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Halvorsen out as program director for Canadian speedskating team

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The director of the sport expected to be Canada's biggest medal producer at the Vancouver Olympics has resigned less than a year before the 2010 Games.

Speed Skating Canada hired Finn Halvorsen in 2006 as director of the long-track team, which had won eight medals at the Olympics earlier that year, to continue the team's success into 2010.

The organization announced Tuesday that the Norwegian has resigned because of philosophical differences with the organization.

"We reached a point where there was some significant differences between his management, leadership objectives and direction and ours," SSC director general Jean Dupre said Tuesday from Ottawa.

"We sat down and tried to look at various ways of resolving this and came to the conclusion that it was not possible. Therefore, he presented us with his resignation, which, unfortunately, we accepted."

Halvorsen did not deal directly with the skaters, but with the coaches of the various programs: sprints, middle and long distances and the team pursuit.

"It was an overall sentiment or feeling of not going in the same direction, specific to implementation of the last phase of the (2010) program," Dupre said.

Halvorsen said in an email to The Canadian Press that he could not comment at this point about his resignation.

Prior to joining the Canadian organization, he was a consultant for the Norwegian Olympic Committee and was head of the U.S. speed skating team's high performance program from 1998 to 2002.

Dupre said Halvorsen had helped set Canada's course for 2010 by hiring American Michael Crowe to coach the sprinters and Dutchwoman Ingrid Paul to work with skaters such as Christine Nesbitt, who won the world championship in the 1,000 metres this year.

"He has complemented our coaching expertise we have in Canada with some outside coaches," Dupre said. "He brought in a lot of good things except in terms of where we are at now in the implementation of everything."

The Canadian team is coming off an eight-medal performance at the world single distance championships at the Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C.

Canada is expected to better that number in 2010 with the return of multi-Olympic medallist Cindy Klassen and world-record holder Jeremy Wotherspoon. Klassen recovered from knee surgery all season and Wotherspoon broke his arm in his second race of the season.

Speed Skating Canada has set a combined target of 15 medals for its long-and short-track teams in Vancouver, but long track is the country's stronger discipline.

Own The Podium, the five-year, $120-million business plan designed to help the host country win the most medals at its own Games, has pumped $5.9 million into the long-track program since 2005. The federal government provides $55 million of OTP's budget.

Dupre says the long-track team can stay the course without Halvorsen. Brian Rahill, high performance and Olympic program director, will fill his duties in the lead up to and at the Olympics.

"Nothing to worry about," Dupre said. "It's not in the last year of a four-year plan that we can change anything. The idea is not to change anything. On the contrary, we have shown we're on target.

"Our performances have demonstrated we are going in the right direction."

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