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Olympics for average Joes


Marc showed me this article today.

"...It's all part of a highly pragmatic and uniquely British effort to maintain national pride when London plays host to the Summer Games in 2012. Britain has a goal: fourth place in the overall national medal count.... The British aren't trying for big-ticket draws like swimming or track and field. Instead, sports officials have analyzed past competitions to identify areas where the competition appears weak. Hence the interest in sports such as team handball, women's sprint flatwater canoeing."

Ohhh flatwater canoeing, you obscure sport, you.

The article details a very interesting concept: gather thousands of athletic people and divide them into groups according to height and body type. Then put them through tests that help match them with a sport. Send them off to sport- specific camp and put them through more tests to wean out the weak. Then, according to the article, the final squad moves to a training center and gets all expenses paid for 5 years of training to win medals in canoeing.

"Britain didn't win any medals in flatwater canoeing and just one bronze in kayaking in 2004. But coaches say they'll be happy with three or four, of any color, in 2012."

Way to take initive, Britain! This is a cool idea and a valiant goal. But is it realistic for 2012? No. They're not giving sprint kayaking enough credit. Yes, they're going to discover quite a bit of untapped talent, to be sure. AND they will side-step the steep learning curve [for learning to balance in the boat] by feeding the funnel with hundreds of prospectives. But I'm not convinced that 5 years is enough time to surpass the likes of Natasa Janics and
Carrie Johnson. No way.

And will they love what they're doing, or just love the idea of the podium? Pure love of the sport goes a long way towards happiness, and happy athletes are fast athletes. How could you be happy for 5 whole years while participating in a sport that you only started because you were lured by the idea of winning medals?

("'I didn't even know the sport existed,'" says the "prospective Olympic medalist" in the article)

It's not that I think this is a bad idea, per se-- I'm just not convinced it will work. In the long run- 2016, 2020, if their pool of athletes develops a true love for the sport and continues, then Britain will begin to reap the benefits of their large-scale talent-search. Maybe it will be revolutionary. Until then, it will be interesting to follow how the program develops.