The Vancouver Effect: An Examination of the Canadian Olympic Committee Olympic Selection Standards (2000-2008)
McClelland, Peter, Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research
The Olympic Games, by every measure, are a massive entity. They are the largest regularly scheduled, international gathering in the world, and "have become the most celebrated event in history." (1) Politically, economically, socially and culturally, the Olympic Games have had an increasingly influential effect on our society since their modern conception over a century ago. The Games, and the Olympic Movement in general, have been experienced by millions of people from around the globe, far more than its founders could have ever imagined. (2)
Canada's involvement within the Olympic Movement has been interesting. We have hosted the Games twice, welcoming the best summer athletes from around the globe to Montreal in 1976, and their winter counterparts to Calgary in 1988. We are now gearing up to host the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, which in terms of podium success, promises to be a monumental event for Canadian Olympic sport. It truly is an exciting time for sport in Canada.
In contrast, only a short time ago, the Canadian sport system was in shambles. In 2002, in the face of declining international results since the 1996 Atlanta Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) made an ideological shift towards supporting excellence (in the form of medals) by instituting a new Olympic selection policy. Canadian athletes would only be sent to the Games if they had the chance to be in the top 12 finishers; the COC would no longer be taking "tourists" to the Games. The Athens Games came and went, with considerable controversy over the COC's new selection policy.
By the time the selection document for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was released a little less than two years later, the Top 12 Policy that had incited so much debate was nowhere to be found.
This paper outlines the events that led to the implementation of the Top 12 Policy, its subsequent removal, and the role that other concurrent events in the Canadian sport environment played as mitigating factors. It is argued that the heightening and subsequent lowering of the Olympic selection standards was part of the COC's overall evolution in the past two Olympiads, and that the events were primarily as a result of Vancouver being named host of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
In order to achieve these objectives, a review of the official COC selection documents for both the Athens Games and the Beijing Games, as well as the COC Athens Post-Games Report, was undertaken. Critical assessments of the events from various sources were also taken into account. The information gained from these sources was corroborated with the insights obtained from interviews with the following prominent Canadian sport administrators: Richard Pound (IOC Executive Committee member, former Chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency, former Secretary of the Canadian Olympic Committee, former Olympic Swimmer); Dr. Roger Jackson (CEO of Podium Canada, former President of the COC, former Olympic rower); Phil Schlote (High Performance Advisor for Own the Podium, formerly High Performance Advisor at Sport Canada); Michael Chambers (President of the COC from 2001 to the present); Derek Covington (Director of Olympic Preparation for the COC); Doug Hamilton (former VP High Performance for Rowing Canada and 'A' Director to the COC); and Bruce Deacon (Manager of Education and Community Relations at the COC, and former Olympic marathoner). Interviews were also conducted with current athletes Nicole Stevenson (marathoner who just missed qualifying for the Athens Games); Iain Brambell (Olympic rower, and Chair of the COC Athletes Council); and Simon Whitfield (Olympic Triathlete).
To begin, it is necessary to clarify and summarize how athletes are chosen to represent their country on the biggest sporting stage in the world: the Olympic Games.
The Process of Athlete Selection for Olympic Competition
The Olympic Charter explains the roles of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Sport Federations (ISFs) (3) and the National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in terms of athlete selection for the Olympic Games. Each administrative body has an important role in the process, and understanding how they fit together is crucial to understanding the events that have taken place in Canada over the past two Olympiads.
The IOC Executive Board, following negotiations with each individual ISF, establishes the maximum number of athletes that will compete at the Games in each sport, keeping in mind that the overall maximum number of athletes is capped at 10,500 for any particular Games. (4) This process occurs at least two years before the beginning of each Olympic Games and with this total number of entries in mind, each ISF establishes the minimum criteria for an athlete or team to compete at the Games. For team sports, this could be a world ranking, or a certain qualification process that must be adhered to, such as victory of a regional qualifying tournament (most team sports are capped at twelve entries (5)). For individual sports such as track and field or swimming, baseline achievements in each event discipline are formulated. These baseline standards are high enough to make sure that the maximum quotas for both the Games and each particular sport are adhered to, but are significantly lower than would be required to challenge for a medal.
