Next stop, Rio

Pan Ams over, Canada’s ath­letes turn at­ten­tion to 2016 Olympic Sum­mer Games

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY DONNA SPENCER

Feel­ing a sum­mer-sport void now that the Pan Amer­i­can Games are over? It won’t last long — the open­ing cer­e­monies for the 2016 Sum­mer Olympics are just over 13 months away.

Canada’s ob­jec­tive in Rio de Janeiro is a top-12 fin­ish in to­tal medals among the 200-plus par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries.

For that to hap­pen, Canada’s divers, swim­mers, rowers, wrestlers and pad­dlers need to come through, aug­mented by some track and field, cy­cling and trampoline medals.

Those sports are the most heav­ily funded in Canada based on Olympic medal po­ten­tial. Many are sports in which ath­letes can win mul­ti­ple medals at one Olympic Games.

“They’re the bread and but­ter,” Own The Podium chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Anne Merklinger said. “If we don’t per­form well in those sports in terms of mul­ti­medal po­ten­tial, then we’re go­ing to strug­gle to meet our tar­gets.”

Canada’s even­tual goal at the Sum­mer Games is to fin­ish in the top eight, but it will take a strong per­for­mance to crack the top dozen in Rio.

Canada fin­ished 14th in to­tal medals with 18 in Bei­jing in 2008, although shot put­ter Dy­lan Armstrong was even­tu­ally awarded a bronze years later af­ter one of the orig­i­nal medal­lists tested pos­i­tive for drugs, in­creas­ing the to­tal to 19. The coun­try won 18 medals in Lon­don to fin­ish 13th over­all, but earned fewer gold and sil­ver medals.

Merklinger said win­ning more than 18 medals is an ob­jec­tive for Rio. Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee chief sport of­fi­cer Caro­line As­salian said the COC’s fo­cus is the top-12 re­sult.

“The re­al­ity is all sports have to come through be­cause one or two medals made the dif­fer­ence be­tween 13th and fin­ish­ing 11th,” As­salian said. “Ev­ery sin­gle medal counts.”

Own The Podium doles out fund­ing to Canada’s sport fed­er­a­tions based on Olympic medal po­ten­tial. Canada’s taxpayers are the big­gest con­trib­u­tor via Sport Canada, although the COC con­trib­utes money to its cof­fers from its cor­po­rate spon­sor­ship cam­paigns.

OTP doles out about $35 mil­lion an­nu­ally for sum­mer sport.

The 2015 world cham­pi­onships are the best per­for­mance-on-de­mand in­di­ca­tor of which ath­letes are track­ing to­wards a medal in Rio. The ma­jor­ity of world cham­pi­onships are still up­com­ing, with the world aquatic cham­pi­onships just un­der­way in Kazan, Rus­sia.

Of the ath­letes who were top­five in their re­spec­tive world cham­pi­onships in 2011, 60 per cent pro­duced an Olympic medal a year later in Lon­don. The con­ver­sion rate in Bei­jing was 67 per cent.

“Our best con­ver­sion rate was 67 per cent,” As­salian said. “That is ab­so­lutely our goal as well.”

Canada’s per­for­mance at the Pan Amer­i­can Games in Toronto also rated as a mea­sur­ing stick for Rio for OTP and the COC. Cana­di­ans won a Pan Am record 217 medals, in­clud­ing 78 gold.

“Win­ning a medal in any Games is an im­por­tant point in an ath­lete’s ca­reer,” Merklinger said. “Win­ning one at home in this kind of en­vi­ron­ment that peo­ple have re­ferred to as a mini-Olympics is even more im­por­tant.

“There’s been per­for­mances here where ath­letes have ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions be­cause they’re per­form­ing on de­mand, they han­dled the en­vi­ron­ment so well.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­vided an ex­tra $3 mil­lion to OTP for the 2015 Pan Am/Para­pan Am Games to as­sist ath­letes with medal po­ten­tial across all the sports — not just Olympic and Par­a­lympic sports.

“Win­ning a medal in any Games is an im­por­tant point in an ath­lete’s ca­reer. Win­ning one at home in this kind of en­vi­ron­ment that peo­ple have re­ferred to as a mini-Olympics is even more im­por­tant.” Own The Podium ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Anne Merklinger

CP PHOTO

Cana­dian ath­letes dance dur­ing the clos­ing cer­e­mony for the 2015 Pan Am Games Sun­day in Toronto.

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