Athletes wait their turn

ALISON KORN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

Canadian Olympic athletes are a "national investment" but must wait in line like anybody else to get the H1N1 vaccine -- unlike some pro athletes who've been accused of jumping the queue.

Now that the Olympic winter sports have started their World Cup travel seasons, it's unlikely that amateur athletes will have a chance to receive the needle until closer to Games time.

"It ran out in Calgary and I didn't have an opportunity because of time," said skeleton athlete Jon Montgomery, who won World Cup gold at the Whistler Sliding Centre last February.

Montgomery makes a good point why Olympic athletes should have been vaccinated: "Like everybody does, you've got to protect your investment," said Montgomery. "We are a national investment. The government has been a huge part of our development."

Canada's bobsleigh and skeleton athletes will begin the track to the 2010 Olympics with their first World Cup race in Park City, Utah, this week. They'll then compete in Lake Placid, Italy and Germany, all before Christmas. This weekend there are competitions for alpine skiing in Finland, curling in Switzerland and long-track speed skating in the Netherlands.

A month ago, the Canadian Olympic Committee's chief medical officer Dr. Robert McCormack said Olympic athletes should be in a high-priority group to get the vaccine before their travel season began. But that hasn't happened and it's been left up to individual athletes to cope on their own.

"We're not special," skeleton starts and strength coach Kelly Forbes said. "I believe that everyone should be waiting in line. We've really left that up to the individual."

Is that fair? Yes -- given the unexpected shortage of vaccines. Yet when you think of the millions of dollars invested into the Own The Podium program, sparing no expense in pursuit of gold medals, giving all Vancouver-bound athletes the shot early would have made high-performance sense.

One could also argue that while pro athletes have dozens of games and chances to shine, Olympians get one big chance every four years -- and so should be higher priority than the pros.

Last week, McCormack said he'd failed in an attempt to convince the public health officers for several provinces that winter athletes should be considered a high-risk group.

"My understanding is

a small number of them have been able to get the vaccine," McCormack said. "We haven't been able to achieve what we hoped."

The Canadian Olympic Committee confirmed it has not achieved the levels of coverage it was hoping for and will continue to work within the delivery mechanisms provided by the provinces.

Reports that some professional athletes had jumped the line in receiving H1N1 flu shots have put a spotlight on how sports teams are dealing with the illness and whether players are getting preferential treatment. Last week, two health employees in Alberta were fired after letting members of the Calgary Flames jump the flu shot queue.

Montgomery, who along with holding the Whistler track record for skeleton at 140.82 km/h, is also skilled as an auctioneer, chuckled at the irony of pro athletes getting the shot ahead of amateurs.

"I don't think they're more important than the general public, but they are investments," said Montgomery. "If I owned the hockey club, I think I'd get it done."

ALISON_KORN@HOTMAIL.COM


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