Bemoan The Podium
Canadian officials give up on Own The Podium dream
VANCOUVER — Own The Podium has officially gone from a winning blueprint to wishful thinking.
Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, conceded Monday the goal of finishing first in the medal standings at the Vancouver Games is not going to happen.
“ There’s going to be a lot of questions asked about Own The Podium,” Rudge acknowledged. “ We will eviscerate this program in every detail when we’re finished. It’s painful to go into the autopsy while the patient is still alive and kicking.
“ We’ll quantify the success of the program in terms of total medals after the Games are over. We’re still working as hard as we can to make sure these athletes get the support they need and know we are behind them.”
The Canadian public invested heavily in OTP. Of the $117 million invested in athletes, $66 million of it was taxpayer dollars. VANOC, the organizing committee for the Games, covered most of the remainder through corporate sponsorships.
Canada entered Monday with nine medals (4-4-1), tied for fourth with South Korea and far behind the Americans with 24. The Germans were second with 17 followed by Norway with a dozen.
Canada won a record 24 medals four years ago in Turin, Italy, finishing third overall in the medal count. At their current medal-a-day pace, the host team will be hard-pressed to surpass that number.
“ We’re probably going to be in a tough fight with the Germans for second and third,” Rudge predicted. “ What’s important is that every athlete who has a chance to medal, does so.
“Our goal is to maximize the opportunities we still have and make sure we continue to give those athletes still competing the opportunity to reach the podium.”
It felt like an elephant left the room when Rudge told reporters that winning more medals than any other country was no longer realistic at the Games.
The atmosphere at the Canadian team briefing Monday contrasted starkly with the previous day’s tense session. Defensive Canadian officials were then still insisting the goal was possible even though the home team had a third of the medals of the U.S. at that point.
“ We’d be living in a fool’s paradise if we said we were going to catch the Americans and win,” Rudge said Monday. “ We’re not throwing in the towel. You never do that when you are in the middle of a fight, but it’s difficult.
“ They are way out ahead at this point and it would be unrealistic to state that we are going to catch them.”
Own The Podium was a fiveyear program established in 2005 to give athletes the medical support, training opportunities and high-tech equipment to win the medals race in Vancouver. OTP never set a hard target for medals. The goal was simply to finish first atop the table.
It was an ambitious plan, but the feeling was Canada needed to aim high and capture the imagination and support of the Canadian public.
Germany topped the table with 29 in 2004. OTP head Roger Jackson had predicted Canada would need between 28 and 34 medals at these Games to be No. 1. The Americans have run away with the hardware, however.
Sunday was the turning point for Canada. The potential for three medals out of the 1,500 metres in women’s long-track speedskating and men’s ski cross produced a single silver.
“It was a potential multiple-medal day where we didn’t get multiple medals,” Rudge said. “ We’ve had a number of those and those are disappointing. Those are the ones that pop up the total.”
Still, some of Canada’s athletes don’t see OTP as a failure.
“I can’t speak for all the other athletes but I think it added a sense of pride,” said Marc Kennedy, who plays second on Kevin Martin’s curling rink. “ Whether it worked out or not, I think you saw an improvement in our overall athletes and a lot of the sports are coming along.
“ That’s not an instant thing, owning the podium. That’s a difficult process. I’m happy they did it. I think it pushed all of us to be a little bit better. I know some of it’s been disappointing here and there but the Olympics aren’t over yet.”
Gold-medal speedskater Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., said it took a decade after the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary for Canada’s speedskating team to begin winning medals on the international stage.
“Own The Podium hasn’t been around for 10 years and it’s going to take time I think and I think it’s going to pay off for me in the end,” Nesbitt said.
Nesbitt doesn’t feel OTP put extra pressure on her to win the 1,000 metres.
“ Just because there’s a program that is emphasizing this doesn’t make it any more of a weight on our shoulders necessarily than the weight we already have on our shoulders from ourselves and our teammates,” she explained.
Own The Podium raised eyebrows in some quarters for its audacity and the Canadian team’s inability to do so has made the label a target of ridicule for some international media. It’s been said the U.S. is “renting the podium.”
“We didn’t take that (the OTP program) as a threat or anything,” said Mike English, chief of sports performance for the U.S. “It’s something that every host nation prepares for and we certainly have done it with our own Games that we’ve hosted in the U.S. I think it’s part of the business going forward.”