Canada’s ‘Own the Podium’ program takes next step with Olympic training complex in Calgary

The following is an excerpt from an article published at

Clad in a hard hat and steel-toed boots, hockey player Carla MacLeod imagined what her life would be like at Canada’s first winter sport institute as she toured its construction site.

“From an athlete’s standpoint, it’s like a little taste of heaven,” the two-time Olympic gold medallist said as she ambled between concrete pillars.

The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler may be over, but rising from the ground on Calgary’s west side is a major step in Canada’s evolution into a winter sport power.

Construction on the $220-million Athlete and Ice Complex at Canada Olympic Park began long before the opening ceremonies of the 21st Winter Olympiad in February.

It was the momentum of an Olympics coming to Canada, however, that sparked the political will in government and sport stakeholders to build something the United States, Germany and Australia have, but Canada didn’t.

When the three phases of the 46,450-square-metre AIC are complete, it will exist in concert with the legacies of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary as a sports hub for both Olympians and the public.

It will resemble the U.S. States Olympic Training Centre in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra.

“Once it’s finished it’s going to be leading edge,” says Alex Baumann, who oversees Canada’s Olympians as head of Own The Podium.

“If you take a look at some of the top countries in the world, they have gone the route of institutes.”

What an institute means is that athletes have access to everything they need under one roof. They could conceivably spend every waking hour there because all their training, eating, recovering, medical and sport science needs are all met at the facility.

Canada currently has seven sport centres across the country. The centres administer programs and services to athletes, but they don’t provide a single, physical place for them to ply their trade.

Skeleton coach Duff Gibson, an Olympic gold medallist in 2006, says the benefits of not having to drive from one end of the city to the other for medical treatment, massage therapy or video analysis can’t be underestimated.

“It’s a lot of running around and time that could be better spent or more effectively spent, even if it’s just recuperating,” he explains. “Sitting in a car driving from site to site is not recuperating.”

The federal and provincial governments and the City of Calgary are providing $130 million towards the project. A condition of that funding is for the public to have access to the institute.

WinSport Canada, which oversees the legacy and investments from the 1988 Olympics, is contributing more than $60 million.

WinSport is trying to raise the remaining $30 million from the corporate community. Now that there are bricks and mortar to see, WinSport is touring company executives through the site.

WinSport wants them to imagine their name and logo inside and outside the facility.

“We want to name absolutely everything,” WinSport president and CEO Guy Huntingford says. “The purists say you shouldn’t put your money on anything, it’s all wrong, and then you’ve got the other people who name every brick.

“The mandate is to become the No. 1 winter sport nation. That’s the vision and that costs a lot of money. Every athlete will tell you, ‘We have to have somewhere to train.’ So somebody has to pay for the facilities and somebody has to maintain them.

Click here to read the entire article.


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