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While Canadians like to bask in the reflected glory when a fellow citizen wins gold in the Olympics, they seldom give a thought to how the athlete made it to the start line. The upcoming London Olympics is no exception. Canadian athletes receive little in the way of support until they qualify for national teams. If they are “carded” they receive a pittance from the federal government.
This summer Olympian and professional cyclist Ryder Hesjedal was in the media for his win of the three week Giro d’Italia. The TV stations were quick to point out that Hesjedal was a Canadian. He is and he comes back to support cycling in Canada. Hesjedal’s parent live in Victoria, BC, but he lives and trains in Europe. He was a favourite in the Tour de France until he crashed out.
When Hesjedal found out that 100 qualified Olympians were on a list for donations to enable them to travel to London, he took action. Seven on the wait list were cyclists. He came up with a scheme to auction off one of his pink jerseys from the Giro. The pink jersey designates the lead rider in the Italian road race. eBay bids raised $10 300 for athletes. About half will go to a cycling society that Hesjedal supports and $5 000 will go to road race athlete Catharine Pendrel who is a contender for a medal.
July 13th Prime Minister Steven Harper announced that elite athletes would be funded for $4.7 million. The money would go to pay for training and preparation for this year and next. While nearly $5 million sounds like a lot of money for a country with fewer than 35 million people, it is a pitifully small amount to help identify and train young people. Expenses for training venues, coaches, travel to competitions eat up money very quickly. Until athletes are recognized at the national level little help is there with lessons, equipment and travel. It falls to the aspiring Olympian and his/her parents to pay the bills.
So when Ryder Hesjedal or Catharine Pendrel or any of the other Canadian athletes in London this month get a chance to stand on the podium and the Canadian media is touting how many medals Canadians won or didn’t win, think about the determination and grit and sacrifice that these young people made to represent us. And think about how little we did to help them get there.