary pub, ironically located on Olympic Way, was packed Tuesday night with Olympians and fans decked out in sea of red and white.
One of the onlookers was wearing a Sidney Crosby Canada jersey, hoping for another golden Olympic moment on home soil.
There was optimism mixed with anxiety — not unlike how high-performance athletes feel before a big race or game.
"I figured when I retired I was done with the stress, but this is a different stress," said two-time Olympic speed-skating champion Catriona Le May Doan. "It still feels like race time."
And then, in an instant, a two-year race trying to convince people the Games belonged in Calgary ended as 56 per cent of Calgarians voted against hosting the 2026 Olympics. Game over. Race lost.
Watch The National segment on the Calgary plebiscite:
The No side won with 56.4 per cent of the vote, a total of 304,774 people cast ballots across the city. 3:43
For as much hope as Le May Doan had to begin the night, a high level of frustration matched it at the end.
"I don't know if we will continue past ten years being a winter sport city," she said. "I'm not sure. I would challenge the city and ask what's next? Because we need a plan."
Le May Doan wasn't mincing words about the direction of the city after Tuesday's vote.
"It showed us that we wanted to talk. But it also showed us that our city is very divided and that would start with Council. That's a problem. We need to find out how to be less divisive as a community."
There was a serious last push by many of Canada's Olympians in the days leading up to the plebiscite. They took to social media, relentlessly tweeting out reasons why the Game should be in Calgary. On Tuesday afternoon, some of those same Olympians spent the entire day on C-Train platforms handing out information on where to vote — and to vote Yes.
Helen Upperton, an Olympic silver medallist in bobsleigh at the 2010 Olympics, was one of those athletes trying to urge people for months to see the potential of the Games and was devastated by the result.
Watch BidCo CEO Mary Moran discuss why Yes was the right vote:
CBC Sports' Scott Russell sits down with Mary Moran, CEO of the group BidCo, on why pursuing the 2026 Olympics is the right decision for not only Calgary, but Canada as a whole. 9:41
"I want to ask Calgary, now what? How are we going to revitalize our healthy, active lifestyle in this city?" she said.
"What's the idea? I feel so disappointed and heartbroken for everyone who had a dream for this city."
Those words were echoed by Olympic champion gymnast Kyle Shewfelt.
"What is the plan? If 56 per cent of Calgarians feel this wasn't good for the city, then what is a good thing for this city? Because the reality is when you say no to something you stay in the same place."
Speed skater Gilmore Junio was born and raised in Calgary — he calls himself a "legacy baby" of the 1988 Olympics. He learned how to skate in the Oval built for those Games. He became an Olympian in that Oval.
What is a plebiscite?
CBC Sports' Anson Henry breaks down the referendum facing Calgary voters. 1:20
On Wednesday morning, he's returning to the Oval that helped sparked his dream and had hoped another Games would ignite many more dreams.
"It's going to be very disappointing at the Oval tomorrow. It's going to be tough," he said. "To say I'm disappointed is an understatement. There are a lot of thoughts going through my head about what could have been."
Frank King's legacy
In the middle of the crowd, surrounded by family and supporters, was Linda Maslechko, the daughter of Frank King. He was the mastermind and CEO of the 1988 Olympics.
King's legacy is felt throughout much of the city — he died in May at the age of 81. Maslechko fought back tears as she talked about what another Olympics in the city could have meant to build on her father's legacy.
My interview with Linda Masleshko — Frank King’s daughter. <br><br>Who tells me in the middle of the interview she could cry today. Was up at 4am. <br><br>Here it is. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Calgary2026?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Calgary2026</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/CBCOlympics?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBCOlympics</a> <a href="https://t.co/i1cGd2QrVk">pic.twitter.com/i1cGd2QrVk</a>
"This is a huge missed opportunity for our city and there are a lot of people in this room who brought vision and action and a really great plan," Maslechko said. "I'm trying to fathom celebrating a No. It's just a loss for the city and I don't know how you celebrate that. But we can't just sit and wallow in the pain."
Earlier in the day, Maslechko was on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary dressed in an '88 torch relay jacket, talking to as many people as possible and urging them to vote Yes.
Maslechko says she remembers how important it was to her father to make the Olympics a community event for the people of Calgary and Canada, something she believed could happen again.
"The Olympics wouldn't have built a pipeline. They wouldn't have filled our office towers. But they would do something. It's more than just the economic return. It's about rejuvenating our spirit," she said.