It?s time to forget those rash Olympic promises

The whole country cheered when the Canadian women?s hockey team won the Gold medal at the Winter Olympics this week. We?re not as likely to be cheering, however, when the final medal count is tallied at Turin.

With the men?s hockey team off to a disastrous start, few real stars making it to the podium, and TV audiences smaller than predicted, Canada?s big Winter Olympic contingent appears to be heading for a disappointing overall performance.

Which raises the question ? why was that reckless prediction of a third-place finish and 25 medals ever put out in the first place?

The Turin games were to have been a dress rehearsal for the 2010 Winter Games at Whistler, B.C., a forecast of a medal harvest that would put Canada in the No. 1 spot the next time around.

Instead, we?ve racked up continuing disappointments. Highly-favoured Jeremy Wotherspoon raced in what was probably his last Olympics without earning a medal. Ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon took a terrible fall, putting an end to their medal hopes. Cross-country skier Beckie Scott finished a disappointing sixth in her event, but rebounded to win a silver with Sara Renner, despite a broken pole.

This is the point ? things happen. In a Games where medals are won by fractions of a second, ski poles break, and dancers fall, isn?t it foolish to predict ahead of time how many medals we?re going to win?

At the half-way point of the Turin Games, Canada had 13 medals and officials were stubbornly insisting we?ll collect the 25 we were supposed to win. Yes, the target is ?aggressive,? in the words of Canadian Olympic CEO Chris Rudge, but he continued to insist that the goal is a realistic one.

As to the prediction of a third-place finish, that all depends on how you count the medals. When Canada?s haul stood at 13 at the beginning of this week ? going to 14 thanks to the women?s hockey team ? this supposedly put us in a tie for third with the U.S. and Russia.

Wait a minute. Isn?t a gold worth more than a bronze? Based on how many golds we?ve won, we?re back in eighth place.

All of this fuss about winning medals overlooks the fact that our Canadian athletes have done us proud. Even in men?s hockey, we?ll be in the medal round and that?s what the Games are all about.

Of course, it?s good to set goals and of course, we?d like to see Canadians bring home as many medals as possible.

What we have to realize is that we?re not the only country with a strong Olympic program, and we?re not the only country that?s making a big investment in winter sports development.

Many countries are giving their gold medal winners bonuses. They range from $150,000 for Italy?s gold medal winners to $25,000 for Americans and $7,500 for Australians.

Should Canada be doing likewise?

Just as we had to get used to the idea thirty years ago that Canada didn?t own men?s hockey, we have to learn the same is true of women?s hockey and of that other iconic Canadian game, curling.

I remember being in the old Montreal Forum on September 2, 1972, when the Russians beat Canada 7-3 in the opening game of that historic set-to. You?d have thought the world was coming to an end. Canada eventually took it all when Paul Henderson scored with 37 seconds left in the eighth and final game.

Perhaps our athletes will pull it off in the end at Turin, too, and give us the number of medals that Canada?s Olympic big-wigs foolishly predicted.

We hope they will. We can also hope someone will see fit to remember the words of the founder of the modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin:

?The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle.?

Ray Argyle can be reached at