Posted by: ownthepodium | March 16, 2010

THE JOY OF SPORT

Last evening, I stood in a light rain with hundreds of others watching the medal ceremonies at the Victory Plaza in Whistler. I witnessed ‘True Sport ‘ – the pure joy of  competing for he right reasons, ethically, with courage,  with modesty, and achieving ones goals after very hard effort.

Whereas I was terribly proud of the Canadians on the podium to receive their medals, and I lustily sang O Canada, I was moved most by the gold medal presentation to German cross-country skier and Paralympic Champion Verena Bentele. This was her second gold medal. She was overwhelmed with pure joy and emotion. This achievement meant so much to her.

She is a 28 year old student from Munich, and very significantly visually impaired. She skies following a male guide, Thomas Friedrich, who constantly looks back throughout the race encouraging her, and telling her of changes in the terraine. He also receives a medal, and last night he gently, and proudly, guided her to the podium. They received their medals, heard their national anthem played, and he then guided her to the photo station, helping her to hold her medal so the media could see it properly.

What absolute joy she had on her face throughout this series of events. I am sure she could not clearly see, but could certainly hear, the enormous congratulations from the crowd. Her emotion and quiet pride in her achievement were so refreshing to me, an Olympic Champion. She was so extremely happy and quietly proud of what she had done, demonstrating values which we as Canadians cherish.

We are so very proud of you Verena, and of all Paralympians. True Sport, indeed.

Posted by: ownthepodium | March 13, 2010

PARALYMPIC RESEARCH

One of the early decisions when establishing the Own the Podium Top Secret (TS) research program was to provide Paralympians’ with world-class equipment, technology, and training methods.

In general, the TS research was applied to both Paralympic and Olympic sports (aerodynamics, wax and ski testing, curling delivery, and human performance training).

Aerodynamic testing was performed at the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa. Equipment, suits, and athlete body positions were studied to reduce aerodynamic friction which can account for 80% of the drag on our high speed winter athletes.

Ski bases, grinds, and waxes were tested with different, often wet snow conditions during the last three years in Whistler.

Our Paralympic and Olympic curlers improved their rock delivery through video analysis at the Saville Sports Centre in Edmonton, AB.

The University of Sherbrooke took a special interest in designing Para-alpine skis and Para-Nordic sleds, outriggers, sockets, and other devices. In the old days, for example, sit-ski athletes often were strapped into tractor-seat-like devices, sitting on a motorcycle piston that was attached to a single ski. Such arrangements did not allow for weight or length differences in athletes, or the nature of the event (downhill or slalom, for example). TS research has greatly resolved these issues.

The following are some of the projects undertaken specifically for Paralympians:

  • Para-Alpine and Para-Nordic equipment developed with U. of Sherbrooke -$550,000
  • Wind tunnel testing at the NRC for Para-Alpine and Para-Nordic skiers – $77,000
  • Rock delivery training at the Saville Centre in Edmonton for wheel chair curling  -$11,000
  • Sledge hockey equipment development at U. of Calgary – $80,000
  • Ski/wax testing with ski technicians for snow sports – $56,000
  • U. of British Columbia ski base development used for Para-Nordic team – $41,000.
Posted by: ownthepodium | March 12, 2010

OUR PARALYMPIANS

What a welcome I expect for our Paralympic athletes in Vancouver and Whistler, and at the Opening Ceremonies today.

The Canadian public will embrace them with the same pride and support as for our Olympians.

And they should. These Paralympians have received the same level of support and services as did the Olympians. And they will perform equally as well.

The goal for the team is to try to finish in the top three nations (of approximately 40 nations competing) in the gold medal count. Last year, at world championships, Canadian athletes (12 gold medals) finished second to Russia (14 gold medals)

We are talking far fewer athletes involved in the Paralympics though. That is because for the Olympic Winter Games, there are 16 sport disciplines, and for the Paralympic Games, four – wheelchair curling, sledge hockey, alpine skiing and Nordic skiing (Cross Country and Biathlon).

