What if you’re good but you won’t “own the podium”?

Lannie Marchant. Photo credit: Andrew Vaughan, Canadian Press.
Lannie Marchant. Photo credit: Andrew Vaughan, Canadian Press.

Some of you may have heard that Canadian marathoner, Lannie Marchant, may not be part of Canada’s Olympic team in Brazil later this summer.

This isn’t the first time the athlete has had trouble meeting Athletics Canada’s bar. According to this article:

Four years ago, the runner from London, Ont., had met the Olympic standard with a strong run in Rotterdam. Her time of two hours 31 minutes 51 seconds, however, fell short of the much tougher criteria set by Athletics Canada (2:29.55). She appealed but lost and didn’t go to the London Games.

And according to this opinion piece, Marchant has excelled since then, not only meeting Athletics Canada’s tougher criteria, but also becoming a role model for other runners:

Marchant’s career has come a long way since then. In 2013, she broke Ruegger’s 29-year-old Canadian record, running 2:28.00. The next morning, Marchant was on the cover of every newspaper in the country. Since then, she’s represented Canada at the world championships, won a Pan Am Games medal and qualified for Rio in both the marathon and the 10,000 metres.

Marchant has also become a transcendent figure in running in this country. She’s talked candidly about body image and is a role model for runners of all ages. At the national cross-country championships last November, high school kids lined up to take selfies with her. And so did their parents.

Marchant is smart and accessible, both as a relatable figure that stands alongside recreational runners at local road races and as an athlete with social media savvy, promoting running beyond the diehard track fans.

The trouble is, despite being a strong contender in a more limited sphere, Marchant isn’t likely to reach the podium at the Olympics.

Canada’s “Own the Podium” organization focuses on getting Canadian athletes to the podium. For the summer 2016 games, Own the Podium aims to get Canada into the top 12 medal count. For the summer paralympic games, OTP’s goal is for Canada to place in the top 12 in the gold medal count.

Marchant is already going to be in Rio to run the 10,000 metre event. It’s not as if she would be taking a spot away from another Canadian woman who could run the marathon instead. Each country is permitted three marathon spots, and only two Canadian women have qualified. Her argument is, “I’m going to be there anyway.”

But what if she performs poorly? Athletics Canada is, as this article argues, “fearful of … blemishes.” Author Michael Doyle argues further:

What’s sad about all of this is that Athletics Canada and Own the Podium are probably leading this country down the wrong path when it comes to the most lasting impact that sport has in this country. A recent study reveals that participation in sports is at an all-time low, and that children become less interested as the emphasis becomes overly performance based. Denying one of Canada’s strongest role models a chance to run in a marquee event at the Olympics sends the wrong message.

I’ve blogged before about completing versus competing and about finishing without placing. But does the sentiment that we can go out to have fun, going for a personal best even if we have no chance of actually winning carry over to the Olympics, where the stakes are higher?

Is Athletics Canada and Own the Podium so overly focused on results that they’re denying some of the positive social influence Olympians can have–encouraging kids to participate in sports, being good role models on important issues like body image, and that sort of thing? Do Canadians only care about the athletes who win medals? Should our national body only support athletes who have a chance to contribute to the haul?

There’s a bit more to the story than I’ve outlined here. The Canadian marathon team won’t be announced until July and apparently Marchant hasn’t been given a definitve “nix.” But many other nations, including Kenya, Ethiopia, the US, and the UK have already confirmed their teams.

Marchant has taken steps to prove her fitness to compete in both events. And she is Canada’s top-ranked woman in the marathon.  She’s also 32 years old, so it’s not realistic to think she’ll have another opportunity for the Olympic marathon.

What do you think? If she’s going to be there anyway, should Canada’s top-ranked woman in the marathon be allowed to compete in that event even if she has no chance of “owning the podium”?

Update: On July 11th, 2016, the Canadian Olympic team announced that Lanni Marchant will represent Canada at the 2016 Olympics in Rio in both the 10000m and the marathon.

5 thoughts on “What if you’re good but you won’t “own the podium”?

  1. Well, going to the Olympics is arguably all about the opportunity to own the podium.

    I find competitive sports (and especially professional sports) tedious, so I have no basis to assess whether Athletics Canada and the Own the Podium initiative are ridiculous or just a sensible approach to the Olympics. If Canadians care only about athletes who win medals, then Canada has a problem. (That said, as an American, that’s hard to believe.) It does seem, though, that a big part of this athlete’s power as a role model is her consummate and indefatigable professionalism, so maybe there’s no loser here.

  2. Of course she should be allowed to go and compete! If all countries participating in the Olympics used this “Own the Podium” strategy, we’d have competitions with maybe 5 or 6 entrants. This would be boring, and in my view, undermine one of the fundamental ideas of the Olympic Games. The Olympics, for all its professionalism, is also about world-wide competition and participation. It’s television networks that focus only on the finals and finalists, and lots of fans have objected, wanting to see their fellow citizen-athletes compete in their preliminary heats and finish. I’ve been in other countries watching Olympic coverage (Estonia comes to mind), and the coverage is really different from US top-seed-focused broadcasts. I’d love to see not only people like Marchant competing for non-podium slots, but also more coverage of such athletes– they are real-life role models for us.

    1. We get everything, possibly because of London 2012. Sometimes it’s on the red button services but pretty much the whole tournament is covered. Same for the Paralympics. I didn’t realise we were privileged in that regard and I agree with you that a focus just on winners would be rubbish!

  3. This kind of gaming of the games just stinks and really undermines the whole point.

    There seems something funny about how these stories about how she isn’t being allowed to compete because she isn’t predicted to win have a “medal prediction” on the side in which Canada isn’t listed in the top 8 in the medal count. Gosh, why send anyone?

  4. If you’re only going to send the athletes likely to medal then the teams would be very small. If each country send their top 3 and she’s one of the top 3 then of course she should go – she’s earned the right to represent her country.

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