Canada's skeleton athletes, vying for team position in their second selection race in Whistler, had a leg up on the home front this weekend.
Unlike the last visit where all their meals were catered, this time the sliders could make their own meals, or pick from a team meal plan made out of a new kitchen during their seven-day stay at the athletes' lodge.
And that makes a difference for athletes, said slider Eric Neilson, explaining that many of them are on unique diets.
"Having this is awesome, it's great," he said, sitting in the 70-seat kitchen, the mouth-watering smells of lunch wafting throughout the room. "Being able to come in and cook what you want... is really beneficial."
Whistler Sport Legacies is banking on the $350,000 kitchen upgrade making a difference too. But it's not looking at times on the ice, rather occupancy levels at the athletes' lodge in Cheakamus Crossing.
Operations manager Christian Boone, who oversees the three facilities that make up the Whistler Athletes' Centre, said the kitchen, which was completed at the beginning of the summer, is already having an impact.
"We've certainly seen our occupancy go up since we added the kitchen," said Boone.
During its peak time over the winter, the lodge is at roughly 25 to 30 per cent occupancy.
"Without even marketing this kitchen yet those are the numbers we're getting so we should see that continue, and go up," said Boone.
Teams often have tight daily food budgets for athletes, some as low as $25 to $30 per day per athlete.
"The only way you're going to do that to get three meals a day is if you're cooking for yourself," said Boone.
"This (kitchen upgrade) was the smartest option so that we could capture the largest group."
Groups like the 40-member national skeleton team in Whistler for the second, and final, team selection race, which will determine positions in the rankings. After the weekend Neilson learned he made the World Cup team for the upcoming season, along with John Fairbairn and Jon Montgomery, who won the gold in Whistler in 2010.
"This year is very important because you can get your Olympic qualifiers," said Neilson.
The goal, on most minds at the lodge this past weekend, is the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
During the 2010 Games the area was a computer lab, located at the front of the lodge. It's now a 127 sq. metre open concept kitchen and dining area, ideal so teams can have cooking demos with nutritionists.
There are three cooking stations, each with an industrial oven and six gas burner stove tops, as well as three full-size fridges and two under-counter fridges. And all the other kitchen gadgets to make a home-cooked meal.
The Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Games (VANOC) paid for the upgrade out of its transition fund (see Torino sliding track story, page 13).
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