Own The Podium supported 350 athletes preparing for the Olympic Games, and 200 competed in the Games. For the Paralympians, OTP supported about 60 athletes.

A major weakness in Paralympic sport in this country is that so few who could participate, do. We need to do much more, and the recent budget announcement of the federal government indicated that they will provide $5 million this year, and hopefully in the years to come, to assist the Canadian Paralympic Committee to develop Paralympic sport in Canada. Indeed, where it needs to start is in the communities, provinces and territories where access to facilities and programs need to be actively developed.

The Own the Podium team is so proud of the development and accomplishments of the Paralympic coaches and athletes over the past few years. We wish you every success for your competitions. Have fun. You deserve that.

Posted by: ownthepodium | February 26, 2010

OTP and our Communities

Today Clara Hughes made a very profound statement.  After donating $10,000 to the Take a Hike Foundation (www.takeahikefoundation.org) she said that “sport saves lives.” By this, I think she means that sport also helps people acquire life skills.  Through sport, people can learn mastery, self efficacy, leadership, and goal setting.  The research on this matter clearly indicates that sport can create healthy, engaged citizens. An investment in sport is an investment in community.  

OTP invests in various Canadian communities – such as the research, sport science and medical services of universities, various service sectors such as the hospitality sector, and manufacturing.  The national sports (NSOs) have spent their OTP funding in a myriad of ways throughout Canada such as: 

  • to hire the best coaches and high performance directors.  In many cases this created new jobs, or allowed coaches to work fulltime as coaches. 
  • to provide services to athletes who attend training camps across the country, from Farnham Glacier to Dawson Creek
  • to build, or specialize, or to rent equipment
  • to hire nutritionists, physiotherapists, massage therapists, or sport psychologists. 
  • to access technology and research for application to sport

The OTP initiative is about partnerships in our community and this has been a unique and productive element for OTP success. Almost all provinces have contributed financially, as has the federal government and many corporate partners. The Canadian public joins these others by contributing to the Olympic Foundation’s $20.10 campaign or by buying red mittens. Research groups have contributed use of facilities, equipment and research technicians. The Canadian Olympic Committee, fro the sport sector, has provided funding and administrative services.

So, OTP has very much been about involving various communities in serving our top athletes to achieve a common goal.

Posted by: ownthepodium | February 23, 2010

Support for Own the Podium

I would like thank all the people who took the time to drop me little notes of encouragement and express their support for Own the Podium.  These kind words have trickled in from coast to coast to coast, and I am thrilled our initiative has reached all the corners of this country.

I would like to share the varied emails we have received: 

“Own the Podium is a project, I as a Canadian, feel is money well spent…when in the history of the Olympics has so much national pride been generated. This pride is the result of a sports program that is finally properly funded. Viva Vancouver !!!”

 “Hi Roger, et al…..Those who are critical of our pursuit of excellence in sport, have forgotten that as Canadians we applaud excellence in whatever fields we enter: Julie Payette, several superb violinists, Glen Gould, Donald Sutherland, Terry Fox, Greg Joy, Sandra Schmirler…the list is endless.   In every case, it is the pursuit, the intense preparation, the personal satisfaction of knowing that each person did everything possible within the parameters of the game.”

“It has been part of the pride in watching this Olympics to know that our athletes were as well prepared as they had ever been (in comparison to past years’ performances to other countries) and they were challenging themselves!!”

“Canada has a population of 33,311,389.  USA Has a Population of 304,059,724.  That means we have more Champions per the ratio of the two countries….They have over 270 million than we do, Per person we have way more metals!  I am proud of the Canadian athletes, VANOC, IOC, the City of Vancouver and Canada. This has been the most exciting Olympics that I ever remember.

“Your program has inspired many.  I firmly believe that the key to success is a vision of the end in mind, to set a goal and work towards that goal.  You have set that vision for our athletes and they have gone above and beyond meeting them.  We are only one less gold than the US.  We have over 25 top five finishes.  We are no longer the only host nation not to win gold.  Your program has united a Country beyond even the ‘72 Russia series.  I cannot recall when English Canada, French Canada, Native Canada have said we are proud to be Canadian.  The success of the own the podium campaign is more than mere medals, it is the dreams being realized, it is the pride in a great Country.  This Canadian citizen thanks you for your efforts.”

