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Scott Russell - Friday Feb. 21, 2014 19:51

Field of Play: Celebrating a mosaic of Olympic medals

Canada's 24 medals won in a variety of sports

Marielle Thompson, left, and Kelsey Serwa show their gold and silver medals
Ski cross racers Marielle Thompson, left, and Kelsey Serwa added to Canada's mosaic of medals on Friday at the Sochi Olympics. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Canada may fall short of its goal of winning the most medals in Sochi.

Then again, it may not.

But the realistic expectation was, and there’s no skirting this fact, that the risky trip to Russia and an Olympics on the road called for our country’s athletes to leave this colossus of a place with a boatload of gold, silver and bronze.

The question becomes, “Is that all that matters in the grand scheme of things?”

It might possibly be true that sometimes, at the Olympics, it’s not just the quantity of things you've won that counts but rather the entire body of your work.

In the case of the Canadian Olympic Team there has been an unparalleled breadth and consistency of accomplishment here in Sochi. And in many ways that record of success is a reflection of the country itself.

Think of it: there have been podium strikes in alpine skiing, short and long track speed skating, snowboarding, freestyle skiing, bobsleigh, curling, hockey, ski cross and figure skating. Men and women have shared in the medals, as well as teams, duos, foursomes and individuals. They have all found the right formula in Russia.

Add to that the fact that athletes from all of the western provinces, Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, have stood or will stand on the podium before all is said and done.

There are Canadians of a multitude of ethnic origins involved.

Immigrant Canadians are represented amongst the medal winners, even as just 10 of the 221 athletes on the team were born outside the country. There are mothers and fathers in the ranks, daughters and sons, and a plethora of languages are spoken fluently by our medal winners.

While they are admirable in their domination of speed skating, we Canadians are unlike the Netherlands in this regard. It is obvious that we could choose to focus our efforts and resources entirely on, say, hockey, curling and figure skating but we choose, as a people, not to do that.

The Dutch, at time of writing, have won 22 medals and all of them are in speed skating. This has people talking, and in a negative way, because they feel that the Netherlands is somehow hoarding the vast majority of the prizes in this beautiful sport and being obsessive about it. There are few Dutch athletes entered in most of the other disciplines.

Meantime, Canadian athletes have won 24 medals in a variety of pursuits. Maybe it’s the difference between being one dimensional versus a genuine willingness to embrace all challenges.

I think this says something about our approach to the Olympics as Canadians. Perhaps we live by Pierre de Coubertin’s original vision for this magnificent field of play.

“In the Olympics as in life it’s not the victory that matters most,” the founder of the modern Games declared. “It’s the struggle, the taking part.” In other words, while winning is important, there can be nothing gained from not entering the contest.

At the very least you have to try.

That’s why we should be celebrating Canadian athletes in these heady days of a balmy Russian winter.

These are not our home Games and we don’t benefit from the familiarity of our own backyard as we did in Vancouver/Whistler. And yet this is the largest Canadian contingent to ever contest an Olympic Winter Games.

It’s because we Canadians pride ourselves on being triers.

We can ski and skate, throw rocks and shoot the puck with the best of them. We are bred to live the life of team players but also find a way to foster and nurture individual achievement.

It seems to me there is great comfort in the diversity of what Canadian athletes have done so far in Sochi. It’s remarkable that we have been able to demonstrate a passion and openness to so many different sports.

Each night from the studio as I announce the Canadian champions from the Olympic Plaza and ready myself to hear our anthem played, I check off the day on the calendar. Only once has a Maple Leaf man or woman not appeared.

It strikes me that as Canadians our athletes are the embodiment of the country they come from.

At the end of every day in Russia we celebrate a mosaic of medals that makes us the envy of the Olympic movement.

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