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Pique n' your interest

Does Canada want to win?

One of the greatest junior welterweight boxers of all time, Kostya Tszyu, once told me that when he wanted to focus on training before a title fight he went to the Australian Institute of Sport, or the AIS.

Tszyu is a Russian born Australian fighter so his exact words were: "I go to AIS and smash myself to be ready."

Around the same time one of my rugby teammates from high school, Matthew Dunning, was selected for the NSW side (he now plays for Australia) and they had a pre-season camp.

The NSW team managers wanted to put as much muscle on their younger players as they could in a short space of time so they sent them to the AIS in Canberra.

The AIS is an indispensable resource for all kinds of athletes but it’s always hard to get a sense of what happens there until the Olympics roll round.

And now that the Olympics have started in Athens there is one thing that everyone can be certain of.

Every Australian athlete competing in Athens would have lived at the AIS (or one of its state-based subsidiaries) or been trained or advised by someone that works at the AIS.

The AIS costs Australian taxpayers $150 million a year, which is three times what the Canadian government spends on sport, and while that is a lot of money the benefits far outweigh the cost.

Examples of the AIS’s work is most evident whenever an Australian wins a medal.

For example, the cycling world was shocked last week when three Australian women finished in the top 15 in the cycling road race.

Sara Carrigan from Gunnedah in the NSW outback won the gold medal - only four years after being unable to break into the Australian team — while Oenone Wood finished fourth and Olivia Gollan was twelfth.

In what was one of the most competitive races in the history of women’s cycling the result was an incredible one for Australia’s cycling team, but if you look at the kind of training the Australian women have the result is not that surprising.

At the AIS Carrigan, Wood and Gollan, like the rest of the cycling athletes, would have been tested in a lab in conditions exactly like those in Athens.

The team managers would have experimented with different kinds of fluids and every team member would have had their own drinks made for the race.

All the riders would have had an option of training at the AIS or at a state-based institution such as the NSW Institute of Sport, or NSWIS.

At the AIS or QIS or VIS or NSWIS the riders can focus on training full time because their food is cooked for them, they’re given a bed to sleep in, the best equipment is provided and there are teams of physiotherapists and chiropractors to help with injuries.

There are also career counselors, sports psychologists and doctors contracted to the institutes to help with other complicated problems.

Most teammates and coaches live just down the hall from each other, which is useful for a myriad of reasons.

In return for all the services the AIS provides the athletes do community service, such as speaking at schools and coaching in local sporting competitions, and THEY WIN.

Once the athletes are finished winning or decide to leave the AIS, most of them become useful members of society because their training instills discipline and in their spare time many athletes study for a trade.

In addition, when athletes win, particularly when it’s for their country, they become heroes for the younger generation and in many cases inspire children to take up sports and get healthy.

But there are other advantages of having a centre for sporting excellence.

The mental and physical data, for instance, the institutes gather on the athletes is used for medical research and new methods of dealing with injuries are often developed.

The AIS is also a great place for university students and, indeed, schoolchildren to learn more about the human condition.

Most of the best coaches, including many of the best Canadian coaches, work at the AIS so it is also a great place for establishing international contacts and learning about the sporting practices of other countries.

There is no doubt that the AIS is an institution that has done immeasurable good for Australian athletes as well as sports science and research but, when it comes to Canada, it also raises a big question:

If a nation of 20 million people, 10 million less than Canada, can do what it has done on the world stage of sport with the AIS concept, why hasn’t Canada poached the idea?

At the time this story was written Canada had one just one bronze medal and only one swimmer (Rick Say, 200m freestyle final), out of 23, had made a final.

Now, I don’t know about you but these results are not indicative of the Canada I know.

Canadians in general are as healthy if not healthier than Australians; the outdoor lifestyle culture is similar in both countries and both countries have about the same amount of money to spend in the federal budget annually.

Moreover, one thing Canada has that a lot of other countries don’t have is distinct winter and summer seasons.

Canada also has sensational natural resources to work with such as big mountains and lots of water, so if the government did start funding a CIS then Canadians would probably start winning more medals in both the summer and winter Olympics.

CBC did a fantastic job of highlighting the differences between the Australian and Canadian sporting systems two weeks ago.

Canadian athletes are actually paid a higher wage than their Australian counterparts, but it’s still a paltry sum.

With that paltry sum the Canadian athletes are expected to live and train while the Australian athletes have all their "living and training" expenses taken care of.

It appears the real issue here is that Canadians, or the politicians running Canada, are not convinced about the benefits of an institute of sport.

Fair enough.

But I would argue that an institute for sport is essential because even if Canadians weren’t interested in sporting glory, in today’s society where obesity and physical inactivity are major health issues _ sporting activity is something that must be encouraged.