The Canadian Olympic Committee has announced a slew of new funding for their Own the Podium initiative that is designed to make a push for Canada to regain its status as one of the worlds top all-around sporting nations. The program showed progress when, in 2008, Canada scored 18 medals – a 50% jump from the 2004 summer Olympics.
Now the push is on to meet Canada’s goal of placing in the top-12 countries in the medal standings in 2012 (they were 19th in 2008). If history holds true, that will take at least 7 gold medals, and somewhere around 25 total medals to happen.
To accomplish such a huge goal, the Canadian Olympic Committee has turned to the greatest motivator known to man – money. Specifically, they have announced a program to reward coaches of Olympic athletes who earn medals in London. This amounts to $10,000 for each gold medal, $7,500 for each silver medal, and $5,000 for each bronze medal earned by a coach’s athletes – with the athlete and their National Sport Federation deciding how to divide that money if an athlete has multiple coaches.
These rewards amount to exactly half of the dollar figures with which athletes are rewarded for the same accomplishments.
In the release, COC President Marcel Aubut is quoted as saying that “Coaches are the backbone of our athletes’ planning, preparation and performances.”
The coaches who stand the most to gain are the staff of the UBC Dolphins and the Vancouver National Swim Center, who work hand-in-hand to train several of Canada’s top athletes. Specifically, coaches Tom Johnson (who works with sprint freestyler Brent Hayden, who took silver in the 100 at Worlds) and Jozsef Nagy, who works with Canada’s two 200 breaststroke queens Martha McCabe and Annamay Pierse.
Other medal contenders will include the charges of Randy Bennett at the Island Swimming Association (Ryan Cochrane and Julia Wilkinson); and Erin Russell who serves a dual role as mother and coach of young swimmer Sinead Russell, who was a top-5 qualifier for the 100 backstroke final but fizzled a bit for 8th.
This comes on the tail of the COC saying that it plans to sink another $5 million into the OTP program. Among the targets for this money are to “secure funding to sports/athletes with medal potential at future Olympic Games.”
Reading between the lines, this means that swimming could very well be a large target of these dollars. Consider, for example, that swimming offers more medals (102) than any other sport aside from Track & Field (141) in the Olympic schedule. This means that one of the most efficient ways to reach the country’s goal of top 12 in the medal standings is to put money into training of swimmers.
This push could also stem the flow of elite young swimmers into the United States college swimming system (NCAA) that we saw explode this season. There’s sort of a dual school of thought on this. On the one hand, it’s cheaper for Canada to ship their athletes here and have them train for free, or at the least at a greatly reduced cost to the COC and Swimming Canada.
On the other hand, from a marketing perspective, athletes who train and compete at home year-round are immensely more valuable to the country’s sporting infrastructure.
These new financial incentives can only be a positive for Canadian swimming, which is on a meteoric rise over the past two or three years.