Stars gather for annual Canadian Olympic Committee golf tournament 

Whistler will be packed this weekend with past, current, and future Olympians as the annual Canadian Olympic Committee golf tournament comes to town.

It brings together athletes, community leaders, government officials, business leaders and corporate sponsors to cheer on and financially support the dreams of Canadian athletes to compete and win in the Olympics.

"It is probably the most successful event that we have run in the country," said Chris Rudge, president of the COC.

This year it is hoped the event will raise as much as $200,000 between the golf tournament, Friday night’s gala dinner at the Westin Resort and Spa, and a silent auction.

The funds raised will go toward the Own the Podium Program, a sport technical program designed to help Canada become the number one nation in terms of medals won at the 2010 Games in Vancouver and Whistler.

The program also embraces Paralympians who are aiming to finish in the top three nations at the 2010 Paralympics, which are held shortly after the Olympics.

"We are much more focused on that support of high performance sport with Own the Podium program and its very specific objectives to try and help the team be number one in 2010," said Rudge. "That requires a lot of planning and lot of program development between now and then."

And that requires money.

"The committee and all of us are playing our part to make sure this fundraiser is successful and the money we raise here is one small part of funding the success of that project."

Whistler’s own "Crazy Canuck" Steve Podborski, who will co-host the evening celebration with Olympian Catriona Le May Doan, is hoping attendees will dig deep into their pockets for the fundraiser.

"It is vital that the athletes get access to Own the Podium funding and expertise," he said. "The whole notion of Own the Podium is extraordinary because in as much as athletes will be able to get increased funding, which is always vital, they will also get access to different levels of knowledge and support that they otherwise might not get."

The two-day event will also see Olympians visit local schools and a community celebration of sport on Saturday, starting at 9 a.m. and going all day. There will be information booths on the sports, interactive displays, and autograph signings throughout the day.

"Sport is a very complex thing so this will give people an insight into things so that by the time the Games roll around we will have some idea about the events," said Podborski, who won a bronze medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and is the only North American to ever win the World Cup for downhill skiing.

"And the bonus is that people will get to meet many of the athletes who will be representing us."

Up to 42 athletes will be in town for the event including freestyle skier Ryan Johnson, alpine skier Kathy Kreiner-Phillips, and speed skater Cathy Priestner.

The fundraiser marks the on-going and critical partnership with the Vancouver Organizing Committee as well. The organization will be front and centre at the event.

"There has been such tremendous response to date to the Own the Podium," said Renee Smith-Valade, vice-president of communications for Vanoc.

"I think it is largely due to the fact that people can really identify with the hopes and dreams of the country for medals in 2010.

"We really believed that this was an opportunity to bring our collective partners and business partners and sponsors and communities together to support this program."

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