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Federal government honours VANOC commitments

Minister of Sport presents Own The Podium with $11 million

The Government of Canada stepped in last week to meet VANOC's obligation towards the Own The Podium program, committing $11 million of funding through the coming season.

Sports Minister Gary Lunn made the announcement on Friday at the annual Canadian Olympic Committee golf tournament and fundraiser at the Whistler Golf Course, flanked by Olympic committee president Chris Rudge and Own The Podium CEO Dr. Roger Jackson. Downhill star Manuel Osborne-Paradis - an alumnus of the Whistler Mountain Ski Club - was also on hand to tell people how Own The Podium is making a difference for the national ski team.

Ottawa's original contribution to Own The Podium was $55 million, with VANOC matching those funds through corporate sponsorships, provincial sponsorship and fundraisers like the golf tournament. However, VANOC's budget is strained heading into the 2010 Games as a result of the global economic crisis and a decline in sponsorship money and other sources of revenue. The International Olympic Committee has even pledged financial assistance to the Games if there is a budget gap.

Lunn says the federal government is convinced that Own The Podium has value, citing Canada's world-leading 29 medals in world championship competitions this past season - even as key athletes in sports like speed skating, alpine skiing and freestyle skiing were battling injuries.

"Canada has never been the best before (in world championship medals)," said Lunn. "They're on fire. I got to see Manny (Osborne-Paradis) and Mike Janyk win gold and bronze. I got to see our ski cross racers at the World Cup at Cypress where the men won gold, silver and bronze and the women gold and silver.

"One thing I've learned (since taking over the sports ministry) is that it's all about the athletes. They are the most dedicated, most determined people you could ever meet. Own The Podium has been a remarkable success, providing athletes with the resources they need to take the lead."

Jackson used his time on the podium to thank the federal government and explain how Canada's medal prospects have improved since the 2002 Winter Games - from 17 medals and fifth place in 2002 to present day where Canada has as its goal to place first overall in medals in 2010. In terms of Paralympics, Canada's goal was to place in the top-three for gold medals, but in World Cup competition Canada has placed first the past two years.

"We were able to elevate our athletes from a lower level to an exceptional level in only a few years," he said.

Jackson also took a moment to address recent complaints by U.S. athletes that they were not being given a fair amount of access to Olympic venues. He said that international athletes were actually getting more access to the 2010 venues because they were completed so early compared to other recent Games - three or more years out for most venues, when Salt Lake and Torino organizers only completed facilities a year or less out from the Games. Canada has also hosted several international training weeks in addition to the required World Cup test events, and met all IOC requirements for access - while preserving some home field advantage for Canadian athletes by giving them unprecedented access to the venues.

Osborne-Paradis said that access is making a difference.

"When (Own The Podium) came on the scene it really boosted Canadian athletes to where they are now," he said. "We've had funding for camps at Farnham (Glacier), and on Whistler we had a lot of days to ski the Olympic course because of OTP.

"This year Own The Podium hosted a team of Whistler downhill racers before one of the last World Cup events at Kvitfjell (Norway) where we had the best results in Canadian history. We had four guys in the top 10 two days in a row, which is something that has never happened before. Robbie Dixon (of Whistler) had his two best results there, and I won the first race of my career and placed third on the second day. It shows how a little money and support goes a long way."