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Halfpipe ski team looking for respect

Self-funded athletes dominate World Cup



Canada’s five-member ski halfpipe team returned home from the World Cup Finals last week with a lot to be happy about. Sarah Burke and Matt Hayward both won World Cup crystal globes for their overall halfpipe titles, while Mike Riddle and Rosalind Groenewoud placed third overall, and Justin Dorey was fourth.

Together the team won more than 50 per cent of all World Cup medals presented this season, and every gold medal but one. No other Canadian team fared as well on the World Cup circuit this year.

And they did it all with next to no support. The athletes paid their own way to competitions and chipped in to keep Trennon Paynter as their coach and manager. Sponsors at Swix wax supplied a ski tech for events, but otherwise Canada’s medal haul was completely funded by the athletes themselves.

By way of comparison, most European countries now have team funding and coaching by governments and sports organizations. Even New Zealand skiers get more support than the Canadians.

“North American countries, the U.S. and Canada, are pretty much the only ones that don’t support a program through government,” said Paynter.

Paynter adds that he is working to secure funding for the team through Sport Canada and the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, which is the national sports organization for ski halfpipe, but has been told again and again that funding is reserved for Olympic athletes.

It’s a familiar story that other World Cup racers can relate to, like the Canadian downhill mountain bikers and the women’s ski jumping team, but Paynter says it’s better to invest now because he believes it’s only a matter of time before his sport is included in the Olympic Games.

“It sounds pretty positive for 2014 at all levels, they’re talking within FIS (International Ski Federation) and all the freestyle associations,” he said. “But while everybody I talked to thinks we have a really good shot at 2014, I’m holding out a candle of hope for 2010.”

Given Canada’s performance on the World Cup tour, and the fact that the Canadian athletes also made the podium at X Games, Superpipe, the U.S. Open, and other pro events, Paynter says it’s in Canada’s best interest to push for the inclusion of ski halfpipe in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

“Even if it’s a million to one against it happening, that’s still no reason to give up now,” he said.

There are two objections he hears whenever he brings up the matter. The first objection is that it’s too late to add ski halfpipe to the Games, to which he replies that snowboard halfpipe was added to the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano less than 16 months out from the Games at the request of the Nagano organizing committee.