The process of athlete selection occurs within each country and is an interaction between a country's NOC and each sport's national sport federation (NSF). Once the ISF minimums have been published, each country has the option to send all of their athletes and teams who achieve these baseline standards, or to set higher standards. In some countries, it is at the discretion of each NSF on whether or not to set higher standards, in others it may be solely at the discretion of the NOC, while in others they may be established in a conjunctive process between the two bodies. In the final analysis, NOCs " ... decide upon entry of athletes proposed by their respective national federations," (6) and have the exclusive right to determine the athletes who will represent their country at the Olympic Games. (7) Furthermore, "NOCs shall send to the Olympic Games only those competitors adequately prepared for high level international competition." (8) How an NOC chooses to interpret this phrase is largely a function of its mandate and as would be expected, different NOCs interpret it in different fashions. In the case discussed herein, the COC's interpretation evolves over time as a result of other occurrences within its environment.
The Beginning of Olympic Selection Policies in Canada
In each of the Olympic Games that occurred prior to 1980, there were no objective standards which deemed a Canadian athlete to be adequately prepared for high level international competition. Each NSF would appear before a panel of COC officials, make their case as to why certain athletes should be sent, and COC officials either approved and named the athlete to the Olympic team, or didn't. (9) Following the disastrous Canadian performance at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, (10) a new Olympic selection policy was developed with the help of two prominent Canadian Olympians turned administrators, Roger Jackson(11) and Richard Pound. (12) Jackson, who was Vice President of the COC as well as Chairman of the Olympic Selection Committee at the time, and Pound, who was the Secretary of the COC, helped push this policy through with some difficulty. (13) The NSFs would rather have liked to continue having close to full representation at each Olympic Games. (14)
The new policy outlined criteria that were over and above the ISF minimum standards, and was put in place to hopefully incite higher performances from our country's athletes. More specifically, this policy stated that Canadian athletes and teams were now named to the Olympic team only if they had demonstrated performance levels that would indicate the distinct probability of placing within the top 16 and the top 1/2 of the entries at the Games. (15)
The Top 16 and Top 1/2 Policy was in place for each of the Olympic Games (both summer and winter) beginning in 1980 until a major change was made by the COC leadership towards the support of high performance in 2002. (16)
An Ideological Shift by the COC: The Top 12 Policy
The inspiration for the move towards supporting high performance did not begin from within the COC, instead its origins can be traced back to a very prominent Canadian NSF, Rowing Canada Aviron (RCA). In 1990, through discussions amongst its high performance team and coaching staff, and as a result of a disastrous performance at the 1988 Seoul Games, RCA tightened its standards to send only its best crews to the World Rowing Championships. The leadership at RCA wanted to create a culture of excellence within their organization, one that put a premium on medal production. (17) The results of this move were obvious, Canadian rowers brought home 5 medals in the 1992 Barcelona Games, and 6 medals at the 1996 Atlanta Games. In Canadian sport circles at the time, "rowing was heralded as the sport with its act together." (18) Working at RCA at the time were Mark Lowry as General Manager, and Doug Hamilton as VP--High Performance.
As a country, Canada was fairly successful at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games winning 22 medals (3 gold), and placing 11th in the medal count. (19) However, as Hamilton suggested,
Rowing actually did a sort of disservice to Canadian sport at the 1996 Games. Take away rowing, and it was one of the worst ever performances for Canada. Rowing hid the fact that we weren't doing very well as a country. People in the sports world understood this and knew that their own sports weren't doing well. They saw that rowing was winning all these medals and said, 'what are they doing'? (20)
Following the 1996 Games, Canada's international and World Championship results across the board began to sag. Even before the team left for Sydney, Canadian sport officials realized that the Games of the XXVII Olympiad were not going to a feature a large medal haul by Canadian athletes (21) and by early 2000, the COC was already thinking of what it could do to "right the ship" in Canadian sport. Although it was much too late for the Sydney Games, the leadership realized that something needed to be changed very quickly thereafter.
So, in February 2000, still eight months away from the start of the Sydney Games, over 100 Canadian sport administrators who were familiar with the international Olympic sport scene were brought together in Ottawa, Ontario for a workshop with the COC Executive Committee on how Canada could improve its Olympic fortunes. Mark Lowry, formerly of RCA, by then the Director of Sport at the COC, organized the workshop. He had seen how Canadian rowing results had dramatically improved once a culture of excellence was instilled, and wanted to bring the same concept to all of the sports under the direction of the COC. (22) So, along with group brainstorming sessions and other formal presentations from various contributors, Lowry brought in his former co-worker Doug Hamilton to explain how RCA had used elevated selection standards to increase performance. It was from this presentation, and resulting discussions throughout the weekend, that the idea to heighten the Top 16 and Top 1/2 Olympic selection policy was born. Another idea was also discussed: divorcing the power for the allocation of money directed at high performance sport from the political bodies of the COC and Sport Canada to an independent agency. (23) It was at this meeting that the seeds were planted for the support of high performance, due in large part to the leadership of Mark Lowry, (24) and the example that had been set by RCA.
