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$20.10; Canada's Olympic athletes launch on-line fundraiser

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CALGARY - Canada's athletes are asking the public for 20 dollars and a dime for their final push to the 2010 Olympics and Paralympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

They aim to raise $5 million by the end of April by virtue of a "Get Behind Our Athletes" on-line fundraising campaign at Olympicfoundation.ca.

Canadian taxpayers have already given them $55 million through the Own The Podium, which is a five-year, $120-million plan to help the host country win the most medals in 2010.

The on-line fundraiser would cap the $55 million of corporate and private donations that matches the federal government's contribution to OTP. The remaining $10 million comes from the Canadian Olympic Committee and Paralympic Committee.

"We wanted to scale down support to something that would be reasonable for Canadians," said freestyle skier Ryan Blais of Grande Prairie, Alta. "So 20 dollars and 10 cents to support athletes in 2010, we think is something that is very reasonable.

"Aside from that, it's a chance for Canadians to be a part of the Games and the experience so when the athletes are standing on the podium they can say 'I contributed to that.' "

The campaign was launched to take advantage of the high profile of the Vancouver Olympics a year out from the Games and not because of shortfalls in OTP's corporate contributions, says Claire Buffone-Blair, the program's director of planning and operations.

"It was always part of the plan to engage the public," Buffone-Blair said. "It's all about asking Canadians to step up and believe in Canada's winter athletes.

"It's much easier to engage them one year out than three or four years out of the Games."

While 2010 sponsors such as General Motors are struggling mightily in the sagging economy, Buffone-Blair insists OTP is not losing money because of it.

"All corporate sponsors are making good on their commitments," she said. "Some are even considering providing earlier payments to the program.

"GM has fulfilled its commitment to Own The Podium."

Buffone-Blair says if two per cent of the 13.5 million households in Canada made a $20.10 donation, the $5-million target would easily be reached.

The fundraising campaign is similar in theme to one run by Canada Athletes Now, which lobbied Canadians last year to donate $8 to athletes for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. CAN is not affiliated with the COC, OTP or the Vancouver organizing committee.

"The (Canada) Athletes Now is direct support to athletes in their pockets," Buffone-Blair said. "This fundraising campaign, all the funds are going directly to the Own The Podium program.

"This is unique in that it's supporting a system and not directly to the athlete."

Canadian women's hockey team defenceman Tessa Bonhomme points out that when the players are centralized in Calgary in August to try out for the Olympic team, many move away from home, give up their jobs or a year of school, and might also have to pay rent on a second home during those months.

"We're putting everything on hold to train day in and day our for this and we're pretty much putting our whole lives into it," said the 23-year-old from Sudbury, Ont.

Cross-country skier Brian McKeever, a multi-medallist Paralympian aiming to also race in the Olympics, says while the $20.10 might not go directly to him, the money pays for a myriad of services that can make him one of the top racers in the world.

"We can now have our own therapist for the team and increased support staff and buy the equipment that we need," explained the 29-year-old from Canmore, Alta. "We have a lot of special adaptive equipment for the Paralympic side, things like sit skis and the specific designs that are very individual to each athlete and very expensive."

Kevin Martin's curling team is a frontrunner to represent Canada at the Olympics and third John Morris of Calgary says the injection of OTP money has made a world of difference in their quest for gold.

"They've really worked hard at the Saville Centre up in Edmonton to make it a state-of-the-art curling facility," the Calgarian said. "It allows us also to curl three or four more months of the year than we have in the past. Usually our summers are pretty much dry-land training and now we have ice for most the summer also.

"This is something that other countries have done. You'll see China, Scotland and Norway, these countries have done this for awhile and it's made big changes for them. That's something we want to keep up with."

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