Canada’s Mary Spencer is out of the Middleweight boxing tournament after her first match as she lost to China’s Jinzi Li by a 17-14 decision. The loss brings an end to Spencer’s bizarre trip through the 2012 Olympic boxing circuit.
Spencer has been an interesting example of the Canadian hype machine which goes into effect every two years. This was briefly touched on in today’s earlier post on Adam van Koeverden, as I suggested that his ‘disappointments’ are hardly notable in the grand scheme of things. In the case of Spencer, I have to wonder if she was set up to fail by mass media.
My wondering determined that yes, in fact she was.
Over the course of the 24 hours ahead of Spencer’s fight, she took precedence in Canadian Olympic coverage. A win gave her favourable odds to tale home a medal as she would be put straight into the semifinals. A small field played well for her. As such, she was all over our televisions and news feeds as a Canada medal hope. Some even went so far as to dub her a medal favourite. But how is that possible?
For those of you who don’t know, and I’m assuming that many do not based on the current coverage, Spencer backdoored her way into the Olympic middleweight bracket. She qualified for the competition by winning a wild card fight and drew a bye in round one which put her straight into the quarter-finals. There was an exceptional amount of luck involved for her to even be in London representing Canada, let alone challenge for a medal.
A quick Twitter search for ‘Mary Spencer’ is littered with misinformed people suggesting that she ‘choked’ or that she’s ‘a failure’ which couldn’t be further from the truth. She wasn’t supposed to make the games, and she lost a very closely contested fight to a Chinese fighter who placed 12 spots ahead of Spencer at the World Championships. A Vegas oddsmaker certainly wouldn’t see her as a favourite and there’s no reason that we should have.
This leaves me wondering: What is there to be gained from building up athletes with little chance of success?
By creating unrealistic expectations for athletes, you’re merely creating conditions for failure. Building false favourites does nothing for the athletes, it simply forwards a narrative steeped in false pretenses. The real success stories of these Olympics, you’ll note, have largely been athletes who were expected to be competitive and not ‘locks’ to get medals.
Consider Brent Hayden, Antoine Valois-Fortier and Rosie MacLennan. All Canadian medal winners, all great stories, all people who flew under the radar. Sure, in the case of Hayden you have an Olympic veteran, but it was considered a great accomplishment for him to win his medal in the 100m Freestyle.
Building up the Mary Spencers of the world don’t do them any favours. By falsifying national favourites, you give your audience the illusion that many of these athletes have failed, which couldn’t be further from the truth. They earned their way there and every appearance, win or lose, is an accomplishment. I’ll be the first person to tell you how bad I want Canada to win every single medal, but in most cases it’s not reasonable to expect that and we ought to adjust our projections accordingly.
Canadian medal winners will come about, but they can’t be forced by media looking for a narrative. You won’t see a lot of them coming, and it’s sweeter that way.