TORONTO - Eight months after the Winter Olympics and less than two years before the 2012 London Summer Olympics, there is still so much going on in amateur sports, both winter and summer – if you know where to look.
For starters, this weekend brings one of the biggest gatherings outside of competition for high performance athletes. The 2010 AthletesCAN Forum in Gatineau, Que., will feature some of the country’s top sport leaders discussing crucial topics impacting the Canadian sport landscape.
About 75 athletes, elected as reps from some 45 sports, are devoting time to professional development as serious leaders and thinkers among their peers.
“When I was young, I learned from amazing leaders we’ve had in the past,” said women’s hockey player Caroline Ouellette, a triple Olympic gold medalist in her 11th year on the team. “As you get better, it’s not only an honour to be a leader, it’s a responsibility that you have. Sometimes the younger players won’t have the courage to speak up.”
Out in Saskatoon, the Gold Medal Plates fundraising gala continues its cross-country tour, with performances from Jim Cuddy, Colin James and Barney Bentall and a keynote speech by Alexandre Bilodeau.
Competition-wise, the world rowing championships are on in Karapiro, New Zealand. The 2010 Skate Canada International competition is in Kingston, Ont. Three Canadian snowboarders will take part in the famous ‘Relentless Freeze London’ snowboard festival this weekend in London, England. And Canada’s top luge athletes will return to the ice and vie for national titles when they compete in the Fast Track Capital Canadian Championships, Friday morning in Calgary.
Craving a human interest angle, too? There was the emotional retirement this week of Jeff Pain, Canada’s most decorated skeleton slider, after a 15-year career that started on a shoestring and ended in Vancouver. Jeff and his wife, Aly, have a neat book out called “The Business of Marriage and Medals” with frank anecdotes and lessons learned from the pursuit of high performance sport, mixed with the everyday realities of earning a living and raising a family.
When Aly says things like, “we have retired from skeleton” and “we won an Olympic silver medal,” it initially sounds odd, but then makes you realize how spouses and families get dragged along for the ride when a parent pursues all-consuming dreams.
Let’s not forget the salacious side of sport. Well, it’d be nice to forget it, but that’s hard to do when female athletes continue to strip for calendars. The 2011 Women of Curling calendar is out to rave reviews. The women’s national rowing team, however, bucked the trend by keeping their racing suits on for their new calendar - good for them. You agree, right? Those calendars better sell.
Meanwhile, the U.S. women's water polo team is pictured together, naked, on the cover of ESPN’s body issue - every reader’s fantasy, I guess.
But despite all the goings-on, the commercial challenges facing most amateur athletes remain. Figure skater Joannie Rochette is perhaps the most visible, this week promoting a new Birks jewelry pendant. Yet there are precious few winter Olympic medalists doing high profile sponsor work these days, something Ouellette expressed disappointment in.
“I think I can speak on behalf of all athletes. We were hoping that the opportunities to associate ourselves with business would be more present,” Ouellette said. “But everywhere we go people talk about the Olympic Games and how touched by the performance of Canadians they were. They also really love to see the medal and can’t believe how it looks and how heavy it is. It’s really special for us to be able to share it with schools or with companies.”