Canada's Erik Guay made headlines last week when, after skiing to a historic two-medal haul at the alpine world championships at the age of 35, he said that World Cup wins are more meaningful to him than the Olympic Games.
I think most athletes would agree that the Olympics are only a snapshot of a career, a glimpse of an athlete on a given day of a four-year cycle. In that snapshot, some unlikely athletes may shine whereas some favourites may fall to the background. As Guay pointed out, the venues or the competition may not be as challenging or difficult as they are at some World Cups.
But it's the Olympics. There's something to be said about an athlete peaking on the exact right day in that four-year cycle, the athlete that can rise to the top when the whole world is watching. It's like no other event in the world.
But does the elusiveness of Olympic glory mean the Olympics are the toughest event to win?
Quotas hurt Canadians
Truthfully, in some sports the Olympics don't include the same depth of competition as a World Cup or world championship field. The qualification standards, limits on entries for each country, specific gender requirements and max field sizes make the Olympics smaller (and arguably less competitive) than World Cup events.
A great example is Canada's snowboard team. The Olympic selection protocols will prevent Canada from sending some of the best men's slopestyle and big air riders in the world to Korea next year. The reason is that Canada is just too good for the current format for Olympic selection.
The International Ski Federation (FIS) caps the Olympic field size of both the men's slopestyle and men's big air competitions at 40 athletes. Canadian riders are so strong that if the Olympic team were selected today, six Canadian men would meet that standard.
However, each country is limited to four athletes. That means two Canadians will fall victim to the reduced field size and quota rules and be left at home. The Olympic event will be filled with lower-ranked athletes from countries without the depth of talent Canada enjoys.
But that's part of what makes the Olympics so difficult to win. The journey to gold starts with qualifying for the Canadian team. And Canada's snowboarders aren't the only ones facing the challenge of internal Canadian competition.
Freestyle skiers in tough spot
Freestyle skiing has a limited number of quota spots to split between five disciplines (moguls, aerials, halfpipe, slopestyle and ski cross). The strength of Canada's moguls, ski cross and slopestyle programs will negatively affect the chances of sending the same number of halfpipe and aerials skiers. There are simply not enough spots to send four athletes per gender in each discipline.
The result will be less Canadian depth (or no Canadian representation at all) in Canada's weaker disciplines and a smaller competitive field for countries that only compete in a select number of freestyle disciplines (Australia, China and France, for example).
Canada is a winter sport nation. Our athletes ski, snowboard, skate, curl and shoot their way to the podium in World Cup events every week. We're so good, in fact, that athletes capable of winning Olympic gold often don't get a chance to even go to the Games.
Is it fair? Maybe not. Does it make the Olympics easier to win? Perhaps. But what makes the Olympics so special is the exclusive nature of the competition. Not everybody gets a chance to go — not even some of the world's best in their sports.
Seems pretty special to me.
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