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Posted: December 5, 2005

Olympics: COC Revises Controversial Standards Policy

The Canadian Olympic Committee Has Trashed Its Policy Of Forcing Athletes To Exceed IOC Standards In Order To Make The Team

By Alison Korn

Bruce after the 2004 Royal Victoria Marathon Bruce Deacon

The Canadian Olympic Committee’s change of heart has come too late for marathoner Bruce Deacon, who was kept home from the last Summer Olympics – and has since retired.

Deacon, 38, competed at the 1996 and 2000 Olympics, but didn’t qualify for the 2004 Olympics after the COC instituted controversial new qualification criteria requiring athletes to run times that were faster than the international federation standard, as well as show potential to finish in the top 12.

This week, the organization quietly announced it has dropped that approach and will accept the international federation qualification criteria as the minimum standard to earn a spot on the 2008 Beijing Olympic team. “I think this is a very positive direction for sport in general,” said Deacon from Victoria, B.C., where he works in advanced education policy for the province. “It’s nice to know that other people won’t go through what I went through. The COC standard was 2:12.40 and my time was 2:13.18, so to put it in to perspective, I was less than a second per kilometre off making the Olympic team.”

Deacon ended up watching the Olympics on TV and saw his training partner, John Brown of Great Britain finish fourth after running a slower qualifying time than Deacon.

The tougher standard meant Canada sent a smaller team than usual – 267 athletes in 2004, compared to 310 in 2000. Among the accomplished Canadian athletes held back from the 2004 Olympics were Olympic swimmers Marianne Limpert and Joanne Malar, Commonwealth champion boxer Jean Pascal and 400-metre runner Tyler Christopher. Christopher did, in fact, meet the COC standard, but it was after the deadline. He went on to win a world championship bronze medal in 2005.

This week’s relaxing of the COC’s summer Olympic team selection criteria means that summer selection standards are now consistent with those for the winter Olympic team. The COC had already allowed the international federation standards to suffice for selection to the winter Olympic team, with the aim of sending as many athletes as possible to Turin in 2006, to gain experience for Vancouver 2010. So was this recent change to summer selection policy done to address criticisms of a double standard? “This was done independently of that,” said COC president Michael Chambers. “The criteria in most of the sports had become very strict and in most sports almost matched the top-12 criteria we had set for Athens. So the board decided it was best we leave the selection criteria being international federation criteria and let our focus be on targeting resources rather than on team selection per se.”

Previously, the COC funded all Olympic teams fairly equally; hence its interest in taking a small team. After Athens, the organization decided to focus its resources primarily on those ranked in the top eight, with far less support given to lower-ranked teams. So the overall size of the team became less of a financial concern.

Chambers said depending on the Games’ location and the subsidies from the organizing committee, it can cost anywhere from $5 million to $10 million to bring the Canadian team to an Olympics. “The additional athletes going to the Games aren’t going to have a significant impact on that figure,” he said.

It’s not like going to the Olympics just got easier, because individual sports will reserve the right to make more restrictive criteria. They have until June 2006 to submit their internal standards to the COC for review, to be finalized by December 2006. Chambers expects that some of Canada’s more successful summer sports like canoe/kayak, rowing, athletics and swimming might chose to do so.

As for Bruce Deacon, he believes that Canada should send as many athletes as possible to the Olympics. “When you look at what happens when an athlete goes to the Olympics, the community gets behind it,” he said. “If we are going to get kids involved in sport, get sponsors interested in sport and get communities behind sport, then we have to look at sending people from communities. The fewer people you send, the fewer communities they come from.”

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