The Olympics: Bizarre Facts and Personal Heroes

The Olympics have been followed by controversy for as long as I've been following them, and most likely far longer than that. Bribes and corruption. Millions spent on venues that are under-utilized after the Olympics leave, debt and decay to follow. Promises made and broken. All of these apply to Rio, and more: Brazil's special twists are the Zika virus and severely polluted water.

But what happens every time, and the reason I remain obsessed with the Olympics, is the incredible stories of the athletes. They're innocent of all the ills (except perhaps doping, happily quite rare), they're there to compete. Young and often inexperienced, they represent the hopes of the entire world and we love to watch them. And so I've remained a huge fan of the Olympics - pretty much the only sport I watch, two weeks every two years.

The Olympics has some bizarre history - impossible to avoid in an institution with a 100 year (practically speaking) history. My current favourite was pointed out by a friend who I think got it from Reddit ... Check out the gold, silver, and bronze awarded for "Municipal Planning" at the 1936 Olympics:

And of course there's comedy: I heard the Men's Track Sprint (cycling) announcer say "Now he explodes - very explosively!"

For Canada, I hope Penny Oleksiak continues to compete for years to come and win us medals in the pool. For Penny Oleksiak, I hope she quits swimming as soon as she gets home. Watching her innocence and shear joy as she wins us four medals (so far!) is astonishing and beautiful. But four years from now she'll return to the Olympics with the expectations of every person she knows and an entire country demanding more medals ... and she won't enjoy it at all. There's a compromise possible (although unlikely), that she continues to train and compete, and stays relaxed enough to still enjoy herself. But the expectations of an entire country will follow her, no matter what she does. I wish her the best of luck.

Canada at the 2016 Olympics

Someone else's advice to Olympic hopefuls: always learn to sing the national anthem, just in case you make the top of the podium. Case in point - and a bit of a personal hero - Chandra Crawford. She brought an entire country to tears that day - her delivery, her joy and her pride - beyond contagious.


Curt Harnett was a track racing cyclist, I avidly followed his adventures at the 1992 and 1996 Olympic games.

About three months prior to the 1992 Summer Olympics, Silken Laumann's boat was hit by another boat during training - and her leg was very nearly sliced off. We're talking a very serious injury here: her thigh was cut more than half through and the bone broken. She'd been favoured to win Gold. She was in the hospital for three weeks. About three weeks after that, she was rowing again. She proceeded to compete and win a Bronze, despite having to limp to the podium. I've always found the determination and strength of will that achievement indicated to be one of the most awe-inspiring in my entire life.

Mark Tewksbury is a former Olympic swimmer still in the public eye: he was "chef de mission" of the 2012 Canadian Olympic team, and now he's acting as a commentator for CBC TV. Reading up about his history and what he's chosen to do with his life since the end of his sports career is fairly inspiring. He's a huge proponent of the Olympics - but more the athletes than the IOC, as he's been a long-time opponent of corruption at the IOC (very much my feelings about the proceedings as well). He's also been a big champion of gay rights in sports - apparently quite successfully. And on top of all that, he appears to be a likeable and charming guy.

I've particularly been enjoying some of the new sports and the CBC's extensive coverage of the more obscure sports like skeet shooting, rifle, and pistol. Favourites include Rugby Sevens, Archery, and all forms of track cycling.