The Beijing Winter Games are set to open a little over three weeks from now and the Canadian Olympic Committee is ramping up its efforts to generate public excitement about the Games.
But these Olympics come pre-branded not only with a COVID pandemic but also China politics. Getting Canadians to see beyond those concerns is the challenge facing the COC as it launches its Glory From Anywhere campaign.
“It feels like the right moment to launch this,” Jacquie Ryan, the COC’s chief brand and commercial officer, said Monday.
Ryan has had the unenviable task of growing the Canadian Olympic brand through not just one but two pandemic Olympics — the delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Games and the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, which open Feb. 4.
On top of the surging Omicron variant, the Beijing Games come with concerns about China’s human rights abuses of the Uyghurs and other predominately Muslim minorities, and over its treatment of Tibet and Hong Kong. That has already led to diplomatic boycotts by the U.S., Australia, Britain and Canada.
Despite the challenging times and challenging location, Ryan says she is excited and thinks Canadians are ready to find joy and inspiration from the sporting performances and, even more so, the individual stories of Canadian athletes.
The Beijing campaign seeks to connect the determination and resilience Olympic athletes have in spades to the everyday lives of Canadians, including their struggles through the pandemic, she said.
“It’s a great opportunity to really tell the story of Team Canada and their determination and their resilience,” Ryan said. “As Canadians we can all receive some inspiration from that.”
The campaign highlights eight Canadian Olympic athletes, noting that they “fight through pain, fight through loss, push through setbacks.”
“Our strength comes from within and we’re here to do more than just win,” the narrator of the television spot says. “We come from anywhere and we can overcome anything.”
Speedskater Gilmore Junio, one of the highlighted athletes, memorably gave up his spot in the 1,000-metre race in the 2014 Sochi Games so teammate Denny Morrison, who fell in the trials, could skate in his place. Morrison won an Olympic silver medal in that race; Junio won accolades for his selfless act.
Bobsledder Cynthia Appiah was demoralized by her 2018 Pyeongchang experience as an alternate brakewoman but decided to write a new and better Olympic story for herself by becoming a pilot. She hopes to win a medal in the debut of monobob (a new event for women) and, as a Black athlete, break stereotypes for everyone about what a Winter Olympian looks like.
Snowboarder Max Parrot won a silver medal at the 2018 Games but then faced a challenge he never expected: being diagnosed with cancer. He underwent treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma and battled back to the top podiums in his sport.
The other athletes unveiled Monday include moguls skier Mikael Kingsbury, ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, hockey player Jocelyne Larocque and skeleton slider Jane Channell.
The campaign was developed in collaboration with Toronto-based creative agency Camp Jefferson and K-72, an agency based in Montreal.
The notion that glory comes from the journey, not just the destination, such as an Olympic medal, is one that Ryan has witnessed. Her first experience with the sacrifice and perseverance that underlies so many Olympic athlete stories came at home.
“My sister is an Olympic athlete, so I grew up in an Olympic household.”
Ryan’s sister Kennedy was an aerial skier in the 1992 Albertville and 1994 Lillehammer Games.
“I really understand the determination and support it requires from your family and from your community.”
Growing that community support is part of every Olympic brand campaign. So is the belief that coming together for sport makes a positive difference for communities, countries and the world.
“Every Games come with their own challenges and conversations and, most certainly, the issues around China are important and they matter,” Ryan said. “But (the Beijing Games) will foster increasingly important connections that can only happen when over 200 nations come together in one place in peace. Sport, and in particular the Olympic Games, is one of the few things in the world that still does that.”
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