By Dan Falloon, sports reporter
The Olympics may be over, but Canadians still seem keen to “Own the Podium.”
That much-maligned funding program, at least during the first week of last month’s Winter Games, has now helped to produce a number of world champions in addition to a record number of gold-medallists in Vancouver—and it seems like the extra boost to Canadian athletes is going to carry on well past 2010.
The ice-dancing team of Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue captured the world title in Turin, Italy last week while snowboard-cross competitor Maelle Ricker took home the World Cup earlier this month.
As well, skier Erik Guay won the World Cup overall Super G championship.
And don’t forget the speed skaters, as Christine Nesbitt took home the women’s 1,000 metre season title along with the women’s pursuit team.
The shame is that all these victories received far less publicity than their Olympic triumphs.
Yes, the Games are the world’s biggest stage, and no aspiring skier, snowboarder, or skater is going to tell you their ultimate goal is to be a season champion in their sport. Nope, it’s Olympics all the way.
But in most sports, aside from being held only every four years, how different is the Olympics, really? The World Cup competitors more often than not are the very same athletes who just competed at the Olympics.
While the world shuts down for the two weeks the Games are on, the World Cup events tend to get pushed out of prime time and almost out of mind.
I only found out about many of the post-Olympic victories from a brief snippet on one of the sports highlight morning shows, often pushed towards the end of the program.
I love the NHL, too, but I can live without seeing highlights of Jakub Voracek’s empty-net goal if it means Ricker can get a sound bite in edgewise.
It almost just seems like it’s an amazing Olympic marketing machine in action.
“These sports are important, but only when embroidered with the five rings,” booms the machine. “The Olympics is what gives the biathlon its lustre, not the other way around.
“If it’s not the Olympics, it’s mediocre at best.”
I’ve bought into it before. I thought the snowboard-cross was an amazing event, and sought it out during the Games, but haven’t followed up afterwards (not that the networks are exactly making it a breeze).
As amazing as the Olympic competition was, these world championships may be just a silver in comparison. But it’s a close second, not the victim of a blowout.
• • •
I’ll admit I was as shocked as anyone with the Fort Frances Lakers and their surprise playoff run, which ended here Friday night with a 3-1 loss to Dryden in Game 6 of their SIJHL semi-final series.
It seemed like the Jan. 10 trading deadline was going to be a turning point for the Lakers’ season, as in the point where the low-flying Lakers drop into a tailspin and put off assessing the wreckage until the end of the season.
But after trading captain Colton Kennedy and defenceman Conner Foster, rumours of the team’s demise turned out to be exaggerated as the remaining players seemed to key in that they needed to pick up the offensive slack.
While they didn’t exactly turn into “Murderer’s Row,” the little bit of secondary scoring and a reinvigorated commitment to defence helped the Lakers get past the K&A Wolverines in the first round and then give a bit of a scare to the Ice Dogs.
When I first got here in December, the first Lakers’ win on home ice I covered was the 2-1 upset over the front-running Fort William North Stars. I sat near the opposition dressing room, and it was almost comical to listen to the sticks, helmets, and heaven knows what else being whipped around as the players made their way to the room.
That noisy symphony repeated itself with nearly every other Laker win during the regular season, except against lowly Wisconsin, and it never got any less hilarious.
But by the time the post-season rolled around, the crashing and banging stopped. In the two playoff games the Lakers won at the Ice For Kids Arena, only one temperamental visitor expressed his disgust afterwards.
The rest had learned to accept that a loss to Fort Frances was a legitimate possibility, and that quick climb to respectability may further itself next season as the vast majority of this year’s team is eligible to return.
• • •
The NCAA basketball tournament is down to its Final Four, and a couple of my early-round darlings finally bit the dust.
After watching as much of the tournament as possible, I’d adopted Northern Iowa (including the enthralling sideburns of Lucas O’Rear and Ali Farokhmanesh’s risk-taking) and St. Mary’s (led by true warrior Omar Samhan) to be my teams.
Both made the “Sweet Sixteen” before falling to higher-seeded teams.
With a number of first-round upsets, and teams like Northern Iowa and St. Mary’s knocking off legitimate contenders, this was a very good year to ease into the college game.
And who knows, with Butler and Michigan State facing off in one semi-final this Saturday, a No. 5 seed will be in the championship game on Monday, so will one more upset be in the works?
I’ll be watching.
By Dan Falloon, sports reporter