The Sydney Olympic Games opened on September 15, 2000, and by the time they closed just over two weeks later, the gloomy predictions made by the COC leadership had proven all too accurate. Canada achieved just 14 medals (3 gold), and ranked 17th among the competing countries in terms of total medals won, a large drop from the Atlanta Games 4 years earlier. Director of Sport Mark Lowry went to the fall COC Executive Committee meeting with a message: "What is happening at the Summer Olympics with our summer athletes is just not acceptable. We can be doing better, but we can't keep doing the same thing, or we'll just keep getting the same results." (25) The general thrust of his argument was directed at the selection criteria for Canadian athletes. The Top 16 and Top 1/2 Policy had been in place since before 1980 and it had gotten Canada to a peak of 22 medals in Atlanta, but it was no longer working. Even more ominously, there was no indication that a change in fortunes was forthcoming. The way to stop this trend according to Lowry was to "raise the bar" for Olympic qualification, and thus stimulate higher achievement among Canadian athletes. (26)
But to what level should the standards be raised? For the COC, the answer came from looking back at the Olympic results. Athletes that had finished below 12th place at an Olympic Games, even at their first Games, for the most part never went on to notable performances at future Olympics. On the other hand, top 12 finishers were shown to have a significantly greater potential to go on and have a better performance at subsequent Games.(27) Of course there were exceptions to the rule, but overall this is what the empirical evidence suggested. (28) Twelve was also a number that worked in terms of its logical application to most sports: 12 athletes are selected for semi-finals in track and field events, 12 teams are selected to attend the Games in most teams sports, and so on. (29) For these reasons, the Top 12 Policy for Olympic selection became the new benchmark to deem Canadian athletes "adequately prepared" to represent Canada at the Olympic Summer Games. For the time being, winter sports continued to abide by the Top 16 and Top 1/2 policy.
Less than two months after the flame was extinguished at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Winter Games, the Team Selection Policy for the 2004 Athens Summer Games was released. Approved in April of 2002 by the COC Board of Directors (to only a smattering of votes against (30)), the 2004 Athens Team Selection Policy decreed that "The team selection qualification will be based on objective selection criteria equivalent to Top-12 in the world." (31) Essentially, if a Canadian team or individual could demonstrate that it had the distinct probability of being in the top 12 at the Olympic Games, then they would be eligible to attend based on this new COC selection standard.
Before this policy was approved by the COC Board of Directors, it had gone through the COC Athletes Council. At the time the council had 52 members, and according to Iain Brambell (Olympic rower, now Chair of the Council), "It was dysfunctional at best." (32) It contained a representative from all NSFs, including sports not even included on the Olympic program (but which were on the Pan American Games program (33)). Much of the talk at meetings at the time centered on how these sports could get more recognition in Canada rather than on Olympic-related issues like athlete selection criteria. (34) For that reason, the issue never really had much discussion in that particular forum, and passed through the Athletes Council quite easily. (35)
As each sport is very different and in the interest of giving the athletes a clear understanding of what was required of them, the elements that constituted the distinct probability to be top 12 at the Olympics needed to be laid out. This was done in a conjunctive process between each NSF and the COC. For some sports, this meant being in the top 15 at the 2003 World Championships, for others it meant a certain number of World Cup points in a selected timeframe. Individual NSFs still had the opportunity to set even higher benchmarks than top 12, but none did. (36) As a result of this new selection criteria, and the fact that the COC was "raising the bar," the goal of a 4th place finish in 2008 at the Beijing Olympic Games was issued in the 2004 selection document. (37) It was a lofty goal to say the least.
Subsequent to the release of the Athens Team Selection Policy, but before the Games themselves took place, a major event for Canadian sport occurred on July 2nd, 2003: the 2010 Olympic Games were awarded to the city of Vancouver. Although, this was a great victory for Olympic sport in Canada, it posed an interesting dilemma for the COC because it is an unwritten rule in the Olympic community that if the hosts have an athlete or team that has qualified with the baseline ISF standards, they should compete regardless of their country having a more strict selection criteria or not. (38) At that point, the Top 12 Policy had been put in place for the summer sports, but the winter sports were still using the old policy for selection. In fact, back in 2002, the winter sport representatives on the COC Board of Directors had voted in favour of the Top 12 Policy being implemented for summer sports, with the proviso that it was not to be seen as an implied acceptance of the same policy being appropriate for them when the Turin Games came to be discussed. (39) The matter of increasing the standards for the winter sports was still being discussed amongst the COC leadership when Vancouver was awarded the Games in July of 2003. At the subsequent fall board meeting, the standards were relaxed to the ISF minimum for winter sports in preparation for the 2006 Turin Games, and ultimately for the 2010 Vancouver Games. (40) Summer and winter sport selection standards were now on two very different levels.
