Own The Podium: Investing in athletes not technology

Own The Podium will cut funding to sport technology and some Paralympic sports while increasing nordic skiing’s allowance for the 2010-11 winter season.

CALGARY — Own The Podium will cut funding to sport technology and some Paralympic sports while increasing nordic skiing’s allowance for the 2010-11 winter season.

The World Cup campaign in Canada kicks off next week with bobsleigh and skeleton races at the Whistler Sliding Centre in B.C., and men’s downhill races in Lake Louise.

Canada’s next generation of Olympic winter athletes are coming to terms with what life will be like after the 2010 Games in Vancouver and Whistler.

It’s a mixed bag of good and bad as OTP aims to keep Canada’s athletes on the international podium with less money than it had to work with in 2009-10.

Own The Podium was established in 2005 to help Canadian athletes win medals at their own Games. Canada set a record for the most gold won at a single Games with 14 and finished third in the overall medal count with 26.

OTP had both corporate and taxpayer money to work with for 2010. Spending on winter athletes averaged just over $23 million per year with a high of $27.5 million last winter. OTP is now funded solely by the federal government.

“We had about $20 million to allocate which is down between 10 and 15 per cent from previous years,” OTP Director of Winter Sport Ken Read said Thursday.

“If we want to maintain our objective from 2010 which was finishing first in the medal count . . . going forward we have to look at shoring up where we have our strength, but also where we see emerging strength.”

OTP divided winter sports into categories according to their current medal potential for the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Speedskating, figure skating, freestyle moguls, ski cross, curling, hockey and para-alpine sport are category 1.

Bobsleigh, skeleton, snowboard, the men’s alpine speed team, para-nordic and sledge hockey are considered category 2.

Freestyle aerials, luge, the women’s alpine technical team, biathlon and cross-country are among the category 3 disciplines.

OTP has bumped up funding to biathlon, cross-country skiing and ski jumping under a program called the nordic consortium project.

Biathlete Jean-Philippe Le Guellec, with a breakthrough sixth-place finish at the Games, and the men’s cross-country ski team, with seven top-10 finishes, demonstrated medal potential for Sochi.

Also, about one third of medals at a Winter Olympics come from nordic disciplines. Canada won none of them in Whistler, so that is a sport of special interest to OTP.

“We’ve identified there’s 72-plus medals available and we’re collecting zero of them right now,” Read explained.

“That’s when you put not just cross-country and biathlon together, but nordic combined and ski jumping.”

Biathlon’s allocation increased almost $130,000 this winter, cross-country was up $112,000 and ski jumping’s funding jumped almost $60,000. OTP is spending an additional half a million dollars on the nordic project.

Ski jumping’s funding increased because OTP anticipates the introduction of women’s ski jumping into the 2014 Games. That announcement could come as early as next year.

“We don’t want to start from scratch,” Read said.

Sport science and technology will suffer the biggest cut in funding this winter. That’s an area in which Canada traditionally lagged behind other countries.

Advances in equipment and clothing were a component of what was called Top Secret.

“We did have $5 million going to winter sport and now it’s $1 million for summer and winter,” Read revealed.

“It does mean there was a lot of good research that was done and now it’s currently sitting on hold because of a lack of funds.

“For once, Canada was in the forefront in that area. We can maintain that for awhile, but we can’t expect to stay at the forefront with such a dramatic change there unless we find other sources of funding.”

Funding to Paralympic sports dropped about $600,000 overall.

The sledge hockey team that was a favourite to win gold finished out of the medals at the Paralympics.

Their funding plummeted from half a million to just under $100,000 this winter.

OTP divided up the money pie based on meetings with each winter sport federation last spring. The federations were asked to have a detailed plan for their athletes not only for 2014, but also for 2018.

The para-nordic team, featuring multi-medallist Brian McKeever, didn’t have a plan up to OTP’s standards, said Read, which is one reason why their funding dropped by over $400,000.

He added, however, the team recently appointed a high performance director to help chart the team’s course.

Other sports had reduced funding for practical reasons.

The women’s hockey team is no longer training full-time together in Calgary and thus requires less money.

The long-track speedskating team in Calgary is no longer running a second training group at the Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C., now that the Games are over.

Read said that money was diverted into other sports and projects.