Opinion » Alta States

Race week at Whistler — Olympic legacies not just bricks and mortar



"To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one's family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one's own mind. If a man can control his mind and can find the way to Enlightenment, all wisdom and virtue will come to him."

- Buddha

Obscure. Almost esoteric. Fringe sport at best. I mean, really. Skinny skiers with guns on their backs chasing each other along the Callaghan's steep mountain tracks? Going from a heart-thumping 200 beats per minute to lying on the ground, calmly focusing their efforts on hitting five ridiculously tiny targets that seem a football field away? And then getting back up and sprinting again. Absurd, right?

Of course it is. But no more than the sight of those daring young men and women in their form-fitting lycra suits careening down Whistler Mountain's newest FIS downhill. Finely-tuned speed-hounds chasing hundredths of a second on high-tech boards that function best at speeds most people don't even reach when driving on the highway. Now that's crazy.

And inspiring. And exciting. And really what hosting the Olympics was all about. Three years after the International Olympic Committee bid farewell to the Sea to Sky, Canadian athletes are finally getting to compete on the legacies that were created in the mega-event's wake. The Nordic Festival, the Canadian Alpine Skiing Championships — these races are all being contested in top-calibre venues that exist only because of the Games. And it's having a distinct impact on snowsports' next generation.

But it's more than that. Regardless of what the mainstream media has to tell us about today's youth — about its indolence and passivity and incipient obesity — there's an under-reported counter-force among this cohort that's pushing kids to test performance boundaries like never before. Passionate, disciplined, hard-working and impeccably prepared, Canada's new generation of high performance athletes reveal a diverse palette of backgrounds and cultural histories. But they and their families all share one thing — a rare commitment to the idea of delayed gratification. Of making sacrifices to attain a bigger reward. Biathlon or alpine — it really doesn't matter in the end. It's all about, as the Buddha says, "disciplining and controlling one's own mind." And the last two weeks at Whistler have provided something of a showcase for that way of life.

Full Disclosure: unlike my esteemed colleague, Pique's Sage On The Back Page GD Maxwell, I harbour a certain weakness for high performance sports and kids striving for excellence. Blame it on my upbringing. My Olympian father was a fervent believer in the "healthy mind in healthy body" maxim and turned it into something of a religion for his four sons. Who then, if inadvertently, imparted it to their own progeny. The clan's latest sports star, Prince George's Sarah Beaudry, recently finished an astonishing fifth in her age class (under-19) at the World Biathlon Championships this past January.

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