Top 2010 prospects converge in Whistler 

Olympic Excellence seminars provide wisdom from athletes that have been there

While the Canadian cross-country and biathlon teams squeeze in some late-season training at Whistler Olympic Park, and the alpine athletes make run after run on the Olympic downhill courses on Whistler Mountain, the Canadian Olympic Committee is getting ready to host a series of seminars to prepare athletes for 2010.

“What is happening is that we’re planning two get-togethers between now and the (2010) Games, this weekend in Whistler and in June 2009 in a location to be determined,” said Sylvie Bigras, the press chief for the Canadian team in 2010.

“These are really the only two times we’ll have to get all the top athletes together, they’re usually off training with their teams all over the world and doing different things.

“We don’t want the Games to be the first time for the teams to be all together, we want the athletes from different teams to get to know each other and for the teams to learn from each other.”

The qualification period for Canadian athletes runs through December 2009, and no teams or athletes have been selected yet. However, it’s a safe bet that most of the athletes invited to the seminars will be making an appearance in 2010 based on a top-five world ranking, a top five result in a recent world championships, or a series of strong results that indicate podium potential.

The seminars will cover a wide variety of topics, and most will be guided by past Olympians. Presenters include figure skater Brian Orser, speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, freestyle skier Veronica Brenner, rower Marnie McBean, and 2010 chef de mission Nathalie Lambert.

“It’s a combination of information sharing and experience sharing on what the athletes can expect from all kinds of different perspectives, from people that have been there and have been in a home Games,” said Bigras. “Brian Orser, for example, is a good example because he was in Calgary in 1988 and was a silver medalist there.”

Bigras stresses that these Games will be a lot different for athletes, even athletes with Olympic experience, because they’re taking place at home. As a result there can be more pressure, more media exposure, and more distractions to deal with.

Bigras herself is giving a presentation on what athletes can expect from the media.

“The group I’m leading is about the communication services that we’re offering, and how we can help each Canadian sports federation come up with a media plan to deal with the pressure from media at home,” she said. “It’s a fact that media attention will be exponentially bigger than when the athletes are away, and teams need to be prepared for it and have a plan to manage it properly.

“Everything about a home Games is a little different. For example, our summer teams going to Beijing are bringing a nutritional counsellor because the food is a little different and they need to watch what the athletes are eating a little more closely. We won’t need that in Vancouver and Whistler because it’s home for most athletes, but we may need more sports psychologists or other experts to work with the teams and athletes.”

The first half of the conference will focus on athletes, and the second half will be geared to coaches that are representative of all Canadian winter sports.

Although only the top athletes are invited, the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is rolling out several other initiatives over the next year with national sports federations to involve all athletes and coaches.

“A home Games is different than any other Games, and that’s what we need to get across to the teams and athletes and help them to be as prepared as they can possibly be in 2010,” said Bigras.

The Olympic Excellence Series takes place May 9-12.

In June, the COC will return to Whistler with 40 members of the Canadian Olympic Academy to tour the facilities and meet with Canadian athletes and sports ambassadors.

In November, the COC and Vancouver Organizing Committee (VANOC) will host a World Press Briefing in Whistler and Vancouver to meet with journalists and photographers that will be covering the 2010 Olympics and the events leading up the Games.

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