HALIFAX — It’s about this time every two years, during Canada Games, when we trot out the litany of excuses and reasons why Newfoundland and Labrador continues to, shall we say, struggle at the Games.
Thank goodness for the shooters during Week 1 — hard as it was to cover that sport — who provided Newfoundland with three medals, as it continues to duke it out with five other provinces — Nova Scotia and New Brunswick among them — as of Friday in the, ahem, tussle to avoid the medals basement.
Names change, and the faces are different, but each Games the cop-outs are usually the same: small province, no facilities, no competition, no coaching ... blah, blah.
But guess what? Times are changing, and thankfully they’re for the better.
The Canada Games, though they’ve been scaled down a bit in terms of exposure the past number of years (not to mention no more free stuff for the media), continue to be a wonderful sporting and cultural program. They are, and always be, an Olympics or sorts for Newfoundland and Labrador athletes.
But this province will never compete with the Ontarios, Albertas and British Columbias of the world. Given the population of other provinces and their resources, it’s a mere fact of life.
While it was easy in the past to throw up our hands and, rather than talk winning, recite ‘let’s give it the ol’ college try’ mantra, there’s a belief that if Newfoundland and Labrador is to compete, then gosh darnit, we’re going to be absolutely prepared to put our best foot forward in Canada Games.
Credit government for that, which, privately at least, wants better results. And to Michelle Healey, who aside from being Memorial University’s athletic director, is the new chef de mission. And Rod Snow, who in addition to his role as curator of the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre and High Performance Centre, is assistant chef de mission.
Those two got game. Healey was a quality basketball player, one of the best — male or female — to play at MUN. Snow was no flower on the rugby field, though his best days are behind him, when he was playing professionally and a stalwart on the national squad.
They both know it takes more than a uniform to make an athlete. They know the work doesn’t come at the Canada Games, but rather in the months and years leading up to the Games.
With the Sports Centre and a host of other new facilities cropping up (though St. John’s and Conception Bay South, especially, are desperate for a new rink, not only for hockey players but the figure skaters, and a new baseball diamond and indoor track wouldn’t go astray), a lack of places to train is no longer an excuse.
Not that it ever was a plausible one. Softball (boys’ softball is no longer in the Games, but that’s another story ... see blog by yours truly at www.thetelegram.com), baseball, and soccer do not need a ball field or pitch on which to practice. Push comes to shove, you could take a group to a nearby open field and work out, if one was so inclined.
Too many Canada Games have I seen Newfoundland take itself out of baseball games with physical — and worse, mental — errors. Unacceptable, if players were expected to field countless ground balls a day as part of their preparation.
No, resources from which Games athletes can access are more prevalent now than ever before. Even government has stepped to the plate, with grant money available to Canada Games athletes, according to Healey.
We don’t know how much, and you can be sure it doesn’t come close to Ontario’s allotment, but at least there’s more dough there for the taking.
The belief now is that there should be no reason Newfoundland and Labrador athletes cannot be among the best prepared — certainly the best conditioned — athletes in the Canada Games.
Talented? Well, let’s keep it in perspective.
There’s a new buzzword surrounding Newfoundland’s Canada Games teams now — accountability.
If a team isn’t prepared, those who run the Games teams are prepared to let that sport sit out a cycle.
Did we say amen?
To often we’ve seen athletes perform embarrassingly at Canada Games. Enough already. It does neither the province, and surely not the athlete, any good to have this happen.
It’s time, too, for the sports to reevaluate their programs.
Curling, for example, has been going with somewhat of an all-star concept, with the four best curlers comprising Games teams regardless of their hometowns. So rather than have a team in St. John’s working together, instead there’s one or two or three athletes from the St. John’s/Mount Pearl/C.B.S. region throwing rocks together, with one or two elsewhere working on his/her own.
But as Chloe Deaves, the third on Carolyn Suley’s team from Bay St. George will contest — perhaps rightfully so — that would be unfair to any curler outside the capital region.
That’s where the sport needs to pull up its socks. That’s where the sport needs to get outside the overpass and get its junior house in order, urging the youngsters in Gander or Stephenville get out curling.
And for those communities that doesn’t have a curling club?
Hard as it is to say, c’est la vie.
Don’t expect Newfoundland and Labrador to contend for a Canada Games flag (the province with the most points in a Games). We can, however, expect this province to be as physically prepared as anyone else every two years.
Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email firstname.lastname@example.org