Montreal, 1976: Team Canada wins five silver medals, six bronze – and not a single gold at the Summer Olympic Games. Next up is Calgary, 1988; this time the tally is two silver medals, three bronzes . . . and no gold at the Winter Olympics.
Fast forward more than two decades. Once again, the Winter Olympics are on Canadian soil. And once again, the expectations for gold medals are reaching a feverish pitch.
But what exactly is the significance of the top-notch prize – for athletes, for Canada, for sponsors? Is it, shall we say, worth its weight in gold? To find out, we talked to a few UBC experts about the true value of Olympian ducat for those Canadians who, hopefully, bring an end to the glitter drought.
What a gold medal means for the winning athlete(s)
Jessica Tracy, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology
My research involves looking at two different kinds of pride. There’s authentic pride, which is pride that you feel in your accomplishments, and which is very genuine. Then there’s hubristic pride, which is more grandiose and narcissistic. Hubristic pride can be more defensive; it’s the pride that people feel when they’re a bit insecure underneath it all. And it has negative outcomes; people with hubristic pride tend to have relationship problems, they tend to be aggressive and hostile.
Certainly, a gold medal win is going to be a major pride-eliciting event. For any professional athlete, there’s not much higher an accomplishment than winning a gold medal. So of course they will feel pride on a personal level – whether it’s one type of pride or another depends on their personality.
The athlete could also feel that I, as a Canadian, just did something amazing for my country – and that’s a group identity. If that’s the focus, then they would start to feel a collective sort of pride – “Look at what I’ve done for Canada; as a Canadian I’m proud of my national identity.”
What a gold medal means to Canadians
Michael Byers, Professor, Canadian Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law.
Also the best-selling author of Intent for a Nation and Who Owns the Arctic?
Canadian athletes will win many gold medals at the Vancouver Winter Olympics. This is an easy prediction to make given that Canada won 24 medals at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, seven of which were gold.
At the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, Canada won 17 medals. Seven, again, were gold – including all-important victories in both men’s and women’s hockey.
In some winter-sport obsessed countries like Austria, Germany, Italy, Norway and Switzerland, Canadian victories will be clearly noted. A win in men’s hockey would reverberate across Russia, the Czech Republic, Finland and Sweden (which won in 2006).
But the impact of all our medals will be felt most at home, in terms of how Canadians feel about their country.
I remember flying into Vancouver Airport on February 24, 2002, just minutes after the Canadian men’s hockey team had soundly defeated the United States. My taxi driver, an elderly Sikh man with a heavy accent, long beard and turban, was absolutely ecstatic about Canada’s victory.
“It’s a great moment for our country,” he said. “I’m so proud to be Canadian.” And I was proud that he was proud.
The value of gold for sponsors
Paul Cubbon, Marketing Instructor, Sauder School of Business and
Robert H. Lee Graduate School
An Olympic gold medal provides great opportunity for an athlete’s sponsors. In many ways, it is the marketing dream, but the investment in an athlete can also be a risky and uncertain one for sponsors. Athletes can lose form, get injured, or just be unlucky. And there are many outstanding athletes, but only one gold medal winner for each event.
For many Canadians, a win in the gold medal men’s hockey game would be the ultimate medal for Canada to win. Yet it is unclear whether any one sponsor can align with the team as a whole, and so it might be a “Games Sponsor” rather than an athlete sponsor that is able to take advantage of aligning themselves with such a win in a team sport – and this might be more a case of reflecting in the glow of success by association, rather than any measurable benefit.
An example of a brand that was very successful in associating with an athlete – before, during and after a gold medal win – was Roots with Ross Rebagliati in 1998 with the famous “poor boy” hat. It is somewhat easier to leverage a gold medal win to sell more of an item of clothing than it is, for example, to sign up banking customers.
A last and separate point concerns the murky and controversial arena of “ambush marketing” that has never been far from these Games. The official Games sponsors are not necessarily the same as the sponsors of individual athletes, or even organizations like Hockey Canada. But at its extreme, efforts to prevent ambush marketing represent an appropriation of patriotism and winning for select commercial sponsors.
While it is logical that VANOC would attempt this to mollify high-paying official sponsors, it seems to be an almost impossible line to hold, as sponsors of athletes and other companies look to take advantage of areas that they feel they can legitimately associate with. These “non-sponsors” of the Games have learnt to be more careful about what they say and how they say it. However, you can be sure that if an athlete sponsored by a “non-Games sponsor” wins a gold medal, then this will be celebrated, advertised and marketed aggressively. This might include national team uniform sponsors (such as Burton for the U.S. snowboard team – Burton is not an official Games sponsor) through to any of a myriad of other brands that can hope to link to gold medal success.