According to Chambers, up to this point the general feeling amongst the COC board was that if Vancouver were to get the Games, the standards would have to be relaxed to the ISF minimum. The summer sport representatives were mostly in agreement with this at the time, but it was still long before the major issues of Top 12 Policy had come to light in 2004. (41) Part of the agreement struck with the winter sports in exchange for this relaxation was that each NSF would establish standards of their own that were above the ISF minimums. These standards were to have caveats that would allow promising newcomers to be able to compete, but were not to allow athletes that were just about to retire to have "one more kick at the can." (42) This agreement was upheld to a certain extent with some sports making harsher standards, (43) on the other hand, so-called "fringe sports" like ski jumping and Nordiccombined were happy to have the lowest possible entry standard for the 2006 Turin Games. (44)
As the 2004 Summer Games approached, the media got quite involved in the issue of Olympic selection standards. Intense debate ensued in sport circles over the philosophy of leaving athletes at home that had met the ISF standards but not the stricter COC Top 12 Policy; throughout, COC officials toed the party line. Litigation between athletes and the COC over the interpretations of the Top 12 criteria arose (athletes who felt they had met the Top 12 criteria, while the COC felt that they had not). The COC had been involved in the same sort of litigation in the lead up to Sydney, and every other Games for that matter, but instead it was with athletes who thought they had met the lower criteria. (45) Although there was not a net increase in the amount of litigation for the COC as a result of the change in selection criteria, money and time were being spent defending COC selection policies, at whatever level they were set. (46)
The Debate Over the Top 12 Policy
The 2004 Athens Olympic Summer Games closed on August 29th, 2004. Canada achieved 12 medals for 19th place overall. (47) Fewer Canadian athletes attended these Games than the previous summer Games in Sydney (268 vs. 295) and by all accounts, these were not a successful Games for Canadian athletes. The medal count was horrific; many of the "sure things" simply did not perform up to their potential. Two performances that illustrate the Canadian team's experience in Athens were those of Perdita Felicien, the Canadian track and field phenomenon who tripped only a few steps into her 100m hurdle final, and the Canadian men's rowing eight, two-time world champions coming into Athens, who simply crumbled under the pressure to finish a distant fifth. Criticisms of the 2004 Team Selection Policy, and the Top 12 Policy contained within it, were rampant.
Some of its critics argued that athletes gain experience at each Olympic Games which can ultimately prepare them for future Olympic successes, and that by leaving athletes at home, this was not happening. According to experienced sport administrators, the norm did not support this assertion. (48) As Pound noted, "That's such an old, out of date argument. When I was competing, the Olympics were it. Now there are so many international competitions, that the argument of needing the Olympics to develop is just not a valid one." (49) At least some current athletes seem to agree with Pound, Olympic rower Iain Brambell stated, "Athletes develop at World Cups and other international events. By the time they make it to the Olympic Games, they should deserve to be there." (50) Others believe that "common sense seems to run contrary to this position" (51) and point to multiple games athletes like speed skater Catriona Lemay Doan for evidence of this. (52) Although the COC claims to have used empirical evidence to support their Top 12 Policy, clearly not everyone was privy to these numbers or else this portion of the argument would have been more or less settled.
A glaring error within the 2004 selection policy was that it tied the Top 12 Policy to a predicted finish of top 4 in the medal tally in Beijing. This prediction was so far off the mark that even the COC President Mike Chambers called it "an aberration" and admitted that it "had no tie to reality." (53) As Dr. Jackson stated, "There was just no way that was possible. It is fine for someone to say let's be top 4, but in reality, there was no financial program in place in 2002 to achieve that goal." (54) Not one to mince words, Richard Pound simply referred to this prediction as "ridiculous." (55) Examined objectively, it is simply not plausible to believe that the institution of a policy to "raise the bar" without a significant financial injection along with it, would be able to take a country from the 14 medals won in Sydney to the approximately 40 medals that will be required to be one of the top 4 countries present at the Beijing Games. If only it was that quick, easy, and inexpensive!
