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Own the Podium program making a difference

Increased funding for athletes and sports research to give Canadians an edge

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The national Own The Podium 2010 program is nearing the halfway point in its mandate to put Canadian athletes on the podium at the 2010 Winter Games, and according to the most recent progress report it is already having an impact on winter sports and athletes.

However, the report acknowledges that Canada still has a long way to go to reach its goal of ranking first in the medal count in the 2010 Olympics, and third at the 2010 Paralympics.

“We’ve just concluded our two years of progress, and we’re entering the beginning of the third year of this five year project,” said Dr. Roger Jackson, CEO of Own The Podium 2010. “And in my opinion this is one of the most important years to demonstrate how well we’re doing.

“There will be 80 countries competing in Vancouver and Whistler, and of the 80 countries we were third in the world in the 2006 Olympic Winter Games. Last year we were second in total medals won in World Cups with 135, as well as second in World Championship medals with 27. In total medals Canada was second only to Germany, but close behind us are the U.S., Russia and Austria.

“The 135 medals is a total we expect will be exceeded by quite a number this year as our athletes get ready to really perform in 2010.”

Own the Podium was launched in 2005 with a proposed budget of $110 million over five years — in addition to the money already contributed to athletes and national sports organizations by Sport Canada, sponsors and provincial funding. To date, annual funding commitments have been met for all sports and initiatives.

In the first year, the program was valued at $19 million, jumping to $21.5 million in 2006-07. The 2007-08 budget has been confirmed at $23.5 million, which includes 18 million for national sports organizations, $2.5 million for the Top Secret sports research and technology program, and $2.5 million for national sports centres, coaching projects, technology projects, and other commitments.

The funding was announced in Calgary on Tuesday as representatives from Canada’s 13 winter sports associations met to review the progress of OTP and discuss plans for the coming season.

Canada’s on-snow athletes will have the chance to train at Olympic venues this winter, including the men’s and women’s downhill courses on Whistler Mountain and the ski and snowboardcross course at Cypress Bowl. That could make all the difference for the team, says Alpine Canada CEO Ken Read.

“Our sports are measured in hundredths of a second, and in the last Olympics in Torino we had the misfortune of three fourth place finishes. At the 2007 (alpine) championships we had one silver medal, and five other athletes within hundredths of a second of the podium,” said Read. “As we move forward we have to find those fractions of a second that make the difference. It all comes down to training, coaching and technology.

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