“I would like our athletes to know that we are behind them. We appreciate their hard work in training and the fact that they have spent so much time, money and effort in representing our country. They deserve our thanks and kudos. They do not deserve to be told that they have not done enough, that they are disappointing us or any of the other negative things that we have heard.  I firmly believe that we need to continue this support…we need to have more crowds at all their events to let them know that we support them and they are not thrown by having a phalanx of cheering fans. We need to have more than hockey in our newspapers. This is the way that we as a country can help our athletes that moves beyond money.”

“I have always believed that athletes should be encouraged and supported. Especially our Canadian brand of athlete. The kind of athlete that contributes to the leadership gene we all need more of. Good natured. Open. Focused. Strategic. Effective. In the moment. Pick yourself up and keep going. Reflective. Competitive by being internally driven, not ego driven…Winning a medal is a great achievement. But so is being among the top 10 or top 20 in the world. Especially in elite sports where a matter of a few seconds or a fraction of a mark is the only difference between having your name listed, or your name highlighted. On a particular day. Whether you fall or not. Or if you’ve experienced a personal tragedy just hours or days before.

You’ve contributed to excellence in sportsmanship and personal leadership in a very Canadian way. And whether some people are motivated by medals, I am inspired by a personal drive to excel, to do one’s best, by the fact that the real competition is with oneself, all of it achieved by personal discipline, vison, drive and support/community (love and resources).  These athletes stand on the shoulders of giants who didn’t receive the funding but did it anyways. And it’s obvious how much we’ve loved them and been inspired by them. Their words, their reflections, are inspiring in equal measure to their achievements be it first place or twenty-fifth.”

 Again, thank you for your inspirational comments.  They touch on a wide range of issues, but clearly Canadians believe Own the Podium provides necessary support to our wonderful Canadian athletes.

The way Canadian’s have embraced the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games and the Canadian athletes is truly remarkable.  I have been to many, many Games and I have yet to witness the host city transform into such a hotbed of enthusiasm and revelry.

This weekend, under beautiful blue skies, thousands of people ventured to Vancouver’s downtown to take in the sights, the visit the art installations, snap pictures of the cauldron and create some of their own Olympic moments.  We certainly answered the call to “Paint the Town Red” as Vancouver is sea of red, white and maple leafs.  One of my favourite moments so far was the raucous crowd at Vancouver Olympic Centre breaking into a spontaneous rendition of “Oh Canada” to support curler Kevin Martin as his rink took on Great Britain in extra ends.

We have not only embraced the Olympics in spirit (and apparel), we have decided to support our athletes in their success and disappointments.  I would like to commend Melissa Hollingsworth for showing true character after her 5th place finish in Skeleton.  She set an ambitious goal, and while it slipped from her reach, she demonstrated the real brave act is dreaming big and doing everything possible to reach it.

Athletes like Melissa motivate us to strengthen our Canadian sport system.  OTP provides necessary financial support our National Sport Organization (NSO’s) so they can prepare their athletes for the international stage.  We do this by providing funds for training camps, equipment purchase, international competition, and support staff.  This support will not only embolden our athletes to be their best, but will build strong sport system.  Athletes demand excellence from themselves; we must provide them with the necessary tools to fulfil these dreams.

Posted by: ownthepodium | February 20, 2010

STRIVING TO DO OUR BEST

Sport is about both joy and disappointment. Without this dichotomy, sport lacks spirit and emotion. We witnessed this binary last night at the Whistler Sliding Centre. At the Olympic Games – the ultimate test – our Canadian skeleton athletes did their very best and we are extremely proud of these remarkable athletes. Under immense pressure, they demonstrated the determination, passion and sportsmanship that epitomize our Canadian athletes.

