Anybody with questions regarding how competitive our Olympic athletes are heading into the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi should have been at a meet and greet hosted by the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association at their headquarters on Friday. The Canadian Olympic Committee released a new app for athletes that day that included a social game that challenged athletes to get each other's secret words and build the biggest network of friends — and within moments of figuring it out the freestylers were aggressively competing with each other to see who could top the leader board.
It was a telling moment for a team that's been conditioned to be intensely competitive and that, measure for measure, is the best on the planet right now with athletes combining to win eight of the last nine Nations Cup titles.
For Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA), it's all about attitude.
"We're really trying to build a performance-on-demand mentality and mental toughness," he said. "It's inside of everything they do, event to the point where in our selection process we have a performance-on-demand component built into that. If they get used to having to perform on a certain day... it becomes part of their DNA.
"If you look at the Germans and U.S., they've been very good at conversion... they show up on the day of the event and win medals, and that's one thing that even now we're not very good at. We've certainly been getting better at it, and in certain sports like hockey where we have a cultural heritage we have it — and I think we're one of those sports at this point — but generally, across the board that hasn't been one of our biggest strengths as a nation, and it's something the Canadian Olympic Committee and sport community as a whole has identified as one area where we really want to improve."
Canada's goal going into 2014 is to replicate the team's home performance from 2010, where athletes won 14 gold medals (the most of any nation in a Winter Games) and placed third overall in the rankings. It's going to be a little tougher on foreign soil, especially with Russia investing heavily in its athletes, but Canada has a few aces up its sleeve.
One of those aces is funding. After 2010, Canada established permanent funding for the Own the Podium program to the tune of $30 million annually on top of other funding to sports and athletes. As well, in January the federal government boosted funding for 2014 athletes by an additional $31 million.
Another ace is the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) decision to include several new sports in the 2014 program where Canada has proven medal contenders — snowboard slopestyle, luge team relay, team figure skate and ski halfpipe and slopestyle.