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Ken Read, president of Alberta Alpine (HO/The Canadian Press)
Ken Read, president of Alberta Alpine (HO/The Canadian Press)

Ken Read

OTP's about more than medal count Add to ...

The most important thing is winning. If you're not in the fight, there's no excitement. It's not about the participation. It's about the scariness of lining up when you have a chance.

That wisdom is from Jake Wetzel, Olympic gold and silver medalist in rowing.

It doesn't matter that Jake is a Summer Olympian. The principles are the same in high-performance sport on ice, snow, water or turf. It's about being in the game.

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The intent of Canada's Own The Podium program has become lost - or perhaps obscured - with the focus on the medal count. Yes, it was always about trying to win more medals than anyone in 2010. But from the get-go, it was clearly stated that this was a stretch goal - an ambitious target intended to galvanize our nation, inspire our athletes, focus our funding and build a foundation of partnership.

Partnership. An easy word to say, but oh, so hard to achieve.

Own The Podium is about partnership. Bringing together, for the very first time, all the disparate parts of Canada's sport system into one vision, one program. Providing, for the very first time, the appropriate resources for our athletes.

In this respect, OTP is an overwhelming success. We have delivered funding, coaching resources, technology, preparation and team unity to build an environment for success. Regardless of the medal count, this is a fact. Canada's team was prepared.

But the armchair quarterbacks who surface every four years - the ones who were crowing loudly halfway through the Beijing Games when Canada's medal count was not where we hoped it would be, and who were curiously silent when the final week produced an onslaught of medals and excitement - are back in force panning Own The Podium.

Hey, critics: OTP was based on the U.S. Olympic program launched after the 1998 Nagano Games, where the United States finished fifth with 13 medals, two behind Canada. It was intended to improve performance and make the team relevant for the Salt Lake City Olympics. Their program worked well, pushing the U.S. team within three medals of "owning the podium" in 2002.

Keep firmly in mind that the U.S. team has now been doing this for 12 years. More than a decade of investment in high-performance programs to deliver Olympic excellence. This support has kept athletes such as Bode Miller and Apolo Ohno at the top of their sports, and developed others, such as Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso, who were still of school age when the U.S. program was launched. These younger athletes are the real beneficiaries. They are succeeding in 2010 because they had the resources to nurture their talent.

Own The Podium was effectively launched in 2006. Yes, some money reached Canada's national sport organizations before the Torino Games, but only tiny amounts. The real impact came after Torino. In four years, we've really only lifted the performance of our top athletes. Nurturing talent requires a much longer horizon.

One cannot emphasize enough the importance of vision in leading sport programs. It transformed Alpine Canada, Swimming Canada and Skate Canada within months.

Vision rallies the troops, brings focus to our widely dispersed nation and gives coherence to the cacophony of funding programs available to athletes from the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Paralympic Committee, Sport Canada, WinSport Canada, and others, including 14 different national sport organizations.

Own The Podium is and must be the rallying point. It gives us the sense of mission, direction, pride, focus, energy, passion and determination to be the best we can be. It has worked brilliantly, building an attitude, a belief that we can compete.

Have we learned from this national mission? That's why OTP set the targets, to thoughtfully consider where we need to make course corrections instead of eviscerating a hugely successful program. For once, we were bold enough to stand up and say we wanted to be players, we wanted to be part of the game. We wanted to line up and face down the competition - as competitive equals. We believed in ourselves. We gave our athletes all the tools needed to aim high and soar.

OTP has delivered inspirational performances and heartbreak. We have seen our cross-country program lift its game, to the point where our athletes may challenge for medals next time. Many athletes have come agonizingly close or gained valuable experience. This is sport. This is what happens when one dreams big.

Own The Podium is a brilliant investment. Let's not fail the next generation who are inspired by our athletes of the 2010 team. The evidence is clear that Canadians want a program like OTP to lift our nation and our future Olympians.

Ken Read is president of Alberta Alpine and former chief executive officer of Alpine Canada. In his racing days, he was a member of the Crazy Canucks, a two-time Olympian and winner of five World Cup downhills.

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