Own the Podium to continue

The man who helped organize Canada’s most successful Winter Olympics is taking on the challenge of making sure the country’s athletes have the funding and resources they need to win medals at future Games.

VANCOUVER — The man who helped organize Canada’s most successful Winter Olympics is taking on the challenge of making sure the country’s athletes have the funding and resources they need to win medals at future Games.

John Furlong, the chief executive officer of the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee, was officially named chairman of the Own the Podium advisory board Tuesday.

Own the Podium is the $117-million program created in 2005 to help Canada win more medals than any other country at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

Furlong’s job is to oversee the 10-member board that will raise money and make sure the funds are properly allocated to sports programs for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London and the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi Russia.

“Today is really an effort to build on the impressive results we achieved here in Vancouver and build on the confidence, excitement and energy there is in the country,” said Furlong, who is serving as a volunteer and won’t be paid.

The board’s first priority will be to focus on the summer sport programs and see where Canada can win medals in London, Furlong said. “The rowers will have a completely different strategy than the guys in soccer and the people in track and field”

Although Canada did not top the medals table in Vancouver, the country’s 14 gold is the most any nation has ever won at a Winter Games. Canada’s 26 medals also was the most the country has won at a Winter Olympics.

“We need to understand where we will have our best opportunities and need to go to work on (those).”

While Furlong talked of the challenges ahead, the Canadian Olympic Committee said the advisory board’s mandate had not yet been fully determined.

Still, Olympic gold medallist Simon Whitfield applauded Furlong’s hiring.

“That’s brilliant,” the triathlete said in a telephone interview from his home in Victoria. “He’s a doer, not a talker.

“Having a guy like him on our side, I think that’s huge.”

Alex Baumann was named interim CEO of Own the Podium last month after Roger Jackson stepped down from the post.

Canada’s goal at the London Games is to win enough medals to finish in the top-12 countries.

When Own the Podium was established, VANOC agreed to raise half the money. In the end, VANOC raised $55 million through corporate donations, money from the B.C. government and the sale of red mittens. The federal government contributed the other $62 million.

Furlong said no target had been set yet for money to be raised from the private sector. Determining the strengths of the Canadian team going to London will help decide how much money is needed.

“We have to ask ourselves, what do we have to do?” he said. “What is a fair target and what do we have to do to have a good chance to achieve that target.

“If the resources don’t exist, then collectively we have to find ways to find them. It’s never easy to find resources, but clearly when you have plans and programs that people believe in, they are usually there to support you to do it.”

It’s hoped Furlong’s popularity and the passion he showed organizing the Vancouver Games will open corporate doors.

A federal government release said Ottawa’s commitment to Own the Podium is $69 million annually. That includes a base level of $22 million a year directed to winter sport and $36 million for summer sport.

Another $11 million will go towards creating programs targeted to further developing winter and summer athletes, along with targeted investments into Canadian Sport Centres.

Joining Furlong on the OTP advisory board will be former Olympic speedskater Cathy Pristner Allinger, who also was VANOC’s vice-president of sport and Games operations; veteran sports broadcaster Keith Pelley; sport medicine specialist Dr. Mike Wilkinson; astronaut Julie Payette; Guy Larose, a scientist with the National Research Council; and Lane MacAdam, director of sport excellence at Sport Canada.

Three additional board members will be selected by the winter sport caucus, the summer sport caucus, and a joint representative of the COC and the Canadian Paralympic Committee.

One of the criticisms of OTP is it only provides money and resources to sports with legitimate medal hopes.

Whitfield said Triathlon Canada finds itself in the situation where pressure is being placed on athletes to produce results in 2012, so funding will continue through the 2016 Games.

“If you look at our actual talent pool, it’s 2016 based,” he said. “Will we rush these kids and take gambles for 2012 in order to keep the funding for 2016? They might not do as well in 2016 because they have been rushed.”