Volunteers are jogging, walking or wheeling a flaming torch for more than 400 km in this two-week run-up to the Canada Games, with the light arriving in Sherbrooke in time for the Friday, Aug. 2 opening ceremonies.
The country’s best athletes will be gathered here, competing in Canada’s most important amateur sports meet, with some 20 sports represented. Canoeing, soccer, softball, fencing. Wrestling, mountain biking, golf. Beach volleyball, baseball, high jump, shot putt, running, and wheelchair heats, too. It’s nirvana for sports fans, but also for those who love spectacle, who are drawn to the poetry of the body, who are awed by the skill and determination of the obsessed athlete. Because that’s what it takes to succeed.
Some of these young people will end up representing Canada at the next Olympics.
The American Olympian Marion Jones, a track athlete who won an astonishing five medals for her country at the 2000 Games in Australia, is one such dedicated woman. So dedicated, in fact, that when her coach handed her a strange liquid, told her it was flaxseed oil, and drink up, she did. And she kept taking it, even after she realized it was an illegal muscle-building steroid, THG.
If Jones had admitted to cheating, she would have been banned from her sport. Instead, she lied to federal investigators, got caught, and was sent to jail for perjury. Plus, she returned the medals and watched the history books purged of the records she’d set.
Jones’ memoir, On The Right Track: From Olympic Downfall To Finding Forgiveness And The Strength To Overcome And Succeed (2010), is the story of an athlete who trusted too much, allowing another to dupe her. But unlike so many, Jones does not assign blame to others; she accepts responsibility. There’s no wallowing here.
Jones pleaded guilty to the criminal charges against her, accepted God as her personal savior and, once released from prison, began second careers in women’s basketball (signed by the Tulsa WNBA squad, she was waived in 2011) and as an inspirational speaker to high school kids.
“Track and field has the most stringent drug testing policy of any sport,” notes Jones, “and it is a tough, laborious and stressful protocol.” Urine is tested at every meet, and you can’t leave until an official has watched you pee into a cup. Random testing can also occur anywhere, at any time, meaning that athletes must inform the US overseers about their whereabouts at all times.
Jones once had to urinate on demand in an airport washroom, a few minutes before her flight left. The stall was a bit tight, as – yes! – an official was required to watch her. The agency can’t allow clean pee to be surreptitiously subbed for the real thing…
The memoir is a mix of Christian conviction, a look at what’s wrong with the US prison system, a love letter to her three children and husband, and memoirs of her beloved sport.
David Beckham is another athlete of renown — a soccer player for Manchester United, Real Madrid and… the Los Angeles Galaxy. In The Beckham Experiment: How The World’s Most Famous Athlete Tried To Conquer America (2009), Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl shows what happens when a star with a $6.5 million salary gets parked onto a team where his peers make $12,900 a year.
It’s barely enough to eat on, and some of these players live with their parents to make ends meet, just like the amateurs.
Beckham and spouse, Spice Girl and entrepreneur Victoria Beckham spend their free time with Tom Cruise, not team mates.
Wahl’s book considers what it means to be famous for its own sake, with sidelines on talent, dedication, and what makes a good coach and a good leader, whether on the pitch or off. Plus there’s lots here for lovers of soccer.
(Tim Leiweke, who features in this book, was then president of the company that owned the Galaxy. He’s now moved to Canada, appointed in April as president and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Raptors basketball club, soccer’s Toronto FC, and more.)
In the end, Beckham did very little for the nascent Major League Soccer league, though he sold a lot of jerseys for the Galaxy.
Overwhelmed by an endless losing streak, the introverted and competitive Beckham jumped ship, zooming back to Europe and its far superior teams and play.
It seems like Beckham is someone who can’t stand to lose.
That’s not what amateur sport is about. Check out Canadian Olympian Silken Laumann’s Child’s Play (2006). She wants to remind everyone of the pedestrian pleasures – like going for a walk.
“I think about this simple act of exploring the neighbourhood with my children, of waving to people as they drive by, of watching the dog bound through a neighbour’s yard, my children racing after her…. I feel close to my family and a part of this neighbourhood; I can hear the pulse of it.”
Active kids, Laumann believes, grow up happier. Sport – or exercise — is a way to reduce stress, to build happy families and lifestyles. This book honours the ice rink operators, the coaches, and the friends who play catch, all of whom make play possible.
There’s still time to be one of those people, by volunteering for the Canada Games. Check out http://www.jeuxducanada2013.ca for info.
Or if you want to watch, general admission tickets for the Aug. 2 Canada Games opening ceremonies, at 7 pm at the Universite de Sherbrooke campus, are $20. Some sports require paid tickets, but others can be seen for free. Entry to the closing ceremonies is free, at the Parc Jacques-Cartier, on Aug. 17.
And good luck to the athletes. All of them make us proud.
– Eleanor Brown, July 26, 2013