Canada, the host of the 2010 Winter Games, has every right to be proud. The host city, Vancouver, was named the world's most livable city in The Economist's 2009 index. Whistler, a site of many of the Olympic events, was voted the best ski resort in North America for 12 years in a row. But something is missing: Canada has twice hosted the Olympics: the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, and both times came up empty in the quest for gold.
In order to help fulfill the country's aspirations, the Olympic organizing committee has devised a program called "Own the Podium" (OTP), a "sport technical initiative designed to help Canada become the number one nation in terms of medals won at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games." Launched in 2005, OTP has channeled much of the program's resources into training and equipment for athletes, coaching exclusively for potential medalists, financial support of integrated support teams (such as physiologists, biomechanists, nutritionists, performance analysts), and the planning and construction of sport centers in concert with local governments.
For Canadian athletes, "Own the Podium" has positively affected their training, equipment, and, they hope, performance.
"We're ahead of the curve in some places, where other countries are trying to learn from us," said skier Kelly VanderBeek. "It's a great position to be in."
But visiting countries are not feeling the love. In a conscious attempt to protect Canada's home-turf advantage, the Olympic organizing committee has limited access to Olympic venues for training. This move has left foreign athletes feeling disappointed at best, and unprepared at worst. In the world of elite athletic competition in which hundredths of seconds decide medals, an unfamiliar course can spell disaster for an athlete. The bobsled, luge, and skeleton venues, have been constructed specifically for the 2010 games and are therefore completely unknown entities. Bobsled and skeleton racers are only being allowed about 30 runs during their two training weeks (compared to the hundreds of runs by Canadians), leading athletes to pool their resources by discussing the course and their experiences on it.
These athletes are not alone. They are joined by lugers, skiers, and speed skaters—all competitors seeking more time at the venues. Canada's "Own the Podium" has turned these top athletes into spectators, watching from the other side of the fence as their hosts take their practice runs, perhaps witnessing their medal chances slipping away. At a cost of about $120 million, "Own the Podium," if successful, will be priceless for Canada. But what about the hidden cost?