Luge Canada

Calgary's John Hooks owns the podium

By Mike Beamish, Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - The Own the Podium program, which helped send Canadian athletes to the top of the medal podium a record 14 times at the 2010 Winter Olympics, is looking for more business executives with the philanthropic bent of John Hooks.

The president and CEO of Calgary’s Phoenix Technologies is rewarding Canadian lugers with cash incentives on the World Cup circuit this season, and the promise of extra lolly has paid off Calgary’s Alex Gough. Her bronze medal at the world championships -- the first-ever for a Canadian luger at the Olympics or world championships – netted her a bonus of $3,000. Hooks is rewarding sliders with bonuses of $5,000 for a gold, $3,000 for a bronze or silver medal or $2,000 for a top 10 finish.

Alex Baumann, the CEO of OTP, told reporters Thursday that his organization wants more citizens from Corporate Canada to step up and significantly increase their contribution to elite sport. The OTP program was instituted with the ambitious goal of making Canada the world’s most dominant winter sports nation. Canada won the most golds but finished third in the total medal haul last year behind the United States and Germany.

“The [federal] government has really stepped up,” Baumann said. “Now, we have to leverage the corporate sector to maintain the momentum. We have some gaps and some challenges moving forward. I would like to point out that OTP is not in the revenue- generating business. That’s the responsibility of the Canadian Olympic Committee.”

OTP came with a price tag of $117 million, but the overall budget for summer and winter has retreated to about $70 million, all but seven of those millions coming from the federal government. Corporate sector partnerships contribute the rest, but that funding is in decline as most of the Own The Podium-related deals start to expire.

“Corporate Canada had a good experience at the Vancouver Games,” said Jean Dupre, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee. “They realized that sport has a lot of value in this country, as never before. I don’t think anyone could say it was a bad return on the investment. On the contrary. All of the marketing rights have come back to us, and we’re looking for renewal of sponsorships that end in 2012.”

Baumann said OTP will retain a targeted, multi-tiered approach, meaning that sports in which Canada is truly a medal contender will be rewarded.

“We have enough resources for everyone to adequately focus on those sports with the greatest potential,” he said.

“Utlimately, we want to be No. 1,” he said. “We’re certainly not stepping away from that.”

In assessing Canada’s performance one year after the Vancouver-Whistler Games, Baumann said OTP would like to have seen more surprise results from Canadian athletes not expected to medal.

“The U.S. had a significant number of darkhorses who made it to the podium,” he said, “athletes who were ranked sixth or eighth in their events. We’d like to see more of that.”

As of February 6, Canadian winter athletes had won 30 golds and 99 medals in total in World Cup and world championship competition, second to Germany.

“One of the more pleasing aspects on the winter side is we’re starting to see much more depth across more events,” Baumann said. “In 2010, he might have had two athletes in an event with podium potential. Now we’re seeing four or five. Not many countries are able to maintain their position internationally after hosting a Games. It’s something we certainly aim for.”

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