Tuesday April 15, 2014


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Celebrate Sarah, sticker or not

The Outsider
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I had some pretty standout memories from the Vancouver Olympics four years ago.

The bone-chilling footage of Nodar Kumaritashvili's luge crash on the morning of the opening ceremonies was a pretty shaky start. The first week of the Games held quite a sombre mood with little medal action for Team Canada, at least until Alex Bilodeau broke the host nation golden goose egg.

Things picked up after that. The sun came out and Canadian athletes began to find their groove. They dominated women's bobsleigh and young figure skaters Virtue and Moir blew the world away. Of course, most Canadians won't recall most of that. All that really mattered was that gold medal hockey game against the U.S. And guess what? We won that too.

With Sochi now in full swing we are finally seeing how Putin's Games will be remembered. There has been no shortage of controversy from insurgency in the North Caucasus to the violation of LGBT rights in Russia. But the one issue that seemed to hit the closest to home last weekend was the IOC telling Australian snowboarder Torah Bright that she couldn't honour Sarah Burke by donning her usual “Celebrate Sarah” sticker on her snowboard and helmet. Bright revealed this via Instagram on Saturday.

Losing Sarah to a ski accident two years ago was indeed a tragedy, one that rippled throughout the entire freeski world. The stickers that honour her memory are found everywhere on the helmets of skiers of all ages and abilities.

So why did the IOC make this decision? It wasn't to dishonour Sarah's legacy, it was to keep its rules consistent. Whether you consider honouring a fallen friend, political propaganda or not, the IOC will not allow it. U.S. hockey goalie Ryan Miller experienced this in Vancouver, when he had to cover up a sticker reading “Miller Time” in tribute to a cousin who had recently died of cancer.

I'm not defending the IOC here. I think many of their policies are archaic and, in some cases, ludicrous. But expecting and exception in this case, knowing full well that the IOC does not negotiate its rulebook, is a little presumptuous. It's all fine during the X-Games and the Dew Tour, but competing at the Olympics comes with restrictions.

Roz Groenewoud, a close friend and protégé of Burke, knew this going to Sochi and considered putting the sticker on the inside of her helmet or having the pattern embroidered there. Displaying the “Celebrate Sarah” logo for all the world to see wasn't as important to Groenewoud as having it close to her during her competing run.

Some have condemned the IOC's decision over the sticker as a travesty, but such condemnation does little for Sarah's legacy. Sochi will always be her Olympics, the one she fought so hard for women skiers to compete in with slopestyle and halfpipe. Sarah will be honoured whether the sticker is visible or not.

Vince Shuley is rooting for Team Canada. For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email vince@vinceshuley.com or Twitter @vinceshuley


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