Skaters give thumbs up

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

That was a bold goal tossed out by this country's Olympic officials yesterday -- one that is sure to raise some eyebrows among amateur athletes. The Canadian Olympic Committee unveiled its plan for the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010, and it includes Canada leading the medal standings with a whopping 35.

That's more than double the medal haul of 17 we brought home from Salt Lake City in '02.

And officials want 15 of those 35 coming from our speed skaters, both long-track and short-track -- the most of any sport.

The news caught Winnipeg speed skaters Cindy Klassen and Shannon Rempel by surprise down in Salt Lake City, site of this weekend's World Sprint Championships.

'IT'S EXCITING'

"Hopefully, it's possible," Klassen, bronze medalist at the '02 Winter Games, said yesterday. "It's exciting if we can do it. It's hard to say."

Some say setting such lofty goals only sets the nation up for another Olympic disappointment. If Canada falls short, everybody will wonder what went wrong.

But Klassen, 25, the world all-round champion in '03, says athletes can't take that upon their shoulders.

"A lot of the pressure, you put on yourself," she said. "When you go into competitions you gotta just do what you do best, and not think about what other people are expecting. It's pretty hard, but it's something you have to work on all the time."

To reach its goals, the COC wants to spend an additional $105 million on athlete development over the next five years.

By then, Winnipeg's 20-year-old sensation, Shannon Rempel, should be in her prime.

The world junior champion two years ago, Rempel says increased funding is definitely a step in the right direction if Canada wants to become an Olympic power.

"The first step is having better programs, and the only way you can do that is with more money," she said. "(But) I don't think you can ever really guess how many people are going to win medals."

Rempel says it's fine to set high goals, although she also thinks the general public can sometimes have unrealistic Olympic expectations.

It didn't take long for Rempel to come up with an example of how the increased funding might help.

At the world championship trials at the Calgary Oval last month, she says athletes had to race at night instead of in the afternoon in order to allow public skating.

"They have to make money," she said. "Little things like that."

A bigger thing would be adding coaches.

Our own James Monson, also a national team member down in Salt Lake, says that would be a great place to start.

"Right now we're about seven to eight athletes to one coach," Monson said. "It would be better if we were down to, say, three, four or five athletes to a coach."

At 29, Monson may not be an Olympic threat in five years, but he's right when he says now is the time for this country to begin planning for Vancouver.

"At least they've decided now," he said. "As opposed to waiting two years before the Olympics and saying, 'Oh, we should give lots of money now.' The earlier they get on that, the better."


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