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Making the case for Own The Podium

Officials, athletes say Canada in a stronger position in more sports than ever before



Canadian athletes are using their time in the spotlight to make a case for continued funding, thanking Own The Podium at every opportunity.

Even the athletes who have finished off the podium have nothing but positive things to say about the program, which injected $117 million into Canadian winter sports over the past five years. Some $66 million in funding came from the federal government, with the remainder coming from the Vancouver Organizing Committee and its official sponsors, the Province of B.C. and initiatives like the Hudson's Bay Company's red mittens campaign.

The federal government has pledged to continue funding winter sports through Own The Podium to the tune of $11 million a year, a third of what Own The Podium has requested.

"Without Own The Podium, we probably wouldn't even be here," said Manuel Osborne-Paradis after the men's downhill. "To have so many athletes who are contenders has never happened before. We're in the game because of it."

On the eve of the Games, sports minister Gary Lunn explained that the decision to limit funding was purely a result of tight government budgets.

"The prime minister has made it very clear," he told reporters. "He is not going to raise taxes and we have to get back to balanced budgets. There is no new money out there.

"It's going to be difficult. It's not just sport, it's every single ministry."

He also said that the Canadian team's performance would not influence the government's decision, although national sports organizations know that their own performance during the Games will ultimately determine how much of the $11 million they can hope to receive.

The athletes themselves are using every opportunity to make a case for more funding.

Mogul skiing silver medallist Jennifer Heil said she has never felt so well-supported and that the program helped her to come back from injury and contend for an Olympic medal. Fellow mogul skier Alexandre Bilodeau, the first Canadian to win an Olympic medal on home soil, told reporters the next day that Own The Podium made a huge difference. He took the time to explain to reporters all the ways the program assisted the team.

Alpine skier Erik Guay had a solid Olympics, placing fifth in the both the downhill and super-G events, missing the podium by just three one-hundredths of a second. When asked by reporters, he said it was probably too soon to judge Own The Podium.

"There's been a real difference in a few short years," he said. "It was nice to see the federal government put this initiative together for Vancouver, but the reality of it is that it might have been a bit short - sometimes it takes a few more years than that to create champions.