We were waiting for a lousy column about the Olympics and Agar delivered.
We had been waiting for a truly idiotic post-Olympics hot take from the Toronto mediocritat, and Jerry Agar delivered a world-class performance.
Writing in the Toronto Sun on Monday, Agar asks: why do so many Canadian Olympic athletes train in the United States? To examine this, he cites Andre De Grasse, who trains in California and specifically explained that Canada’s cold weather makes training difficult for sprinters. This does not deter Agar, though, because Jerry Agar writes his conclusion before he writes the rest of his article, and, in this case, Jerry Agar’s conclusion is Canada needs to give out full athletic scholarships to compete with American schools to train elite athletes.
Here’s why he’s wrong today.
Agar leads off with these tidbits:
I heard a discussion on the radio suggesting many Canadian athletes who did well in the Olympics are actually doing their training at American schools. This was especially true, apparently, of our women’s soccer team.
Setting aside the fact that Agar hearing “a discussion on the radio” is the pundit equivalent of “some guy at the bar said this”—yes, many members of Canada’s women’s soccer team train in the United States because the US has a large athletics scholarship system, which is particularly beneficial for team sports: there are more open slots for team sports and better competition. And the US has 10 times as many people as Canada does, so they can field better teams by sheer force of numbers. And yes, De Grasse trains there, and he explained why: most track athletes train better in warm climates, and we don’t have one. (High jump gold medalist Derek Drouin also trained at an American university.)
Many of our best athletes leave the country and go to American schools on scholarships.
Why should they have to do that?
Here is the problem: Agar is just wrong about this. Fifteen minutes worth of research shows that most Canadian athletes train in Canada. Just look at all the other medal winners Canada had this year in Rio. Penny Oleksiak—the most successful athlete at these past Games—trains in Toronto. So does Rosie MacLennan (trampoline). Erica Wiebe (wrestling) trains in Calgary. Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee (rowing) train in Victoria, as does Catharine Pendrel (mountain biking). Meaghan Benfeito (diving) trains in Montreal. Most of Canada’s bronze-winning women’s rugby sevens team play for semi-pro Canadian clubs. Our women’s team pursuit cycling medalists all train across Canada. Eric Lamaze (equestrian) learned his skills in Montreal and currently trains (and coaches future riders) in Schomberg. Taylor Ruck (swimming) trains in Arizona, but that is because her family are expats who live there now.
But, sure, America wins more medals: 121 to our measly 22. Of course, that means America wins one medal for every 2.63 million people they have, whereas Canada wins one medal for every 1.59 million people. So wait, we’re actually winning more medals per capita! We are super efficient at winning medals! You lose, Russia (2.56 million people per medal)! Take that, Japan (3.1 million people per medal)! Suck it, China (19.38 million people per medal)!
But let’s pretend for a moment that Canada doesn’t win way more medals than average. There are nine countries that won more medals than Canada in the Rio Olympics, and only one of them is the United States. None of the others have an academic scholarship system. Most countries have centralized national training programs—China, Russia, and Japan are all so centralized that they concentrate most of their training programs in singular athletic megaplexes. France, Italy, Australia, and Germany distribute their athletic training centres more evenly across the country, but they’re still government-funded. The UK supplements their athletic training centres with a series of public education programs designed to get more kids interested in sports. And most of these countries make it easier for athletes—or anybody, really—to get a university degree while they train because most of them offer either free tuition for their citizens or have much lower tuition rates than Canada (let alone the United States) offers.
If you were seriously interested in designing a worthwhile Canadian initiative to increase overall medal count—ignoring the fact that we’re already pretty good at winning medals—it would probably look something like Australia’s series of national training centres across the country, combined with free or low tuition for all citizens like France or Germany, and England’s national athletics education program for kids. All of these methods work quite well. They also have the advantage of being more useful for the population as a whole, rather than for a few individuals.
And this is the part where we actually loop back around and point out that Jerry Agar’s conclusion—the one you know he reverse-engineered his nearly non-existent arguments from—is just as stupid as the rest of his column because the American athletic scholarship system is terrible on multiple levels. Most university athletic departments in the United States are money-losers, and that’s after you account for their football and basketball programs making them some money (and many of those programs aren’t profitable either). University athletics programs in the United States that aren’t football or basketball are always afterthoughts benefiting from the US’s choice to spend an immense amount of money—much of it public—on what are effectively training leagues for professional sports, and which actively steals from the student-athletes it purports to serve.
And, you know, we win more medals per capita than them anyway. So, really, shouldn’t they be copying us? But that’s not why Agar wrote this, of course. He’s not interested in actual policy. He’s just doing the standard right-wing bleat that pays the bills:
I suspect many of the same people who don’t want to help our athletes train and excel in Canada also don’t want to dig down and do what it takes to achieve success in their own lives. They don’t want to go through the equivalent of what an Olympic-calibre swimmer does in getting up at 4 a.m. to hit the pool and do laps every day, year after year. They just want a union contract.
It is worth remembering, always, when reading Jerry Agar or listening to his awful radio show that Jerry Agar doesn’t like you, Canada. He thinks you’re dog shit. And yet, somehow we pay him to bleat at us. Maybe that speaks to our generosity as a nation: after all, Agar doesn’t have the verve or talent to succeed as a right-wing radio jock in the United States. It’s worth remembering that he tried for years to secure a lasting gig down south, floating around lower-level markets like Raleigh and Kansas City, failing to find audiences in larger markets then kissing the asses of the likes of G. Gordon Liddy for substitute gigs before finally coming back to Canada with his tail tucked between his legs because he wasn’t good enough for a market that demanded Michael Savage and Sean Hannity. Agar is bland, boring right-wing radio soup and doesn’t even have the devious spark that Rush Limbaugh has for getting attention. Yet, we Canadians, in our infinite generosity, have found a niche for him. Because that’s just how nice we are.
And that puts the lie to Agar’s conclusion:
If our athletes go to American schools, they may never really come back, except to put on a Canadian uniform and play for our Olympic team once every four years. Eventually, many will take jobs and build lives in the U.S., not here.
If only this were true! Because then we never would have had to take Jerry Agar back.