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by Archives February 6, 2002

NO:
By Noah Sidel
I can still remember watching the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics as a hockey enthused 13-year-old, as Canada skated to a silver medal vs. Sweden.
It was exciting to me on a few levels.
First, it was a chance to see my country -still known as the best hockey nation in the world at the time- perform at an extremely high level.
This can be very exciting for anyone who loves the game, but especially for me, as I sat there with a puck and a flag and cheered all the way until Paul Kariya was stopped in a shootout to lose the gold.
But I also remember a burning desire as a young goalie to maybe one day be one of those guys that gets to wear the red and white sweater and represent my country on the ice.
But forgetting the fact that I was probably never good enough to play at that level, the dream was always in reach because the Olympics were still for amateurs – you didn’t have to be the best in the world, just the best amateur.
The tournament was a chance for guys like Kariya to spring themselves into fame, or for others that would never be able to reach the NHL to get a chance to show their country just how proud they were to be Canadian (or Swedish, or Finnish… you get the idea).
But that dream was dashed when the NHL and the IOC first announced that the hockey tournament would be played by professionals.
Sure, it’s a great thing to see guys like Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur and Joe Sakic on the big ice surface.
Sure, we’re supposed to have the best pros in the world, but as fun as it is to watch, having the NHLers in the games has taken away that key element that makes the Olympics such a great event:
The ability to dream that anyone can play for their country.
When the Salt Lake City games start later this week, millions of Canadians will watch and cheer proudly as Catriona Le May Doan leads the entire Canadian contingent out into the main stadium with the NHLers in tow.
When Canada wins its first gold medal, those millions will once again watch and cheer proudly as the maple leaf rises and O Canada booms out of the speakers.
But if the Canadians manage to pull off the victory in hockey, something will be missing.
Yes, it will be an amazing triumph if our best players beat everybody else’s, but what are the 13-year-olds of today supposed to dream of?

YES:
By T.J. Colello
Not to steal a line from the movie Men in Black, but hockey at the Olympics should showcase ‘…the best of the best of the best.’
If the event is to have the best athletes in the world in every other sport, why not hockey?
Each country sends its best figure skaters, skiers, snow boarders, and for some reason, curlers. Just because their best is considered ‘amateur’ doesn’t measure their calibre. It just happens that hockey’s best players are not considered amateurs, but professionals.
Professionals in other sports are essentially athletes who have had their time to shine and are now touring with Disney on Ice, in the case of figure skating.
It’s about time for a change in terms, perhaps. The Oxford dictionary defines an amateur as ‘one who engages in sport, interest, etc. as a pastime, not a profession.’ However, it goes on to say that an amateur is someone ‘who does something with limited skill.’
To say that these athletes, who train year-round with everything they can muster, have ‘limited skill’ is a true understatement. Most of these men and women who compete for gold are the best in the world and win world championships even before the Olympics roll around.
Also, to say that they engage in their sport as a ‘pastime,’ which is defined in the same dictionary as a ‘recreation, hobby, sport, or game,’ also puts them on the back burner. Building boats in a bottle and collecting Wedgewood pottery is a hobby, not engaging in intense, Olympic competition.
Then why not consider them professionals? A professional is someone engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation. Of course, a majority of the athletes in the Olympics do not participate in their respective sport as a profession. They are unpaid and usually need funding from government or from other sources to train.
A new term should be used to amalgamate the mix of these professional and amateur athletes competing. Perhaps the term used in chess, a master. A master of chess is ‘…player of proved ability at an international level.’ Isn’t that what the Olympics are all about, finding the best athletes in the world on an international venue?
To put all of the terms and definitions aside, the simple fact of the matter is that no one wants to watch a skeleton crew of hockey talent that everyone knows is not the best in each country.
Don’t get me wrong, some amateur hockey players aren’t all that bad. However, I’d rather watch Mario turn some Swedish defencemen inside-out, rather than tune-in to some amateur no-names.

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