It's a phenomenon that occurs every four summers.
Canadians huddle around televisions or sit at computer screens anxious for the women's 58-kilogram wrestling results or who won the 4x200-metre relay. A person who doesn't know a bahro chirugi (return punch) from a gullgi chirugi (hook punch) agrees there's no way the fighter in the blue helmet deserved to win in taekwondo. And the fix was obviously in for the German judge to award that 9.8 in the floor exercise in men's gymnastics.
Yes, the Summer Olympics are on in London. For a couple weeks, Canadian heptathlon star Jessica Zelinka will receive more coverage than Jessica Biel. People who had never heard of Italian swimmer Federica Pellegrini will be looking for her pictures on the Internet. The Canucks might even be nudged off the front page of the city’s sports sections, barring a Roberto Luongo trade.
But come the day after the Closing Ceremony, it all goes away. Amateur sports coverage will shrink. Shot-putter Dylan Armstrong could walk down Robson Street and only turn heads because of his size. Mountain biker Catharine Pendrel wouldn't be noticed cycling the seawall.
In the golden glow that followed the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics there was talk about how Canada was united as a nation by amateur sport. The Games created heroes in people like Clara Hughes, Jon Montgomery and Alex Bilodeau. With the Olympic flame now burning in London, it's hard to find that same excitement among Canadians.
Canadians pay attention when an Olympics is happening. We spend outrageous amounts to sit in the stands and cheer. But go to the annual Harry Jerome Track Classic at Swangard Stadium or the Mel Zajac Swim Meet at UBC? Look at the crowd and subtract the parents, siblings, boyfriends, girlfriends and coaches. You quickly realize not many people really care.
Olympic achievement is still measured by medals. When Canada won a record 14 gold at the Vancouver Winter Games, the millions of dollars spent by Own the Podium (OTP) was judged a success. When the Olympics ended, the corporate funding for OTP vanished. Now it's the federal government that provides most of the $33.3 million OTP will spend on Olympic and Paralympic sports in 2012-2013.
Jane Roos is the founder and executive director of CAN Fund, which has raised over $14 million to help finance athletes. She would like to see more funding from corporate Canada. She has an idea for NHL hockey players to adopt amateur Canadian athletes and believes some sports organizations can do more to help themselves.
The government's funding for Olympic sport works out to around $2 per capita, which is less than a cup of coffee. But at a time when many Canadians are concerned about obesity and inactivity, wouldn't it make more sense for government money to go into grassroots sports. Building more recreation centres and funding athletic programs would make people fitter and maybe even raise interest in sports.
The Canadian Olympic Committee's goal for London is for Canada to finish 12th in the medal standings. That will probably require around 24 medals. Various predictions have Canada winning between 17 and 22 medals. Among the country's best medal hopes are people like Armstrong, Pendrel, wrestler Carol Huynh and diver Alex Despatie.
Anne Merklinger, OTP's chief executive officer, says the top-12 objective is "very ambitious.'' Mark Tewksbury, the Canadian chef de mission and Olympic swimming gold medallist in Barcelona, calls it "a bit of a stretch and it's not going to be easy.''
It's easy to criticize the Olympics. Corporate greed is matched by extravagance and massive egos.
There still are moments of sportsmanship and humanity. Like when the crowd in Sydney cheered wildly to encourage Eric Moussambani, a swimmer from Equatorial Guinea, as he finished last in a 100 metre freestyle heat. There was Canadian sailor Lawrence Lemieux, abandoning his race at the 1988 Games to help two sailors from Singapore who were injured after their boat capsized. The image of the father of British sprinter Derek Redmond bolting past security to help his sobbing son finish a 400-metre heat at the 1992 Games after tearing up his hamstring.
Take a break from the results and look for these moments during the London Games. And when the Games end, maybe go watch some local sports events before the next Olympics.
Jim Morris is a veteran reporter who has covered eight Olympic Games. Reach him at email@example.com.