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Windfall For Winter Athletes

Lori Ewing, Calgary HeraldIt wasn't so long ago that Chris Moffat spent almost as much time burning up the phone lines as burning down the luge track at Canada Olympic Park. Searching for sponsorship took up as much energy as pursuing success in his sport. So you can't blame the 20-year-old Moffat for his wide smile Monday, when the Calgary Olympic Development Association (CODA) announced 'The Next Legacy.' The initiative, announced hours before CODA's annual general meeting Monday night, will see the organization contribute $2.3 million annually to help develop Winter Olympic athletes, an increase of $800,000 over last year. "It's a big relief, less stress on me, less wondering where I'm going to get that next meal, how I'm going to pay for my car insurance," said Moffat, who led the Canadian luge team to gold in the overall junior World Cup standings last season. "This way, I can focus 100 per cent on my training, not have to worry about all the other stuff." Calgary is still the only Winter Olympic site to generate a profit, said Gene Edworthy, chair of CODA's executive committee. But, until now, the legacy of the 1988 Olympics has been more about the bricks and mortar of Olympic facilities -- Canada Olympic Park, the Olympic Oval, Canmore Nordic Centre, and others. Money was spent on the upkeep of those facilities, plus grants were awarded to winter sport programs and their coaches. But CODA wanted to do more, and so for the past six months, has been meeting with national sport organizations. "We're really trying to take this from the athletes' perspective," said CODA president John Mills. "We asked them, 'What are the needs?' As opposed to simply cutting cheques, being a granting agency, how can we work together with the organizations to make the most of those funds?" CODA's vision is five-fold:
  • Leadership -- CODA sees itself leading the way in funding, for example, in snowboarding, which produced an Olympic gold medal, but receives no financial support from federal and provincial bodies;
  • Athlete development -- $2.3 million annually;
  • Facility development -- maintaining the facilities to international sport standards;
  • Event hosting -- to provide young athletes with world class competition; Calgary will host, among other competitions, world championships in 2000 for women's bobsleigh, luge, and skeleton;
  • Business operations -- revenue earned from sources such as ski passes goes back to athlete development.
"It certainly bucks the trend as to the direction funding agencies are taking," said Mills. "But we want to develop national-team athletes and some podium finishes, and the board has realized that's costly. "CODA's mission is to develop Winter Olympic athletes, so if we feel we've put youngsters on the national team, helped them get to the top-eight, or the podium, that's our goal." Sports already have seen the results of CODA's increased involvement, said Mills. The Olympic Luge Training Centre and National Nordic Combined/Ski Jumping Training Centre, both operating at COP in partnership with CODA, produced good results last season, their inaugural year, including World Cup overall gold by the talented junior luge team. "Last year, we were in Europe and we were told to come home after three weeks," said Moffat. "CODA stepped up and paid for us to stay and compete another week." The Canadian bobsled program, which produced Olympic gold at Nagano, will realize a boost in its budget from $125,000 to around $300,000, said national team coach Jeff Hugill. The immediate benefits, he said, will be felt by the development programs, not just for the men, but the women's bobsled, and skeleton -- the two latter sports were just added to the lineup for the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City.

"We've had good results in the past, on the initiative of the athletes," said Hugill. "Now, we can put together bona fide national team programs that will receive proper funding, coaching support . . . All the pieces are there."

Copyright 1999 The Calgary Herald and Lori Ewing