Ken Read vows to restore national ski program to its former glory
A few months ago it appeared as if the Canadian alpine ski program had hit rock bottom. Athletes failed to win even a single medal during the Olympics, and following the Games Alpine Canada Alpin (ACA), the governing body for alpine skiing in Canada, dissolved the mens speed team for the end of the season.
The coaches were released. Edi Podivinsky, the Olympic bronze medal winner in downhill at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, announced his retirement after a poor showing and a spate of injuries. Darin McBeath, who also struggled this season, was demoted from the national team.
Less than three weeks later, the ACA announced that they were releasing president Kerry Moynihan and would be refocusing their efforts to rebuild the team into a contender.
After months of searching for Moynihans replacement, interviewing dozens of candidates from Canada and around the world, the ACA decided to rest their dreams of future glory on the shoulders of its former glory Ken Read, a founding member of the legendary Crazy Canucks.
When Dave Murray, Dave Irwin, Steve Podborski or Ken Read exploded out of the gates, whether they were racing at home or in Europe, spectators stood on their toes to get a better look. Because when a Crazy Canuck was on the downhill course, you were usually assured of seeing one of two things: a spectacular finish or a spectacular crash.
These days, thanks to improvements to equipment, conditioning and course grooming, the downhill almost looks easy. Back in the 1970s and 80s however, the racers were all over slope, up on one leg around turns, flailing to stay in control as they cut through the ruts, and getting airborne in places where they werent supposed to. It was truly all or nothing, and the Crazy Canucks won the crowds, and more than their fair share of podiums, because they lived as close to the edge as you can get.
Read may be older and wiser, but he is every bit as determined to win as the ACA president as he was when he raced.
"Our most important priority is to put athletes back on the podium," said Read, who is based at the Canadian Alpine Ski Team headquarters in Calgary. "The very clear message here is that we want to win. I want that to be very clear for the athletes, and to do so the organization has to bring the resources to bear so the athletes have the tools to be successful."
Although the team and ACA were in disarray following the Olympics, Read feels he inherited a team that is in a good position, although the media might see things otherwise.
"The story about the coaches and the president dominated last year, but my stance on that is that it was last year," Read said. "The thing that got lost was the rest of the team, where there was some promise, where there were some good stories."
For example, Genevieve Simard was named the World Cup rookie of the year. Allison Forsyth earned a silver medal in a World Cup GS at Copper Mountain. Thomas Grandi made a strong comeback and Jean-Philippe Roy a strong debut with moderate success for the mens technical team. Quebec racer Sophie Splawinski won the overall NorAm title. Whistlers Britt Janyk won the Europa Cup GS title.
"There were stories, but as we move forward there needs to be a lot more of them, not just the occasional ones," said Read. "The goal for this organization is to produce winners, and in order to do that in ski racing you cant hang your hat on one champion. There have to be a number of them.
"By having a number of competitive athletes, you create an atmosphere where they support and push and feed off each other, and that creates a competitive environment like the Crazy Canucks, like weve had on the womens speed team in the past, and kind of like we have now with Allison (Forsyth) and Genevieve (Simard), (Melanie) Turgeon and Anne-Marie Lefrancois, (Thomas Grandi) and J.P. Roy."
During his 10 year World Cup career (1973 to 1983), Read won five World Cup downhills. In 1975, he was the first non-European to ever win a World Cup downhill.
He earned 14 World Cup medals, raced in two Olympics, and was named Canadas male athlete of the year twice.
He is a member of the Order of Canada, an inductee into the Canadian Sports hall of Fame and Canada Ski Museum.
Read is also a member of the International Ski Federation (FIS) alpine executive board, and has been a member of the Canadian Olympic Association since 1981.
Once he retired from competitive skiing, Read earned an economics degree and built a successful national event management company. To date, his charity work has raised $2.8 million.
He has remained deeply involved in sports, and in April was honoured with the Bruce Kidd Award for his lifetime commitment to athlete leadership.
"Ive always been actively involved in the ski team, since before I was a member of it. My parents were quite actively involved at all levels, from club to the provincial association, to what was then the Canadian Ski Association."
His mother, Dee Read was recently added to the Honour Roll of Canadian Skiing in recognition of her contributions to the national ski program as an athlete, coach, volunteer administrator, international official and ski racing parent.
Kens younger brother is the head coach of the Sunshine Village Ski Club, and his older brother is the chairman of Ski Jump Canada and has a 14-year-old who is involved in ski flying.
"Our parents instilled in us the drive to be involved," said Read.
Read is a youthful 46-years-old. Hes bilingual. Hes remembered and revered by the Canadians who watched him race, and even recognized by younger Canadians who are familiar with the Crazy Canucks through television and their history textbooks.
For the ACA, Read was the logical choice.
"Ken Read is a winner, an established leader, and a Canadian ski racing legend with proven business acumen," said ACA chair Renaud Beauchesne, who announced Reads appointment on May 23.
"Our action today demonstrates our firm intent to win World Cups, to deliver Olympic success, and to rekindle the passionate enthusiasm for ski racing Canadians have enjoyed in the past."
According to Read, in addition to rebuilding the national team, the organization has to get more involved at the club level.
"Where are we losing our edge? Were losing our edge at age 11. Were losing 90 per cent of skiers right there. We need to be number one at increasing the numbers so we have a bigger pool of athletes that we can start to draw on," he said.
Making the sport affordable and keeping parents involved are key at this level, and Read believes the ski hills can be instrumental in the ACAs long-term goal of doubling the number of club athletes in the country.
While the ACA is in better shape financially than in the past, Read said he will continue to look for sponsorship opportunities and to find ways to increase support for athletes.
The ACA will also continue to partner with other snow sports organizations, including snowboarding, freestyle, nordic skiing, and ski jumping to streamline the administrative side of operations "and put more money in the athletes pockets."
Another initiative is to increase the profile of the sports by inviting more events to Canada and North America. Read believes there is room to create a technical ski centre to share the event currently held at Park City in Utah, and possibly to add another event to the calendar.
The ACA is also bidding to win the 2004 alpine World Championships, and to once again host the World Junior Championships. The Vancouver 2010 Olympic bid is also an important event for the ACA.