By Andrew Mitchell
After a disappointing showing at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City Alpine Canada went through a massive shakeup of staff and personnel, with the goal of remaking the organization and the national ski team into a worldwide contender.
Ken Read, a former member of the legendary Crazy Canuck downhill team, set the tone for the reworked program. His idea was simple — set the bar higher for coaches and athletes, and back those raised expectations with funding and expertise that makes it possible.
So far the new concept has been working, with overall team results improving from year to year. Last year was the best in history for the Canadian Alpine Ski Team with a dozen podium appearances, while Canada’s standing among nations improved from 12 th to sixth. Canada now has more skiers qualified in more disciplines than ever before, with start positions that make it possible to be competitive every weekend.
The team fell just short of its goal of an Olympic medal in 2006 but still made team history with three fourth place finishes and a fifth in Italy.
The Canadian Disabled Alpine Ski Team also had a strong season, improving to fourth in the nations standings while winning five Paralympic medals. Disabled skiers also won two overall World Cup globes last year.
Read is happy with the progress that has been made but knows the national team still has a long way to go before it can rival the top teams in the world.
“As simplistic as it sounds the most important thing for us was to start out with a clear goal of where we’re going, and then back it up with all the resources we can bring to bear,” said Read. “It’s made an enormous difference. We’re in this business to win, and we’re going to relentlessly support that goal. Putting our money where our mouth is sends a strong message to our athletes. When they can say to themselves, ‘I’m investing my life here, it’s my passion and my goal to be a champion and World Cup winner, and I see the organization I represent has the same goal and will support me in that task,’ that creates a lot of confidence.
“The difference is we’re performance-centred and athlete-focused, where the performance is related to everybody. We want the athletes performing, but also the coaches, ski techs, video technicians, wax techs, everybody. We even want the secretary at head office performing, and the guy in finance performing. The athlete-focused side applies to everybody in ski racing in Canada, from the six-year-old Nancy Greene skier to the people on the national team.”