Sports Centre already at work behind the scenes 

Although the official launch is still a month away, the Telus Whistler Sports Centre is already helping local and regional athletes on their way to the Olympics.

"In essence, we’re not really open yet," says Todd Allison, who was hired as the general manager of the centre in mid-September. "We’re waiting for 2010 (Bid Corporation) and PacificSport to set a launch date, and in the meantime we’re still working out the nature of our relationships with one another

"What it’s come down to, though, is that we don’t have to have everyone on board to be out there having an impact. We are running what was being run by the national centre before, so if a qualified athlete needs a specific health issue addressed, we can certainly co-ordinate that and provide funding.

"In addition, through the GymWorks program, we’ve got a partner at Meadow Park who lets our top athletes train there and supports the cost of a membership."

The goal of the centre is to provide programs and services for high performance athletes who will compete in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 2002 and in Turin, Italy, in 2006, and to help develop young athletes in B.C. for the 2010 Games.

With the winter athletic season starting in a matter of weeks, and the 2002 Olympics less than four months away, Allison felt the centre had an immediate function.

He already has a list of 37 athletes in his database, 22 of which have received direct benefits from the centre. The athletes are divided into three categories; bronze, silver and gold. Bronze athletes are currently at the top of the provincial level; silver athletes are on national development and national junior teams; and gold athletes are on the national team.

Of the 37 athletes in the database, 12 are bronze, 14 are silver and 11 are gold.

"There’s a limit to how much impact we can have before 2002, but we’re helping athletes in Whistler and around the province however we can, whether it’s funding or facilitating services," says Allison.

The Centre, which is funded by Telus and the Vancouver Whistler 2010 Bid Corporation’s LegaciesNow program, has also contributed money to Podium 2002, a national assistance program that helped national sports organizations meet the needs of athletes and coaches.

"For example, the money has helped to hire a new coach and physiotherapist for the national snowboard team; it’s helped to fund a summer moguls camps at Mike Wigele’s heli-skiing for the freestyle team – the teams all have different ideas what to do with the money," he says.

Allison is in a unique position to recognize the needs of high performance athletes, having been one himself. Allison was a member of the Canadian Freestyle Team until 1994, and until this summer he served as a freestyle coach and a high performance director for the national team. He is also a graduate of the National Coaching Program, and has worked with Athletes CAN and the PacificSport National Sports Centre in Greater Vancouver.

"The idea was to look for where the holes are in a program, and how it can be better. We were a funding partner for Podium 2002, albeit a minor one, but that was another way we could at least have some impact on the people going to Salt Lake City," says Allison.

On the athlete development side of things, Allison has already been in contact with sports organizations to find out what they need and to come up with ways to meet those needs.

"I talked to people involved with the biathlon and luge, for example, and they need officials and they need athletes; they have some facilities, but they need people in them," says Allison. "So what we’re looking to do next year is to go around the province next summer with a summer luge sled and a scope rifle, and helping kids roughly between the ages of 12 and 18 try these sports and see what they think."

Bobsledding doesn’t need young people, they need young and strong people, and next year the bobsled team will visit football and rugby clubs to have a strength and pushing competition. The top candidates will be invited to a training camp on ice in Calgary.

There are thousand of kids snowboarding, "but no one is going into programs and no one knows what a coach can do," says Allison. One of the ideas is to run alpine and freestyle coaching clinics on the days before and after the provincial snowboard series events this winter to show kids how coaching can help.

The Whistler Sports Centre will focus on 12 events, including nordic, nordic combined, ski jumping, biathlon, alpine skiing, snowboarding, bobsled, luge, skeleton, and freestyle. The official launch is expected to take place before the mountains open on Nov. 22.

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