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Corporate Canada steps up for winter athletes

CBC Sports

Canada's Regan Lauscher, of Red Deer, Alta., is one of five Olympic hopefuls receiving a $30,000 sponsorship from Spectra Energy.

Worrying about rent and car insurance slows Regan Lauscher down on the luge track.

In a low-profile sport that doesn't draw big sponsorship money like alpine skiing does, the stress of paying bills drains her concentration and energy in her pursuit of a medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The marketing power of 2010, however, is kicking into high gear and easing her stress. Lauscher is one of five Canadian Olympic hopefuls with $30,000 sponsorship deals through Spectra Energy, the company revealed Thursday.

The Canadian luge team only recently got a national team sponsor — Fast Track Capital.com — after a clever campaign in which they affixed For Sale signs to the front of their helmets.

Lauscher, from Red Deer, Alta., has pleaded for corporate Canada to get behind her sport for years. It's probably not her voice, but the draw of being attached to the Olympics that's getting companies to step up now in a tight economy.

"Everybody always wants to be part of something great," Lauscher said. "If the Flames are winning, everybody wants to say they're from Calgary and they want to be a part of it. They want a jersey and they want to support that."

Lauscher said now, while she's in the gym lifting weights, practising her starts in the ice house or sanding her sled in the sled shop, she can think about 2010 and not about how much her phone bill will be.

"Having that money from Spectra allows me to breathe easy," she explained. "Especially with the economy right now, a lot of people are scrambling and a lot of people are worried. For us, it's almost like I feel I have job security.

"It will allow me to put all my focus into training for these critical 10 months now."

Lauscher, skeleton racer Mellisa Hollingsworth from Eckville, Alta., bobsled brakeman Jenny Ciochetti from Edmonton, speedskater Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., and Calgary freestyle skier Warren Shouldice applied for the sponsorships last year. Morrison and Shouldice both have fathers who work for Spectra.

Morrison's brother Jay, also a national team speedskater, received $4,000 through the company's sons and daughters grant program.

Spectra is a North American company headquartered in Houston, so it is also backing American athletes Noelle Pikus Pace, who is Hollingsworth's competition in skeleton, and cross-country skier Andrew Newell. The total worth of the sponsorships is $214,000.
Athletes wrote essays about Olympic pursuit

"We're making a three-year commitment, spreading it over three years, but it's a lot of money to us," said Doug Bloom, president of Spectra Energy Transmission West. "At the same time, we know how much of a financial strain it is for the athletes.

"These are amateur athletes and to chase their dreams and compete at the highest level costs a lot."

Each athlete applied for the money and wrote an essay about their pursuit of Olympic gold. Their international results also were a factor in the selection process, Bloom said.

Hollingsworth is an Olympic bronze medallist, Ciochetti won two World Cup medals this winter with pilot Helen Upperton, Shouldice is a former world champion in aerials, Lauscher's World Cup silver medal is the best result by a Canadian in luge and Morrison is a former world champion in the 1,500 metres.

"We get a chance to be a little bit more connected to these elite athletes on both sides of the border and for us, we get a little sense that we're making a contribution," Bloom said.

Canada's top athletes receive $1,500 a month in funding from Sport Canada. Own The Podium, the $120-million, five-year business plan designed to help Canada win more medals than any other country in 2010, allocates money to sports federations, which in turn pay for their national teams' expenses.

But there's often a financial shortfall in the athletes' personal lives.

Morrison said the Spectra money will help pay for the vehicle he needs to get to and from the Olympic Oval in Richmond, B.C., when he trains there.

Skeleton racers are responsible for their own equipment. A sled can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 and runners are $1,000 each, said Hollingsworth, so the money from Spectra can help pay for her most basic equipment.

In return for the $30,000, the athletes will give talks to the company's employees and help promote Spectra's brand en route to 2010.

"It will also generate more awareness to their company worldwide," Hollingsworth said. "We're all different sports, we're ambassadors everywhere we go and we do travel to a lot of locations in this world, so hopefully that will help them out in return."