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Gary Lunn, the minister of state for sport, skates on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa on Feb. 9, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)
Gary Lunn, the minister of state for sport, skates on the Rideau Canal in Ottawa on Feb. 9, 2011. (Dave Chan/Dave Chan for The Globe and Mail)

Minister of shadow boxing denies election pending Add to ...

Gary Lunn skied down a large mountain last weekend and had a spectacular crash. No broken bones - but a metaphor for his job as Minister of State for Sport in this post-Olympic year?

"Quite often, when countries host an Olympics, they go over the edge of a cliff because there is this big momentum and it crashes," Mr. Lunn said in an interview this week as he prepares to celebrate the first anniversary of the Vancouver Winter Games.

"... We are doing some really good things, but listen, it will never, ever, measure up to the stories and experience of what was in Vancouver."

Measuring up is something the 53-year-old politician from British Columbia's West Coast is all too familiar with.

Standing only 5 feet 5 inches tall (if that), Mr. Lunn is mocked by the opposition, who yell at him, "Stand up, stand up Gary" when he rises to answer a question in the Commons.

His self-deprecating humour helps. He jokes about how he lobbied hard for more stable funding for high-performance athletes after the euphoria of the Vancouver Games.

"Let's just say Minister [Jim]Flaherty and I see each other eye to eye in many ways," said Mr. Lunn. "[We're]at the same elevation. He might argue he's a quarter of an inch higher, I would argue that we're at the same elevation and we were speaking regularly."

His efforts paid off. Last year's budget allowed an extra $17-million a year for the next two years for the Own the Podium program, which is aimed at ensuring our athletes win medals.

And talk about measuring up, Mr. Lunn wasn't even expecting this job.

He became Sports Minister only after being demoted from the Natural Resources portfolio over the Chalk River isotope crisis.

"Listen, I'll be perfectly honest: Was I disappointed at the time? Absolutely. Did I love my job at Natural Resources? Without question," he said.

But the Olympics, he added, "was an extraordinary experience."

For so many Canadians, those three weeks in Vancouver were magical. And for Mr. Lunn, the magic began long before the opening ceremonies - he was in Greece for the lighting of the torch and accompanied it back to Canada for the cross-country relay.

What really struck him, however, was meeting Joannie Rochette just minutes after her Olympic-medal-winning performance. The Canadian figure skater's mother had died suddenly only days before.

"It was just raw emotion," recalled Mr. Lunn. "A young girl, you just can't possibly imagine what she was going through to give the performance of her life."

He told her the country loved her, that everyone was proud of her, and he managed to get the Prime Minister on his BlackBerry to talk to her.

What has stayed with him, too, is the death of the Georgian luger. He believes John Furlong, the former CEO of VANOC (the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games) and his team deserve "a medal" for the way they handled the tragedy.

This, despite the recent furor over an internal e-mail suggesting there was concern before the Games that the track was too fast.

Replicating 2010, meanwhile, will be difficult. "I'm just being honest. I don't know how we can beat that one," he said.

There will be no high fives from athletes, for example, in this year's budget. Mr. Lunn is a "big believer" in wrestling the $56-billion deficit down to zero.

"I will share with you that I have sent a letter to the Minister of Finance not asking for an extra five cents," he said.

In addition, there is the not-so-small issue of winning his riding in the next election. Although he has represented Saanich-Gulf Islands since 1997, this time he faces competition from Green Party leader Elizabeth May.

Ms. May moved to the riding in August, 2009, and she thinks she has a good shot. "I'm very encouraged," she said, suggesting it will be a close race.

She is working hard to win, knowing that if she loses this one she probably loses her job as leader.

Mr. Lunn, meanwhile, does not refer to Ms. May by name; she is simply one of his "opponents" who he said he takes "seriously" and will debate vigorously.

He doesn't sense an election any time soon, however.

"Not even a whisper. It's just not there. I just don't feel it," he said.

For now, the Sports Minister is on the road - in Halifax for the Canada Games on Friday and in Vancouver on Saturday for the Olympics anniversary. Then he is off to Switzerland to help Canada bid to host soccer's 2015 Women's World Cup.

Looking back on last year, meanwhile, he said that he learned one very important lesson:

"Sport matters … It does make a difference ... It truly can do so much for a nation."

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