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Olympic performances will determine future funding

Alpine Canada hoping for two medals at 2010 Games, despite injuries

More than five years ago Alpine Canada Alpin released a strategic plan to coincide with the larger Own The Podium 2010 program for Canada's winter sports, mapping out their goals - big and small - for the near future.

Among their goals were two medals at the 2009 World Championships, which they met with John Kucera winning the downhill and Mike Janyk placing third in slalom. They missed podium targets set for the World Cup season, but the sheer number of athletes finishing in the top 10 showed that the program was succeeding in making Canada a leading nation in the sport of ski racing.

One of Alpine Canada's goals was to win two medals in the 2010 Winter Games. And while injuries to some medal contenders like John Kucera, Kelly VanderBeek, Jean-Philippe Roy and Francois Bourque may have moved the goalposts back, Alpine Canada athletic director Max Gartner says nothing has changed.

"We've always said that the team still has quality people that can deliver these medals," said Gartner, meeting with reporters at the Alpine Canada House (Firerock Lounge) on the eve of the 2010 Games.

"Obviously we would have liked to have had everyone here healthy and we've lost top athletes in some of the events, but in others, like the men's speed events, the women's speed events, we still have contenders and we're still looking for that gold."

Canadian alpine skiers had three fourth-place finishes at the Torino Olympics in 2006. Canadian athletes had a total of 12 fourth place finishes in Torino.

Gartner is aware of just how important a medal will be for the team going forward. He's been on the coaching and administrative side of the sport since 1981 and has seen Olympic cycles come and go seven times already. A gold medal would boost the program through the next four years.

After an Olympic Games funding traditionally drops off for national sports organizations. For one thing, funding for Own The Podium will be cut significantly, down to $11 million annually. The organization is requesting another $22 million a year moving forward (winter sports only) but the federal government's round table on sports has not yet issued a response.

Sponsorship can also drop. Many sponsors committed to the team through the Olympics or the 2011 season, before the economic crisis changed the financial landscape. It's unknown how the team and individual athletes could be affected.

Winning medals at 2010 would help the ski team moving forward.

"All of our guys are still pretty young. (Swiss skier Didier) Cuche is 10 years older than Robbie Dixon, for example," Gartner said. "On the men's side I feel we have some really good years ahead of us, because most of the guys won't even be reaching their prime until 2014 and they're already on the podium.

"We all know the situation with funding, and that unfortunately funding drops off after a home Olympics. We have to plan for that - we've had meetings, but we're really focused on the next few weeks. We know it's important to do well here because it will increase our support in the future.

"We're hoping that the Canadian team does well, not just Alpine. In sports you have to strike when the iron is hot, and hopefully people will like that we have strong teams in the Olympics and we're winning medals and we'll get good funding going forward."

Gartner acknowledged that it won't be easy. The Olympic format is different than the World Cup in that top alpine nations are limited to a maximum of four athletes in most events while athletes from other countries who would normally start at the back of the pack suddenly find themselves in a smaller field with a chance to do well.

"They might see it as an opportunity, a once-in-a-lifetime chance and put it all on the line," said Gartner. "Other athletes might be thinking about the World Cup series and the races that come after this, and might be a little more hesitant. Usually the top guys come through, but in the Olympics anything can happen."