Many NSFs cited serious inconsistencies with the Top 12 Policy from sport to sport, "It's tougher for a boxer to earn a top 12 world ranking than a yachtsman. Not to take anything away from the yachtsman, but that's just the way it is." (56) In response to this argument, proponents of the policy like Pound stated, "The NSFs generally accept the policy changes, but then when they realize how the standards will affect the number of athletes that will be selected from their sport, that's when they get upset." (57)
Even the theory of whether heightening Olympic standards can induce better performances was challenged. The original champion of the idea, Mark Lowry, thought that higher standards would get athletes preparing more seriously. (58) According to women's marathoner Nicole Stevenson, who was one of the athletes left off the 2004 Olympic team due to the Top 12 Policy, "I train as hard as I can already, I don't need bureaucracy telling me to train harder." (59) Needless to say, she was not a proponent of the policy.
The final major argument against the Top 12 Policy was between those desiring excellence in the form of medals at Olympic Games, and those who put more stock in the value of Olympism. Defined in one fashion as using "sport to promote the balanced development of people as an essential step in building a peaceful society that places a high value on human dignity," (60) Olympism is not at all part of the Top 12 Policy. Sport administrators like Phil Schlote claimed, "Performance has always been a goal for Canada at the Olympics." (61) Stevenson, clearly someone on the other side of the fence, noted:
I question why Canada does not want to send a full team. There are undeveloped countries that send a full team. Are they more proud than we are? Since when is finishing so high in the medal count such a priority? ...Who says its only about winning? In the IOC Charter it's certainly not. (62)
Since the COC's mission is for podium success and promotion of the Olympic Movement, one would think that both should be reflected in how the COC conducts all of its business. That was simply not possible with the Top 12 Policy in place.
In the end, the Top 12 Policy caused a significant amount of controversy. It cost the COC time, energy, and money to deal with the backlash against it, and clearly did not support the part of their mandate to promote the Olympic Movement. For these, and other reasons discussed later, the Top 12 Policy was not in place for long; however, its institution was the first overt step in the COC's evolution in the timeframe under discussion.
A Relaxation to the ISF Standards
Approved in the fall of 2005 by the COC, the Team Selection Policy for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Summer Games was a major departure from the same document released for the Athens Games three and half years earlier. The key difference was that the 2008 edition contained significantly lower selection standards. Not only did the standards not return to the Top 16 and Top 1/2 level that was in place from 1980 to 2002, they were lowered to be exactly in line with the ISF minimums for each sport (each NSF could still establish more restrictive standards, many do). (63)
Whereas the Athens selection policy was bogged down in explaining the move from the existing Top 16 and Top 1/2 Policy to the Top 12 Policy, the Beijing Team Selection Policy had a very simple, crystalline message: "The mission of the COC is to achieve podium success at Olympic Games." (64) What is not explicitly stated is that this policy was also a move towards supporting the other portion of its mandate, promotion of the Olympic Movement within Canada.
The Beijing Team Selection Policy stated that although it will allow the ISF standards to act as a baseline for the participation of Canadian athletes, "There is a difference between participation in the Olympic Games and performance at the Olympic Games. Team selection criteria establish standards for participation at Olympic Games." (65) Furthermore,
The Beijing 2008 Team Selection Criteria establishes a minimum qualification standard to be achieved only and shall not impact on any other decisions made by the COC with respect to preparation of its team for the Olympic Games, accreditations at Games or other allocation of COC resources. For clarity, this policy shall not affect the Board approved strategy in which resources shall be targeted towards performance at the Olympic Games, not towards participation. (66)
In other words, the COC reserves the right to direct its limited resources towards podium success, while still allowing those athletes who meet the baseline standard to go to the Games and compete. As Bruce Deacon, a former Olympic marathoner (67) who is now affiliated with the Olympic education division at the COC stated,
The greatest spokespeople for the Olympic movement at the community level, are Olympic athletes themselves. When you talk about engaging Canadians in the Olympic movement, it makes sense to have a bigger team. It enables you to touch more communities and more people across the country. (68)
By allowing more athletes to attend the Games, which this more relaxed policy does, the Olympic Movement can touch more people and communities across Canada, without adversely affecting the chances of the top contenders for medals by spreading the limited funding too thinly. (69) The COC was no longer using resources, time and energy to keep people off the team, especially since these people would ultimately help to further the COC mandate of promoting the Olympic Movement in Canada. A happy medium between podium success and the promotion of the Olympic Movement had finally been found with the elimination of COC selection criteria that were over and above the ISF minimums.
But what had led to the changing of the standards? By examining a few other major occurrences in the Canadian sport environment at the time, the picture becomes clear.
