Canada’s coaches feel the same emotional payoffs and tolls as their athletes at the 2014 Sochi Winter Games.
Some of the Canadian coaches are former Olympians. They know what athletes are feeling in the big moment.
Anyone who has watched Canadian figure skater Brian Orser gyrate rinkside while his protegés perform can see the coach is out there with the skater in mind if not body.
Long-track speed-skating coaches can call out lap times during races, but many coaches simply become spectators when the athlete they’ve guided to the Games puts their skis, skates and snowboards to the start line.
“I know a lot of coaches, they say they have a real hard time watching and such,” snowboard coach and two-time Olympian Mark Fawcett says.
“They prepare the athletes and know how to train them. On race day, they know what to do and what to say but when they are actually performing, their heart is pretty much stopped and they don’t breathe.”
Hockey player Danielle Goyette was Canada’s flag-bearer at the opening ceremony in 2006. The two-time gold medalist is in Sochi, but behind Canada’s bench this time as an assistant to head coach to Kevin Dineen.
Wayne Gretzky once said while at the helm of the NHL’s Phoenix Coyotes that coaching was harder than playing – and Goyette agrees wholeheartedly.
“Coaching by far. Way harder. Because it’s long hours,” she says. “You don’t sleep a lot, you have to watch everything. You have to make sure you don’t get surprised by any other team. That’s your job.”
The hockey coaches have a measure of control over what happens on the ice, she says, because they decide which players get sent out, with whom and for how long.
“On the bench in hockey, you have the chance to put the players you want on the ice and match lines,” Goyette says. “You’re involved. After the game, you’re totally exhausted.”
The devastation the athletes feel at a performance that doesn’t measure up to their standards, or comes close to a medal but falls short is also felt deeply by their coach.
“I can only say that emotionally it is draining, it kills me, it makes me not happy,” former West German luger Wolfgang Staudinger said after his Canadian luge team finished fourth for a third night in a row.
On the flip side, the coaches feel the same high as their athletes upon success. Canadian bobsleigh coach Tom De La Hunty represented Britain at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
He was buoyant after the golden performance of Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse at the sliding track in Krasnaya Polyana.
“When I stopped competing, I thought I’d miss it, but I never missed it at all because the thrill of coaching and seeing people’s victories and their heartaches – there’s as many ups as there are downs – it’s just as great a thrill for me,” De La Hunty said.
“And if you could have seen me at the top of the track, you’d have seen how thrilled I was. It was amazing. It’s a fantastic buzz. It’s as good as competing, being a coach.”
Coaching became a priority of the Own the Podium funding program after the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver.
OTP spent money on upping coaching expertise with training or education, or simply providing the dollars to hire qualified coaches across various sports.
The Canadian Olympic Committee also recognized the importance of the coaches’ contributions by introducing bonus money for medals prior to the 2012 Summer Games in London: $10,000 per gold, $7,500 for silver and $5,000 for bronze (compared to $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze for the athletes).