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.”

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