A Parallel Development to the Changing Olympic Standards
During the same time period as the above noted changes to COC Olympic standards (2000 to 2008), another change was taking place in the Canadian sport system. By early 2002, the idea of using an independent agency to target high performance money towards potential medalists was gaining ground. Coincidentally, this concept was first conceived at the very same meeting of high performance officials back in 2000 as was the Top 12 Policy, and was clearly a necessary move forward for the Canadian sport system. All that was needed was something to jump-start the change.
Then, in the summer of 2003, the much needed catalyst materialized: the 2010 Olympic Winter Games were awarded to Vancouver. In order not to repeat our performance of the two previous Olympics hosted on Canadian soil, the Canadian sport funding partners (the COC, Sport Canada, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the Calgary Olympic Development Association, and the Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC)) in partnership with the winter NSFs, "recognized that they had to establish significantly enhanced programs to achieve extraordinary success." (70) By 2004, a national plan to achieve success in Vancouver had been developed, (71) and shortly thereafter, VANOC, with its partners, and the Government of Canada agreed to equally fund the initiative by contributing a total of $55 million each. Own the Podium 2010 (OTP) was the result, and is the first example of an independent agency developed to handle the targeting of limited resources towards medal contenders. Its goal is for Canada to be the top medal finisher at the 2010 Games and in order to accomplish this it will "provide additional resources, leadership and high-performance programming to Canadian athletes, coaches and support personnel to help them achieve podium success in 2010." (72) Dr. Roger Jackson, one of the original proponents of Olympic selection standards in the late 1970's, was chosen to lead this initiative as CEO.
With all of this focus on winter sport, it is no surprise that the summer sports did not want to be forgotten. By 2006, the Road to Excellence (RTE) agency was developed and has since been successful in lobbying the Canadian government for $24 million over the next two years (2008-2010), and $24 million for each subsequent year to support summer sport in the search for medals in Beijing and beyond. (73)
Olympic Standards, Vancouver 2010, OTP, and RTE: How The Pieces Fit Together
As is stated in the COC's 2004 Annual Report by its Chief Executive Officer Chris Rudge, in the period from 2000 to 2004, the COC underwent a significant philosophical and strategic change toward supporting high performance sport excellence. (74) With the introduction of the Top 12 Policy in 2002, the COC shifted in this direction but did not have the resources to provide the NSFs with adequate funding to garner increased performances.
In 2003, when the 2010 Games were awarded to Vancouver and OTP was created, everything changed. All of a sudden, there was significantly more money available to support excellence (at least on the winter side), and there was no longer the need to use Olympic selection criteria to bait athletes into higher performances. As a result, the standards were relaxed for the winter sports in 2003 (along with the unwritten rule that a host fully participates in its Olympics). By that time it was too late to change the criteria for Athens (not to mention the fact that RTE had not been implemented as of yet), so the COC remained steadfast in its support for the Top 12 Policy leading into Athens.
After the 2004 Athens Games, through the OTP and the developing RTE agencies, the COC adopted "a view of the allocation of its resources for both summer and winter sports that was divorced, in any way, shape, or form from the selection criteria for Olympic Games." (75) Who did or did not get selected to the Olympic team no longer affected how the high performance money was being divvied up. It was being fully targeted at the top medal contenders, who by definition are nowhere near the selection cut-off. In addition, the relaxation of the selection standards to the ISF minimums meant that the COC would no longer have to commit resources to keep people off the team. This idea is very much an extension of the observations by Thibault & Babiak who noted that there has recently been a reorientation of actions and priorities around high performance sport in Canada, away from the administrative aspects of sport delivery to a focus on the development of high performance athletes. (76)
The Top 12 Policy had a very limited lifespan because of the controversy it caused, but more because of the parallel occurrence of Vancouver and Canada being awarded the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. As Chambers noted, "At the time, heightening the standards was the right thing to do," (77) because it was a step towards where we are today. He also noted,
It was a symbolic adoption of a principle by the Board at the COC that we needed to do better. That the way it was, was not good enough. Before the concept of the independent agency for the allocation of targeted resources was fully flushed out, it was a step that the Board took, and a necessary one. It was replaced before the next Games with a more flushed out approach, which is the targeting of resources without the need for selection criteria. (78)
Although the COC would have eventually resorted to the use of an independent agency, it is doubtful that it would have occurred as quickly as it has. Winning the bid to host the 2010 Winter Games acted as an accelerator on the slowly occurring evolution to excellence within the COC. When asked what the state of Canadian Olympic sport would be today if the bid for 2010 had not been won by Vancouver, Chambers observed,
The COC would be in a similar place, but the international results would not be the same because we simply would not have had the resources. The Top 12 Policy would not still be in place, because it was a principled decision to move from the use criteria to the use of the independent agency. What would have been different would have been the amount of resources behind the move. The targeting would have been much narrower. (79)
What is in place today, with the targeting of resources but without the overbearing selection criteria, has ultimately created a more balanced approach to the accomplishment of the dual mandate of the COC, podium success and promotion of the Olympic Movement.
