“We can’t do that with every sport, we don’t have the financial capacity, so we’re going to have to make some hard decisions,” Merklinger said.
For some it will mean doing more with significantly less means; for others, it means only a slight shift in priorities.
Alpine Canada’s women’s team, for example, has already reoriented its efforts away from speed events toward technical disciplines – Gagnon, 24, finished ninth in the slalom in Sochi, and 23-year-old Erin Mielzynski broke a 40-year-old World Cup gold medal drought in 2012.
The snowboard team, which took home only two of the five medals it was expecting to win, has some of the world’s best young talent (slopestyle bronze medalist Mark McMorris is 20, teammates Maxence Parrot and Sebastien Toutant are 19 and 21 respectively).
Not every sport boasts such depth, and there are consequences to the hard decisions Merklinger alluded to: NSOs that see funding for elite programs cut will necessarily have less money to go around for development and the grassroots. The enterprise isn’t without risk, as one veteran amateur sport official put it: “That approach is only going to get you a smaller cohort.”
Former OTP winter program head Ken Read recently emphasized the need to address the gaps in the so-called “podium pathway” – in other words, creating the more seamless transition between recreational and elite sports that Donnelly and others advocate. Only then will Canada be able to count on a steady stream of new talent for its national teams.
“It’s not too late,” he said in a recent interview. “But we don’t have a lot of time to waste.”