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Canadian freestylers doing more with less

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Funding cuts hit national team skiers in the pocketbook

The Canadian Freestyle Ski team seems unstoppable recently, with athletes winning 10 World Cup medals over the past two weekends.

The younger athletes - from rookies still in their teens to skiers in their early 20s with only a few years on the team - are playing a key role in the team's success this year, showing the strength of the Canadian program.

Still, success always comes with a price and many of the athletes in the national high performance program are upset that they are the ones who are paying that price, often out of their own pockets.

At a Jan. 9 press conference before the World Cup events at Mont Tremblant, several athletes on the team questioned the spending priorities of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, which they say left them high and dry this year.

Money committed to training and competition costs was cut this year, forcing many athletes to turn to their parents and sponsors, and to dig into their own savings to compete.

"We know that our association has money. But they seem to have trouble handling it properly," said 18-year-old mogul maverick Stephanie St-Pierre, who has won gold and bronze medals in the last two weeks.

Some of the athletes accused the CFSA of keeping its books closed, while backing down on financial commitments it made to athletes. They also suggested that CFSA CEO Pat Smith was avoiding a confrontation with the athletes on the funding issue.

Replying to the charges, the CFSA denies any financial mismanagement, and says that as a non-profit group their books are open to the public. According to CFSA spokeswoman Mary Fraser, the association lost a significant portion of its funding for the season, and directed what remained towards the priorities that the athletes themselves approved of before the budget crunch.

The athletes were kept informed of these funding developments, said Fraser, and the association is hoping that shortfalls are a temporary measure.

"The plan all along was to meet with the athletes, and we had a meeting in place. Actions had already been taken prior to the recent events at the press conference," said Fraser. "We weren't hiding anything.

"The association is well aware of the situation, and that our athletes are not happy with the current funding situation.

"We don't disagree that it's been very difficult for our athletes who have training schedules and programs to pay for. They were told in July that the money isn't coming, and it's been a real hit for them. It's been difficult all around," Fraser said.

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