According to Chambers, "Standards for Canadian Olympic sport will be a thing of the past, unless the next generation comes along and decides we were wrong." (80) This will be decided after the 2010 and 2012 Games by the new COC leadership, when there will most likely be some sort of review process undertaken to compare the predictions made with the results obtained under the current system. (81) At the very least, it can be said that despite the problems and controversy it created, the heightening and subsequent lowering of COC selection standards was a necessary part in the evolution of the COC within a very interesting time in Canadian sport.
As a Canadian Olympic sport enthusiast, I often compare our sport system to those in other countries. The mighty Australians will send anybody that qualifies to the Olympic Games, but will not fund them beyond the trip and a track suit if they don't meet the high performance criteria for the allocation of funding. While the Australian sport system is a tough standard to be compared against in most categories, for once we measure up.
(1) Richard W. Pound, Inside the Olympics (Toronto: John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd., 2006), 271.
(3) Commonly referred to in the sporting community as International Federations (IFs), for ease of comparison to National Sport Federations (NSFs) and differentiation from other non-sport related international federations, they will be referred to as International Sport Federations (ISFs) throughout this paper.
(4) International Olympic Committee, The Olympic Charter (Lausanne, Switzerland: International Olympic Committee, 2007), 86. The Winter Games do not approach this number, but the Summer Games have actually surpassed this number in the past two festivals. In Sydney there were 10,651, in Athens there were 10,625.
(6) Ibid., 66.
(7) Ibid., 61-62.
(8) Ibid., 83.
(9) Dr. Roger Jackson, telephone interview with the author, April 20th, 2008.
(10) At the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games, Canada was the first, and to this day the only, host city not to win a gold medal. Canada has this dubious distinction twice in fact, we repeated the same feat 12 years later in 1988 at the Calgary Olympics.
(11) Roger Jackson was an Olympic Gold medalist rower at the 1964 Tokyo Games.
(12) Richard Pound was an Olympic swimming finalist in the 100m freestyle at 1960 Rome Games.
(13) Richard Pound telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(14) Dr. Roger Jackson, telephone interview with the author, April 20th, 2008.
(15) Canadian Olympic Committee, "2004 Olympic Games Post-Games Report", Internal Document, n.d.,15. Teams had to demonstrate that not only would they likely be in the top 16 at the Olympic Games, but in the top 1/2 of the entries. Therefore, if there was to be only twenty entries, the individual or team would have to have the distinct possibility to be top 10 at the Games.
(16) Except for the 1988 Calgary Games when the standard was relaxed to Top 16 or Top 1/2.
(17) Doug Hamilton, telephone interview with the author, April 29th, 2008. According to Hamilton, for both the 1992 Games and 1996 Games, crews were sent by the COC that would not have been sent to a World Rowing Championship by Rowing Canada had it been a non-Olympic year. The reason for this was that the COC forced Rowing Canada to lower its own internal standards for fear of possible litigation from crews that had qualified according to COC standards, but not Rowing Canada standards.
(19) Canadian Olympic Committee, "2004 Olympic Games Post-Games Report", Internal Document, n.d., 55.
(20) Doug Hamilton, telephone interview with the author, April 29th, 2008.
(21) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(22) Doug Hamilton, telephone interview with the author, April 29th, 2008.
(23) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(24) Mark Lowry passed away suddenly on October 22nd, 2005. He has since had the Mark Lowry Memorial Sport Excellence Fund named in his honour. According to the COC website, "Mark was passionate about the sporting community and he worked tirelessly to advance the cause of athletes and sport in Canada. His lasting legacy will be the successes of the many athletes and coaches who have benefited and will benefit from the high-performance programs which Mark helped to create;" http://www.olympic.ca/EN/organization/news/ 2005/marklowry_memorialfund.shtml.
(25) Mike Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008. Here Chambers was paraphrasing Mark Lowry. Apparently, "if you do the same things, you get the same results", was a phrase very often used by Lowry in reference to the Canadian sport system.
(29) Derek Covington, telephone interview with the author, April 29th, 2008.
(30) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(31) Canadian Olympic Committee, "Team Selection Committee Recommendations--Team Selection Policy--Athens 2004," Approved by the Board of Directors April 19th, 2002, 1.
