But one of the panelists, Westmount resident and former Olympian Dick Pound, knows that in sports where milliseconds separate first and second place, the drive for success at all costs can be a destructive force.
Pound is a former Olympic-level swimmer, former vice-President of the International Olympic Committee, and founder and first president of the World Anti-Doping agency. He is a staunch advocate of strict drug testing for athletes, and for years was engaged in a high-profile public battle with now-disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, with Pound trying to convince the latter to come clean over long-time rumours concerning drug use.
“Successful sport means, first of all, not cheating,” he said.
He expects no apology from Armstrong, but hopes that other athletes will remember him every time they consider turning to a needle instead of a gym.
“If cycling and other sports watching cycling are smart, they can take advantage of it,” Pound said. “It shows you that no matter how high you are, and no matter how long it takes, if you are cheating you are going to get caught. And this is the kind of disgrace that attaches to that. Do you really want that?”
Despite having spent much of his life arguing for tough rules and looking for cheaters, Pound remains optimistic about the future of sport in Canada, and says that the overwhelming majority of athletes follow the rules.
When asked what qualities make athlete truly great, Pound believes that it has as much to do with attitude as skill.
“It’s the combination of being edgy enough to say, ‘I think I can be the best in the world at what I’m doing,’ and being prepared to work and train, and compete to try and prove it,” he says.
“I think a great athlete can accept victories and losses. You learn more from your losses than your wins.”
“If I can make it possible for anyone else in this generation to have the amount of fun I had in mine it’s worth almost any amount of effort.” - Dick Pound
He is also a strong believer that sports are valuable for everyone, not just for the elite, and that the mental benefits are just as important as the physical.
“Sport contains a lot of life lessons,” he said. “If you work hard, you will improve. If you have objectives, you’re more likely to achieve them than if you stumble into them. You learn to use your time properly, to be disciplined about what you do and when you do it. All of these lessons are transferrable.”
Pound still remembers the thrill he felt at representing Canada at the Olympics in 1960, all those years ago. It was his first time out of North America, and the whole experience was “exciting beyond description,” he said.
Although it was decades ago -- “I like to say I swam before they invented water,” he says -- that feeling is one of the reasons he has stayed involved in the sporting world.
“If I can make it possible for anyone else in this generation to have the amount of fun I had in mine it’s worth almost any amount of effort,” he said.
McGill conference “Lifting off and Flying High: Talent and Success in Canada” takes place February 11th and 12th at the Hotel Omni Mount Royal. Panelists include Dick Pound, Musicians Patrick Watson and Béatrice Martin, hockey greats Ken Dryden and Georges Laraque, Research in Motion co-founder Jim Balsillie, and screenwriters Len Blum and Kevin Tierney. Visit https://www.mcgill.ca/misc/conferences/conference-2013 for more information or to register.