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Beyond the Medal

Beyond the medal. The power of story in sport.

The best sport brands are built around enigmatic stories that speak to everyone, not just athletes. They are relatable, memorable and somehow inspire us all to strive for more in life. The great stories are also often about more than just a perfect performance, or a world record. They unveil the all-to-human side of sport demonstrating character and grit in the face of adversity, or even the act of incredible sportsmanship in the heat of competition.

Most sports are defined by their rich history of legend and lore: baseball’s curse of the Bambino; Tennis’ battle of the sexes; Maradona’s Hand of God goal; and the list goes on.

Cross-country skiing has a deep history in Canada and at the Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.

Aside from Pierre Harvey’s successes in the 1980s, Canadian athletes skied relatively under the radar for many decades. That changed following the 1998 Olympics when the likes of Beckie Scott and Sara Renner saw their names at the bottom of the results sheet. No longer were they content with being participants on the start line and a whole new era of winning began.

With Beckie Scott blazing the trail to the first Olympic podium for a North American cross-country skier in 2002, Canadians had a new sense of belief they not only belonged on the start line with the world’s best, but they could win.

A major transformation in the sport unfolded. Sara Renner quickly followed suit with World Cup and World Championships. We all remember the recovery from the broken pole at the 2006 Games where the two leaders of our sport celebrated Olympic silver – just days before symbolically handing over the torch to a new generation when Chandra Crawford belted out Oh Canada on top of the podium after sprinting to gold in Turin, Italy.

The men’s team quickly followed the path to the podium with Devon Kershaw winning his first World Cup medal weeks after the 2006 Olympic Games. This launched a 10-year run with nearly every member of the World Cup team taking their turn celebrating a podium performance, highlighted by Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey’s World Championship victory at the birthplace of the sport in Norway in the team sprint.

The Para-Nordic Team has had no shortage of memories of their own. Led by Brian McKeever who has accomplished everything in the sport including welcoming a whole new generation of skiers who are coming off a record-setting performance at the 2018 Paralympic Games in PyeongChang where they racked up 16 medals. Opening Ceremonies flag bearer, Brian McKeever, became the most decorated Paralympian with 17 career medals. Mark Arendz, who carried the Canadian flag into the Closing Ceremonies, celebrated an unprecedented six medals in PyeongChang.

A changing of the guard is taking place in Canada’s Nordic circles. Aside from Alex Harvey and Len Valjas, the top names in the sport have retired in the Olympic pathway. While McKeever continues to chase more podium finishes on the road to 2022, a new generation of young men and women have arrived.

Like the athletes, it is time for a change. It is time to shape and build a new era for Cross Country Ski de fond Canada where we will start to meet and profile the next Beckie, Chandra, Devon, Brian, Alex

So please help us do this by sharing your stories about our sport. We need stories that connect with everyone, whether they have made the incredible commitment required to train to do a cross-country ski race of their own or just enjoy getting on a pair skinny skis and heading down a community trail. We thank you for your help.

DO YOU REMEMBER…

The Olympic and Paralympic Games have a rich history of implausible celebration and lump-in-your-throat heartbreak that have left all of us remembering “where were you when.”

Circle around the water cooler at break time, and I’m sure it wouldn’t take long for colleagues in any office to rattle off a list of the greatest 25 Olympic moments, which may include: Eddie the Eagle Edwards; Jamaican Bobsleigh Team; Usain Bolt’s golden hat trick; the 1980 Miracle on Ice; Michael Phelps’ eight gold medals in Beijing; Dan Jansen, competing in his fourth Games finally wins the gold medal in his last Olympic speedskating race; or Muhammad Ali battling his Parkinson’s disease to light the Olympic Cauldron to kick off the 1996 Games in Atlanta.

Closer to home, many of Canada’s athletes have become household names themselves after stepping onto the world’s largest sporting stage.

A trip through Canadian Olympic and Paralympic history contains the following chapters:

Not all of these milestones involved medals won, but at the root of every powerful moment that left you remembering, “where were you when…” is an equally powerful human-interest story filled with emotion.

And beyond what any medal performance helped the athlete or sport’s brand achieve, it was the 20 minutes that transpired once each of these athletes stepped off the playing field that locked their moment in the Olympic and Paralympic memory bank.

Respecting the values of her brand, Mellisa Hollingsworth went on to share her message in all corners of the country on the importance of getting back on the horse to continue chasing your goals. Jon Montgomery has had a formidable speaking career of his own – not to mention landing the position as host of Amazing Race Canada. A sought after keynote speaker himself, Brian McKeever has made Paralympic sport more mainstream. And Beckie Scott continues to be an international beacon for clean sport and fair play to this day.

At the root of any brand – be it an individual athlete or major corporation – is finding the story that illustrates who and what you are as a person or organization.

It is the stories, and the people at the core of those stories, that allow the brand to breath – to live – and to have staying power.