Gold medal performances like Jon Montgomery’s are the reason we set such high goals. Indeed, Own the Podium set a challenging goal by trying to be the top medal winner of these Olympic Games. Whether we achieve that is not the issue. It is that we try to be the best we can be. Just like the athletes.

When Vancouver was awarded the 2010 Games, we asked the national winter sport organizations and their athletes what they needed to achieve success in 2010. They knew they had the potential for remarkable performances, but they needed to be surrounded with the best coaches, perform with the best equipment and afforded every opportunity to achieve their goals.

The OTP goals are not directives, but the reflection of the collective goals the athletes set for themselves. We rallied around them and provided their sport organizations the support they needed.

Michelangelo wisely said, “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” OTP set an ambitious objective be the top nation in 2010, and this objective has already helped produce some wonderful results thus far. This time last week, Canada had never won a gold medal on home soil. We now have four…with more to come.

Posted by: ownthepodium | February 18, 2010

Confidence; “It looks good on us”

Canada’s athletes are sporting a new attitude, and it is one of confidence. They are confident because they know they have received every training opportunity, they have the best possible equipment and they know they have the support of the entire nation.  They are trying to do their best, and I quote VANOC’s CEO John Furlong when I say, “it looks good on us.” 

To date, six wonderful individuals have won medals, Jen Heil, Alex Bilodeau, Kristina Groves, Mike Robertson, Maëlle Ricker, and Marianne St-Gelais.  With such achievement, they have been nothing but gracious and humble. They have demonstrated the upmost sportsmanship and respect for their competitors.  Without fail, they acknowledge that the accolades are to be shared with the mosaic of people and organizations that compose their support network. OTP is one part of this support network.

 As I watch Maëlle’s victory ceremony for her gold medal performance, I know she will represent Canada and ‘true sport’ extremely well.  Canadian’s place considerable importance on ethical behaviour, hard honest work, respect for others and striving for excellence. Maëlle and her Canadian athletes illustrate that you can be “really nice” while achieving excellence.

Posted by: ownthepodium | February 16, 2010

On Unfair Access to Olympic Venues

There has been some recent commentary in the foreign media that the Own the Podium program (OTP) has restricted access to certain sport venues for foreign teams, specifically the sliding track at Whistler and the speed skating oval in Richmond. This is not the case.

OTP is a national sport technical initiative that was created to help prepare the Canadian team for the Winter Games, but not to disadvantage others.  Own the Podium has had no influence over access to the Olympic facilities by foreign teams. 

The Vancouver Organizing Committee is responsible for determining access to these facilities, and their policies for access were determined in conjunction with each international sport federation. These policies have resulted in all foreign teams having unprecedented access to the Vancouver facilities.

Own the Podium is an independent initiative that provides funding to Canadian sports for costs such as training camps, competitions, sport science and medicine support and hiring coaches and other technical staff.  It does not manage or control access to sport venues.

 It is normal for the home team to access venues more than foreign teams. Home team access to Olympic facilities has occurred for the Americans at the Salt Lake 2002 Winter Olympic Games, and this will also be true for the British for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The inevitable happened, and our first gold medal was won by Canadian mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau. We at Own the Podium are thrilled for his success.

What has impressed me so far is how well most of our athletes are performing. Jenn Heil, Chloe Dufour-Lapointe and Kristi Richards performed really well in women’s moguls. Vincent Marquis  and Pierre Alexandre Rousseau finished 4th and 5th in moguls, putting three Canadians in the top five. Kristina Groves skated her heart out to bronze in the women’s 3000 meters, and Clara Hughes was 5th. Sam Edney finished 7th in luge. Jean Philippe LeGuillec finished 6th in the men’s 10-km Biathlon.

These are all exceptional performances for these individuals. They have been well prepared by their coaches who deserve to be recognised and congratulated.

Two of the challenges for Own the Podium have been to build some depth of quality performance with athletes already in the system, and to have them ‘perform on demand’.  So far, the sports are showing us they have been able to do this.  We are also seeing some younger athletes emerge with great results and this bodes well for the future.

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