Sports science tells us that there are a lot of different factors that go into making an Olympic champion; genetics, the environment in which athletes grow up, their exposure to sports, the resources that are available that allow athletes to progress from recreation into high performance.
From that perspective it makes sense that so many siblings would be represented on Canadian sports teams, vying with and sometimes against one another for berths in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Whistler residents would be most familiar with the brother-sister team of Britt and Mike Janyk. Both were skiing by the age of two under the guidance of their mother Andrée, who was a national level ski racer herself. Both will likely be in the start gates at home in Whistler in February, Britt in downhill and possibly super G and giant slalom, and Mike in slalom.
Conrad and Morgan Pridy have not made it to the national team yet, but both are competing for the B.C. Ski Team and earning points towards the development team.
Freestyle has three sibling teams in the mix. In women's moguls both Chloe and Maxime Dufour-Lapoint are with the national program and competing for one of up to four spots in the 2010 Games. On the men's side it's Vincent and Philippe Marquis, while reigning World Cup champion Alex Bilodeau is watching his sister Beatrice climb the ranks with the development program.
Some of the Canadian men's toughest competition will ironically come from Olympic champion Dale Begg-Smith, a Canadian who grew up in Whistler but is competing for Australia. It's a long story, but Dale's brother Jason also made the switch.
In long track speed skating the B.C. tandem of Denny and Jay Morrison will be competing for spots on a very skilled and competitive team. Jeremy Wotherspoon of Alberta is a past Olympian and World Champion sprinter while his sister Danielle is working her way up the ranks with the short track development team. Anne and Valerie Maltais both have spots on the short track national team, as do Jessica and Jamie Gregg. That makes four sets of siblings vying for Olympic berths.
The hockey world is full of siblings, but only two were invited to Team Canada's training camp in August - Eric and Jordan Staal - although neither may make the cut before the Dec. 31 deadline.
In luge, the brother team of Mike and Chris Moffat will be competing in men's doubles.
Canada's curling representatives are still to be decided but a few of the teams in the running for the men's side have brothers in their lineup.
Richard Way was instrumental in creating a nation-wide Long Term Athlete Development program for a wide range of sports. The goal was to improve athlete development from the most basic levels to focus on skills and movement, creating more high performance athletes while making more Canadians into life-long athletes that stay involved as athletes and coaches.
Way says that parents are extremely important in an athletes' development, and can explain why so many siblings are competing at an Olympic level.
"Parents are very important from both a nature and nurture perspective," he said. "An Olympian once said, 'choose your parents well,' so in terms of the genetics you get it's very important. But more important is the environment in which the parents put the child. An environment of exploring and learning and moving is the one that is right, while the one that is sedentary... where children are put in front of screens... is going to compromise their ability down the road - whether they're physically literate in sports or develop the fundamental skills to be lifelong participants in sports, or not."
Parents also have a role to play as role models. While supporting your child from the sidelines is important, Way said studies have shown that parents who participate as coaches or remain active themselves are generally better role models. As well, parents on the sidelines can give a child an inconsistent message if they question coaching or are not good sports.
"If hockey or soccer parents went for a run or something, or were actually playing a sport while their kids competed, they would actually be helping more," said Way.
It's also important for parents to provide nutritional food at home, and to ensure that young athletes get enough sleep. "Being able to get enough sleep with academic and athletic pursuits can be a real challenge, and it's one of a number of ways a parent can help create a proper environment for their children," said Way.
The sibling rivalry factor is also powerful, and completely natural, says Way. Kids that play together and that are competitive will develop together and incrementally challenge one another to do better.
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