Whistler camp breeds 2010 Olympians in moguls 

John Smart to watch this weekend’s Cypress events with special memories

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When he watches the freestyle mogul events this weekend at Cypress Bowl, John Smart won't just be remembering his own Olympic story.

He will be thinking about several of the athletes and how he was a part of their Olympic stories too.

That's because John Smart has been operating Momentum Ski Camps in Whistler for the past 19 years. It's a kids' camp, with some adult programs, that entices young teens to the Blackcomb Glacier in the summer where they can learn from the best in the business - their heroes.

The camp began in 1992, the same year Smart competed in his first Olympic Games, in Albertville, France. Now his camp alumni include 2010 medal contenders like Alex Bilodeau, Jenn Heil, Kristi Richards, Dale Begg-Smith and Pat Deneen.

"Let me preface this whole thing," said Smart, from his office in Function Junction. "They came to the camp then went on to do great things. We can't take all the credit at all."

World Cup gold medalist Alex Bilodeau was just 11 years old when he first came to camp. Generally Smart only takes kids 12 years and older for the eight-day camps, but there are exceptions to the rule.

"He had a lot of drive and you'd see it," said Smart of Bilodeau.

The 22-year-old has since gone on to eight podium finishes in the 2008-09 World Cup season. Last year he was named FIS Overall Champion. He is someone to watch this Sunday.

The same can be said of 2006 Olympic gold medalist Jenn Heil, who came through the camp in the mid-90s, and Kristi Richards who was already shining when she attended the camp both in 1996 and 1999.

Dale Begg-Smith is another story. Like Heil, he is the reigning Olympic gold medalist. And although he was born in Vancouver he now competes for his adopted country, Australia.

Smart personally coached Begg-Smith in Whistler.

To watch him win gold at the Torino 2006 Games: "It just blew me away," said Smart.

And then there's American Patrick Deneen, the leading U.S. skier coming to the 2010 Games.

He attended a Momentum spring and summer camp eight years ago.

"He was just showing talent in 2002," recalled Smart. "He was far from getting on the U.S. National Team but he was a kid who just followed and copied."

The secret to the camp's success, he said, is bringing in the top skiers in the business, whether that's World Cup moguls skiers or pro skiers from the X-Games.

"They add so much more to the training process," said Smart.

"First of all they (the kids) won't question anything that's being said. They look and listen and follow. And I think that's where the success and where the replications come out of this. These kids who come to the camp choose to come to the camp because they want to be taught by the best in the world."

Unlike the athletes of today, Smart never had anyone to copy on the slopes, other than his buddies.

At 13 years old it wasn't unusual for him to hitchhike up the highway from his home in Lions Bay to his family's cabin in Whistler. He shakes his head at the thought of his own sons doing that when they turn 13. Different times, he shrugs.

"I couldn't miss a weekend," recalled Smart. "I mean I was fanatical."

There was a group of kids, he said, that would ski moguls all day - Chunky's Choice - riding the Blue Chair over and over and over again.

"That's all I ever wanted to do."

Smart didn't get any formal coaching until he made the national team.

From there he competed at the Albertville Olympic Games in 1992 and the Lillehammer Olympic Games in 1994.

Since then he has been honing the talent of the new up-and-comers and once they make it, enticing them back into the program to coach the new kids.

He's often asked: does my son or daughter have what it takes to make it in this sport?

"And I say, 'it's not whether he has the talent, it's whether he has the motivation and the drive to go the distance... because that's what's going to carry you through the training that's required. That's what's going to make you go the distance and have the endurance to go that distance."

The freestyle skiing moguls events take place this weekend, the women's competition on Saturday and the men's on Sunday.

John Smart will be there, remembering those little kids that he coached and thinking about how they made it this far.

 

 

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