(32) Iain Brambell, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(33) Waterskiing is one example.
(34) Iain Brambell, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(35) This is an unfortunate situation, which according to Brambell occurred often. It was one of the reasons why the governance of the Council has since been reorganized. Now there are only 10 athletes on the Council (6 from the Summer Olympic sports, and 4 from the Winter Olympic sports), which means that the topics can be discussed in a more straightforward manner.
(36) Derek Covington, telephone interview with the author, April 29th, 2008. There were some cases when the International Federation's qualifying criteria was more stringent than the top 12 criteria, in this case the COC accepted all qualified athletes. Women's softball, where there are only 8 entries is a good example.
(37) Canadian Olympic Committee, "2004 Olympic Games Post-Games Report", Internal Document, n.d., 23.
(38) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(40) The winter sports have a significant lobby within the COC Board because they are a small enough group to organize, and yet are a large enough group to have a significant impact on outcomes. When they want something done that they believe will benefit winter sport, they have the ability to get it accomplished. According to Phil Schlote, this was a factor in the standards being relaxed for the winter sports.
(41) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(42) Phil Schlote, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(43) Derek Covington, telephone interview with the author, April 29th, 2008.
(44) Phil Schlote, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(47) Canadian Olympic Committee, "2004 Olympic Games Post-Games Report", Internal Document, n.d., 55-56.
(48) Phil Schlote, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(49) Richard Pound, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(50) Iain Brambell, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(51) Athletes CAN, "COC Top 12 Criteria--Athletes CAN Position Paper," Available at http://www.athletescan.com/Content/ Publications.asp (accessed on April 18th, 2008), 2.
(53) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(54) Dr. Roger Jackson, telephone interview with the author, April 20th, 2008.
(55) Richard Pound, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(56) Canadian Sport Centre--Calgary, COC Standards not up to snuff: Canada's top athletes may fail to qualify for Athens Olympic team, April 24th, 2004. http://www.canadiansportcentre.com /Communications/SportPerformanceWeekly/Spw2004/04_26_04.htm (accessed April 28th, 2008).
(57) Richard Pound, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(58) Phil Schlote, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(59) Nicole Stevenson, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008. Ironically, Stevenson noted that she received significantly more press for not going to the Games.
(60) The New Zealand Olympic Committee, "Olympism--What is it?", 2008, http://www.olympic.org.nz/Article.aspx?ID=2997 (accessed on April 24th, 2008).
(61) Phil Schlote, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
(62) Nicole Stevenson, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(63) Canadian Olympic Committee, "Team Selection Policy--Beijing, Chn 2008," Approved by the Board of Directors November 26th, 2005, 2.
(64) Ibid., 1.
(66) Ibid., 2.
(67) Deacon represented Canada at the 2000 Sydney Games, but was shut out of the 2004 Games as a result of the Top 12 Policy, much like fellow marathoner Nicole Stevenson. Interestingly enough, he now works at the COC. Clearly, he doesn't hold a grudge!
(68) Bruce Deacon, telephone interview with the author, April 28th, 2008.
(69) Simon Whitfield, telephone interview with the author, April 28th, 2008.
(70) Own the Podium 2010, "History", 2008. http://www.ownthepodium2010.com/ index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=6&Itemid=6.
(72) Own the Podium 2010, "Vision", 2008. http://www.ownthepodium2010.com/ index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3&Itemid=3.
(73) Canadian Olympic Committee, "Canadian Olympic Committee Congratulates Harper Government for Ongoing Investment in Road to Excellence Summer Sport Program," February 26, 2008, available at http://www.olympic.ca/EN/organization/news/2008/0226.shtml.
(74) Canadian Olympic Committee, "2004 Annual Report," Available at http://www.olympic.ca/EN/organization/publications/reports/ 2004report.pdf, 4.
(75) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(76) Lucie Thibault & Kathy Babiak, "Organizational Changes in Canada's Sport System: Toward an Athlete-Centred Approach," European Sport Management Quarterly 5, no. 2 (2001), 1.
(77) Michael Chambers, telephone interview with the author, April 23rd, 2008.
(81) Phil Schlote, telephone interview with the author, April 24th, 2008.
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Publication information: Article title: The Vancouver Effect: An Examination of the Canadian Olympic Committee Olympic Selection Standards (2000-2008). Contributors: McClelland, Peter - Author. Journal title: Proceedings: International Symposium for Olympic Research. Publication date: Annual 2008. Page number: 460+. © 2008 International Centre for Olympic Studies. COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale Group.
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