The Sochi Games are over and the data are conclusive: Own the Podium works. Created in 2004, it has proved that it gets results. But where does it go from here? Without growth, Own the Podium risks becoming irrelevant to Canadians, who after all are footing the bill and getting used to success. They will want to see more for their money.
OTP funnels money from Ottawa to national sports programs whose athletes are deemed to have a shot at winning an Olympic medal. Our athletes in Sochi received more than $80-million in OTP funding and won 25 medals, including 10 golds. In Vancouver, with funding of $70-million, Canada won 14 gold medals – the most by one country ever in a Winter Games – and took home 26 medals.
That’s nearly $3-million per medal over two Winter Games. The sheer joy of seeing our athletes win makes the cost worth it for most Canadians. But problems with the OTP, and with its basic concept, are beginning to show.
In terms of medal count – the only metric by which Own the Podium measures itself – Canada has been stagnant for three Winter Olympics. We took home 24 medals at the 2006 Turin Winter Games, 26 in 2010, and 25 this year.
As well, some of the larger chunks of money directed by OTP delivered negligible results in Sochi, including $7.1-million for alpine skiing (one medal), $8.6-million for snowboarding (2 medals); $6.9-million for skeleton and luge (0 medals); and $4.9-million for cross-country skiing (0 medals).
Then there are the Summer Olympics. Canada didn’t meet its goal of finishing in the top 12 at the London Games in 2012; it missed it by one spot, with 18 medals. The larger issue is that Canada, according to the OTP, has a “relatively thin pool of podium potential summer sport athletes.” There’s no system in place to change that.
OTP takes proven athletes and tries to put them back on the podium. What it doesn’t do is find and train a new generation of competitors across more sports. Other countries have caught on to Canada’s single-mindedness and are starting to better fund their athletes. It will be harder in four years to win our now habitual 25 medals. And we remain uncompetitive in sports in which we haven’t had past success, especially at the Summer Games.
Canadians, though, expect our athletes to continue on the hugely successful arc of the past eight years. To do that, Ottawa needs to continue generously funding Own the Podium. And it, in turn, needs to broaden its goals and start developing unproven talent.