As the world watches, 10,500 athletes from 204 countries and other geographic areas are competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
The games have become the pinnacle of international sport. Even those who do not normally follow sporting events will watch the Olympics.
Since 1900, Canada has sent athletes to every summer games except the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow, which Canada boycotted. This year, 277 Canadian athletes in 24 sports are competing.
The games are a source of national pride and even those who do not normally follow sporting events will cheer on Canada’s participants.
The same holds true of the Winter Olympics. In 2010, Canada sent 206 athletes in all 15 sports to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler.
Canada’s medal count at the those games was impressive with 14 golds, seven silvers and five bronzes. This is the record for the most gold medals at a single Winter Olympics.
And in 2008 at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, Canada sent 332 athletes in 25 sports. Canadian competitors brought home three golds, nine silvers and six bronzes, ranking 19th in the standings.
For the athletes, the road to Olympic competition, whether at the summer or winter games, is long and difficult. Any of them can attest to the years of training necessary to compete with the best athletes in the world.
Any of them can speak of sacrifices they have made in order to pursue their goals. Those who are not athletes cannot begin to comprehend the dedication it takes to prepare for the games.
Only the best of the best will be able to compete at this level.
But it takes more than dedication and hard work to make it to the Olympics. It also takes money.
The costs of training and coaching are not cheap and as a result, fundraising has become an important part of an athlete’s role.
We have seen this from our recent Summerland Olympians.
When freestyle skier Kristi Richards was working towards the goal of competing in the 2006 Winter Olympics, she received strong support from the community. She also had many speaking engagements and made appearances at numerous fundraising initiatives and social functions.
Now, as bobsleigh athlete Justin Kripps continues his goals of Olympic competition, fundraising is part of his life too.
As a nation, we send our best to compete in the summer and winter games. This year, the Canadian Olympic Committee has set a goal of finishing in the top 12 in medal standings. This is an ambitious goal.
In 1992, Canada was 11th in the medals standings, but in subsequent years, Canada has ranked considerably lower among the medal winners.
We expect much out of our Olympic athletes. Not only do we expect them to be the best in the country; we also expect them to be among the best in the world. That by itself is an onerous responsibility.
Adding fundraising and public appearance duties to their schedules is asking a lot.
Businesses, organizations and individuals in Summerland stepped forward to help Richards pursue her Olympic dreams. Kripps has also received support as he trains for his sport. But the funding model for our athletes could be improved.
Our athletes need to do what they do best. They need the freedom to perfect their skills in their sports.
And they need to be able to do this without the added burden of fundraising.
John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.