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Former World Cup and Olympic downhill ski racer Steve Podborski in Whistler April 14, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Former World Cup and Olympic downhill ski racer Steve Podborski in Whistler April 14, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Podborski is the face and personality of Team Canada Add to ...

Read is something of a brother. He was a teammate in Crazy Canucks days and went on to help resurrect Alpine Canada in the 2000s; more recently, he was director of winter sports at Own The Podium to ready Canada for Sochi. Read joked that he and Podborski have spent more time together than they have with their own wives. Read also knows the job of chef de mission, having held the role for the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.

In Sochi, logistics will be a challenge, given the remoteness of the Games. The chef is there with the winners – and those who do not win. And the job can be “very serious business,” Read said – handling the likes of the Ben Johnson steroid scandal in 1988, or the 2002 judging controversy in figure skating featuring Jamie Salé and David Pelletier.

For Podborski, security could be his biggest challenge. In a recent interview, he noted that while the threats seem greater right now, security has been a major issue since the “enormous changes” at the post-Sept. 11 Games in Salt Lake City in 2002. Plans such as emergency evacuations are always in hand. Mobile phones are pre-programmed with key numbers. Essential information is on the back of accreditation badges – “if something goes sideways,” he said. “We are concerned, as everybody is, but not more than one should expect. Everything’s planned. Everything’s looked at. It would be extraordinary if it happened. It’s not extraordinary to plan.”

Given the range of roles in the job of chef, Read said Podborski has the combination of traits Canada needs in its leader. “He can command an audience,” Read said. “He can inspire them. He can entertain them. And he’s credible.”

Podborski is poised for the biggest Olympic role of his life, at least since he stood atop New York’s Whiteface Mountain on Feb. 14, 1980.

“People often wonder what the hell the job is, right, but it’s really to inspire, to lead, to talk on behalf of the team, to be the team leader,” Podborski said at Whistler. “Our team is so good. There’s so many great athletes, it’s not really about me at all. If I can add half a per cent, or a per cent, that’s a lot in high-performance sport.”

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