Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

COC chips in extra $5M to podium effort

Should make big difference in preparing for London Games

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MONTREAL -- There were wrestlers on a mat, a gymnast bounding on a trampoline and even a women's hockey team on skates at the Bell Centre as the Canadian Olympic Committee announced its latest fundraising coup.

Ever the showman, COC president Marcel Aubut used that setting on Thursday to say the COC will inject an extra $5 million into the Own The Podium program to help athletes vie for medals at the 2012 Games in London and beyond.

And he got Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson to donate the use of the vast arena for the news conference, which included lowering the giant scoreboard over centre ice to be a backdrop showing video of Canadian Olympians in action.

The money raised the COC's contribution to $25 million for the 2009-2012 Olympic cycle.

Canadian sport and the COC's fundraising efforts were boosted by Canada's record 14 gold medals at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. Now they hope to make a splash at a summer Games.

"We can become one of the G8 countries as far as supporting athletes," said Aubut. "We're far behind. We have a great reputation for doing a lot with not much. But if we have the funding and equipment the others have, then we can dream about being as good in summer as in winter (Olympics)."

Canada won 18 medals to finish 15th at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing -- three gold, nine silver and six bronze -- but is looking to crack the top 12 in London. Cuba was 12th with 24 medals in China.

"It will make a big difference in preparing for London because the money is coming now and we're in that last year (before the Games)," said Own The Podium chairman John Furlong. "In each cycle the last year is the big year where the athletes are going through their finishing programs.

"This is where the confidence gets built. So it's important."

The Own the Podium program provides funds to the sports that have the best chance to win medals.

Currently, those receiving the most funding are rowing, athletics, swimming, cycling and diving.

The funds go toward supporting athletes and paying coaches, trainers, nutritionists and other support personnel to give them the best chance and best equipment to win medals.

Diver Alexandre Despatie, one of Canada's medal hopes for London, said OTP support has helped his preparation.

"It's not only supporting London and Sochi (the 2014 Winter Games), we're looking ahead," said Despatie. "If it can inspire young athletes to compete and win medals, great.

"But it can also inspire young coaches or therapists to really want to be part of the Olympic team. An investment like this could create that kind of reaction."

Also announced was a "memorandum of understanding" that more clearly defines the roles of the COC and Own The Podium.

"Leading up to today's funding the discussion had been about who's doing what," said Furlong. "We've been able to agree on our respective roles.

"Ideally, we would have only one thing to do, prepare (the athletes), and we would not be involved in communications and marketing and all the other things the COC is involved in. What we're hoping for is that we'll have the funding and we'll apply it the right way and we'll be accountable.

"It's the right way. I'd say the relationship is very healthy."

There were reports that Aubut hoped to absorb Own The Podium into the COC.

"The (agreement) between the COC and Own The Podium ends any friction between the organizations, if there ever was any, so find another story, you journalists," Aubut said with a laugh.

Aubut also said there were two or perhaps three Canadian cities interested in bidding to play host to future Games, but would not name them. Toronto considered bidding for the 2020 Games but opted not to for financial reasons.

Furlong said OTP expects between 50 and 100 candidates to apply to replace Alex Baumann as chief executive offer. The former swimming great who has battled prostate cancer stepped down this year to take a similar job in New Zealand.

He said executive head hunting firm Odgers Berndstson would cut that down to a long list of about 10 by the end of December. A new CEO is expected to be in place in January.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 18, 2011 C6

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