With Whistler Olympic Park newly minted as a national training centre for ski jumping, the Canadian Olympic team is spending this week taking full advantage of the Callaghan Valley facility.
And the Canadian team itself is newly minted, having been named in Vancouver on Sunday, Jan. 26. It includes three female athletes who are headed to Sochi for their sport's first Olympic appearance.
Women's ski jumping, a source of controversy during the 2010 Games due to its exclusion, is finally on the Olympic program and will make its long-awaited debut during the first week of competition in Sochi.
For Calgary's Atsuko Tanaka, being part of the historic cohort of female jumpers is something special.
"It's amazing," the 22-year-old said Tuesday, Jan. 28 after the team wrapped up its second day of training in Whistler. "So many people have pushed for this sport to be in the Olympics — pioneer jumpers that are still jumping like Lindsey Van, Jessica Jerome and all the Americans, Anette Sagen from Norway, (Austria's) Daniela Iraschko. They've been in the sport for so long and they've been pushing and pushing for this sport to be more recognized.
"Without them, we wouldn't be here right now, and our generation probably (owes) thanks to them for their hard work to get our sport into the Olympics."
Tanaka, Taylor Henrich and Alexandra Pretorius will round out the Canadian women's team in Sochi. Tanaka said the fact that she's headed to the Games really sunk in during Sunday's team introduction.
"Being able to wear those Canada jackets and just represent our country will be amazing," she said.
But the Canadian women are more than just happy to be there. They're headed to Sochi with some medal potential.
Pretorius, 18, has two summer Grand Prix wins under her belt, though she's on the comeback from knee surgery and hasn't competed yet this winter. Meanwhile, Tanaka and 18-year-old Henrich are both ranked in the top 25 on the World Cup circuit this season and are both knocking on the door of their first podium finish.
In fact, Tanaka came as close to a World Cup medal as one can get at Sapporo, Japan, earlier this month, finishing a career-best fourth by one-tenth of a point.
"It really sucked that I couldn't get on that podium, but I now have that confidence and know that I can be amongst those top athletes," she said.
Although all of the women's competitors will be at the Olympics for the first time, the Canadians could perhaps find a slight edge in that the last Games were on home snow. That allowed Tanaka the opportunity to forerun the men's event in 2010.
"I got to experience the whole Olympic atmosphere part of it in Vancouver, so that's really going to help me," she said. "I know what's to be expected now."
The men's team will be led by Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes, who's headed to his second Olympics and recently posted his first-ever individual World Cup top 10. Trevor Morrice hadn't competed since the 2010 Games but has come out of retirement this season to take a run at Sochi, while first-time Olympians Dusty Korek and Matthew Rowley will round out the team.
The ski jump hills at Whistler Olympic Park have been seldom used since 2010, serving as the venue for Canadian Championship competition, but being somewhat of an afterthought when it came to national team training. That's all changing with the new training centre designation, and Rowley said the group is thrilled to be back in Whistler for its final training camp before Sochi.
"Absolutely thrilled," said Rowley, who's here until Sunday, Feb. 2 with the rest of the team. "Honest to God, these are my favourite facilities. (They're) absolutely world class, brand new and just the ideal hills to be training on.
"Coming out here is literally a breath of fresh air."
Compared to the facilities in Calgary, Whistler offers more consistent conditions and hills more akin to what the athletes see when competing internationally, Tanaka and Rowley both said. The flight pattern at the 2010 Olympic venue is also similar to what they'll see in Sochi, making this week's training especially beneficial.
"For all these years after the (Vancouver) Olympics, we've just been wishing we could come here," said Rowley. "I think we're going to take full advantage of this opportunity."
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