If resigning as Own The Podium’s director of winter sport less than a year before the Sochi Olympics seemed odd to some, it made perfect sense to Ken Read.
Why wait any longer when the bulk of OTP’s work for Sochi was already done? Why stick around when you knew you wanted out before the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea? Why not let a new winter sport director use Sochi as a test drive, to get the feel of things?
It seemed right to Read. So on Monday, after three years in office, the 57-year-old Calgarian announced he was stepping down effective March 28 and that the search for a new winter sport leader was under way. He insisted it wasn’t a difficult decision to make.
“I indicated I did not plan to seek an extension to my contract and that this would allow someone to use the next 10 months to understand where winter sport is going and how to build a system to maintain the success towards 2018,” explained Read, who has held a variety of roles in Canadian sport. “I feel now is an appropriate time to step away.”
Recent developments helped Read determine now as the appropriate time. Last November, the Canadian Olympic Committee gave $7.5-million to OTP, $1.5-million of which went into the current fiscal year. That money became part of the almost $90-million spent on the four-year lead in to Sochi, $10-million more than the quadrennial funding for the Vancouver/Whistler Olympics.
It was Read’s work with sponsors and high-level officials that helped secure a chunk of 2010 and 2014 funding. OTP chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said Read “played a pivotal role in Own the Podium’s evolution, and positioning Canadian athletes for success next winter in Sochi.”
Read wants OTP’s influence to extend beyond 2014.
“We have to support our athletes and get it down to the next generation,” he said. “My most significant piece of advice is we need to be part of educating the Canadian sports system about how much the international system has changed, how we need to be funding sports schools and programs and have the best technical leadership possible or we’ll find ourselves going into 2018 not contending to own the podium, but hoping for top five.”
As a member of the Crazy Canucks alpine ski team, Read achieved international sporting status and was later the chef de mission for Canada’s team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He also served as president and CEO of Alpine Canada. In all his posts, he stressed the importance of trying to win, not just contending.
“People thought we were dreaming in Technicolor when we talked about Owning The Podium,” he recalled. “When you drill down to the athlete who wants to get to the podium, that hasn’t changed. But the resources and thinking has. We hold them to a much higher standard. We expect them to be on that podium and that’s good.”
OTP was founded in 2004 to ensure Canada’s top athletes had the training, coaching and technology needed to win Olympic medals. Read said he has no immediate plans for himself.