Home field for Canadians

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

Olympic silver medallist Veronica Brenner remembers lifting weights in the tiny, pitiful gym of a Lake Placid hotel because the Americans wouldn't let her inside their national team's exercise facility.

The bleak exercise room at the Best Western was too small to accommodate all 12 Canadian freestyle skiers at the same time. Few hotel patrons used the gym, so the Canadians were allowed to -- for a fee.

Brenner, who grew up in the village of Sharon , Ont., and went to high school in Newmarket, spent 10 summers in Lake Placid training on its water ramp because Canada had no comparable facility. While she scrounged to get by, her competitors enjoyed free room and board.

But now -- and forgive us for gloating just a bit -- the tables are turned. Brenner has what she calls "one of the coolest jobs out there," managing Own The Podium's Home-Field Advantage program, designed to give Canadian athletes exactly that.

"When I retired from sport (in 2003) I knew I wanted to stay involved in sport," said Brenner, 34, now based in Vancouver. "I found one of the big things I missed was winning. And I guess in some way having this job makes me feel like I'm helping people win, which is the closest thing to winning these days."

Brenner still does try to win at yoga class, she admitted with a laugh, noting that she is more flexible than her friends.

Home-field advantage is something Brenner never enjoyed as an athlete. Now she draws on her past experiences to help smooth the way for today's generation of winter athletes.

"It's a job that has never been done before," Brenner said. "We kind of have to make it up as we go along. It's really about creating it and figuring out what the needs are."

For example, they purchased spin bikes so teams going to train in Vancouver wouldn't have to bring their own. They have an agreement with a private MRI clinic to get injured athletes seen within 24 hours. And there's now a high-performance gym in Whistler for Canadian athletes only. Surprise, surprise, visiting teams have to use the public gym.

"It's actually pretty small so we can't accommodate other teams anyway," Brenner said. "When was the last time you heard Canadians had the advantage, eh?"

TELETHON PAYS OFF

The Nov. 16 telethon for Canadian high-performance athletes has raised $300,000 for the Canadian Athletes Now Fund. The live televised auction out of Calgary was the first of its kind to support high-performance Canadian athletes. For eight hours, 70 Canadian athletes answered phones and took bids on 400-auction items. Shaw Communications matched viewer contributions of $150,000.

CROSS-COUNTRY NATIONALS

The University of Guelph will host the 2008 AGSI Canadian cross-country championships tomorrow with more than 750 participants taking part in the junior, senior and masters Canadian championships.

Olympians Eric Gillis of Antigonish, N.S. and Taylor Milne of Callander, Ont., both now living and training in Guelph, will be racing for the national title. Last year's junior women's runner up Lindsey Carson, of Cambridge, will challenge defending champion Kendra Schaaf of Carven, Sask., for this year's crown. The event serves as the selection trials for both 2009 junior and senior NACAC cross- country championships and world cross-country championships.

TORONTONIAN DAREDEVILS

Toronto's top daredevils will try to out skate, out jump and out race the rest of Canada on Tuesday in the Red Bull crashed ice qualifiers. The event is a combination of downhill skiing, hockey, and bordercross that attracts 10,000 hockey players and extreme-sport enthusiasts nationwide and 1,749 from Toronto alone. The Toronto qualifier is 7 p.m. at Lakeshore Lions Arena. Participants hope to win a spot in the Quebec City finals Jan. 24.


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