Barbara Berezowski, a former Canadian Olympic figure skating athlete who once competed in the Innsbruck, Austria Olympics back in 1976 is quite adamant about saying that professionals should not be allowed to compete in the Olympics. According to Berezowski, having professionals compete has made it so that the Olympics have lost their true meaning.
Once upon a time, not so long ago the Olympics were seen as a labor of love and a place where amateur athletes competed because of a shared passion for the sports and nothing more. The Olympic spirit was such that sponsorship, publicity, advertising and earning money to play were all things that were frowned upon.
In fact, back in the year 1912, an American athlete by the name of Jim Thorpe had earned gold medals in both the decathlon and pentathlon. Unfortunately, he had them taken away simply because during college had once accepted a small sum of money for playing baseball at a semi-pro level. Today, this would not even be worth mentioning but back then it was a big deal.
Berezowski explains how Canada boycotted hockey during her year at the 1976 Olympics in protest that North American teams were being held to an unfair standard. The standard was that these country’s professionals were not allowed to compete, yet European block countries whose governments were offering their athletes support were eligible.
Russia and other countries that were run under communism, covered all of their athletes expenses while they were skating. Their athletes did not have to worry about their food, accommodations or even working. Berezowski says this created an unfair competitive advantage against North American countries competing in the Olympics because these were essentially professional athletes who should not have been allowed to participate.
According to Berezowski, the problem does not stop here either. There are currently Olympic champions who have been winning gold medals for five, six and seven years in a row because they can simply afford to stay that much longer. A Sochi 2014 Olympic gold medal is worth a whopping $25,000, which means that there is good money to be made by being a winner. Simply being an amateur athlete who is only competing for the glory like the old days does no longer cut it.
The Olympics have certainly changed throughout the years. Even Berezowki’s own sport of figure skating has never been quite the same since the 1984 Olympics in Salt Lake City when both Russia and Canada were awarded gold medals. At that point, an overhaul of how judging works took place and now the skaters simply are not allowed to skate anymore. Berezowski clarifies:
“You have to do this jump, this jump, this spin, this spin, in this order and the entire program is based on the elements only. It is restricting the freedom of what figure skating used to be.”
This means that while Olympic figure skaters once had the freedom to develop their own routines; it is now more about putting on the best show by performing a standard set of expected stunts. Still, when watching the Sochi Olympics today, Berezowski certainly feels a certain sense of belonging and nostalgia.
“There is a certain feeling that comes over an Olympian watching the Olympics. Memories come flooding back and you can really feel for the athletes. It is a wonderful feeling to watch and support your team because you are going through everything step-by-step with them. I don’t think I will ever lose that feeling.”
In the end, what Berezowski wishes for most are Olympics where everyone has the same fair opportunity to compete. This means that either professional athletes should not be allowed to compete or as this Olympian says, all world governments should provide equal support for their athletes so everyone is on a level playing field. Today, Berezowski works as an inspirational speaker through her own business “Win and Sparkle” and is an Independent Consultant, District Manager with Arbonne International. She also serves as the club President of her local Toastmasters club, “Goodyear Toastmasters” in Etobicoke.
By Jonathan Holowka