Olympic dreams weigh on pocketbooks

Canadian figure skater's budget hits around $70,000 a year

By

Cody Hay’s dad Calvin owns a trucking company.

Paying the figure skating bills to chase his Olympic dream wasn’t so stressful in his younger years.

The same goes for Canadian men’s star Patrick Chan and ice dance medal hopeful Tessa Virtue. Both have lawyer dads.

But the blue-collar truckers who pulled their paycheques from Hay’s dad?

“It would be hard,” said the Canadian pairs skater in his first Olympic games with veteran partner Anabelle Langlois. “I know that. I was lucky in my situation. It’s a very expensive sport. There are times during the training season when the bills are starting to come in and you think about it and it wears on you.”

Two years ago, a prominent Canadian figure skater had a season budget of nearly $70,000. That’s a half million dollars over seven years — basically two Olympic cycles.

Add in the fees from the CanSkate years on to novice and junior and it costs a Canadian kid almost $1 million just to chase an Olympic figure skating medal.

That’s a gold-plated dream.

“No wonder I don’t live in a new house,” one figure skater’s parent joked.

Hay started footing his own bills when he moved from Alberta to Barrie, Ont., to the renowned Mariposa School of Skating.

“With the prize money you win at events and Own The Podium and being a carded athlete, you get to the point where you can support yourself and that’s a great feeling that you can do something you love and make it a career,” he said. “But not everyone can do it.

“I remember talking to Anabelle about that and her family didn’t have quite the same means and they struggled. I remember her telling me there were times where she didn’t know if she could afford to go on.”

Langlois, at 28 the oldest member of the Canadian skating team at joked the Olympic village in Vancouver is like a fairy tale compared to the army barracks she stayed in at her first Winter Games in Salt Lake City.

When an athlete is spending so much to get to a Games, they expect a dreamy set-up.

“The bills are high but it’s all to get to a moment like this,” Hay said. “Once you’re here at the Olympics, you don’t think about the cost. You think about how great it is to be in an event like this.”

And it’s a reason why the select few who get on the podium aren’t thinking about country first. They’re thinking about their parents first.

Anyone who has ever had a kid in skating or hockey knows ice time is the golden goose. To save a few bucks, it means rising at 5 a.m. to practise during non-prime time hours.

If you’re not rich, it takes a lot of bottle drives and boxes of grapefuit to hawk to get to the top.

Team Canada manager Debbi Wilkes didn’t have a budget anywhere like the skaters today. But though the dollar figure was lower, it would’ve been just as hard 50 years ago to pay the freight.

“I was so young, I didn’t think of things like that,” she said. “All I knew were the bills were getting paid and my dad had died when I was a lot younger so it was my mom who did everything on her own.

“But absolutely, I think people can still do it today. It’s just getting to that elite level. Once you’re there, you have sponsorship opportunities and grants and Skate Canada to help you get to international competitions.”

Wilkes and partner Guy Revell were bumped to a silver medal two years after the 1964 Olympics because a German pair had signed a pro contract one day before the competition.

“It was way more strict back then,” she said. “Back then, there were Ice Capades and you could continue your skating career but it wasn’t as yourself. You were dressed as a Smurf or Snow White or something.

“You have to be a bit of a gypsy to want to travel all the time like that.”

Every skater looks at opportunities to supplement their income. At the mountaintop, there are some millionaires.

It’s easy to feel sorry for former Olympic champ Alexei Yagudin when he had one of his world championship medals stolen a couple of years ago. But the sting lessens after hearing it was swiped from his Porsche.

Some of us don’t have wheels worth what it would take to fill that sucker with petrol.

But not everyone’s in that stratosphere.

All skaters wearing Canadian colours don’t just pay their own fare. They have to ante up for their entourage, too.

Coaches travel on the competitors’ dime.

If you’re like ice dancers Virtue and Scott Moir, that cost is reduced because they share coaches with U.S. rivals/buddies Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Defending men’s gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko may be rusty after taking three years off but he saved some big coin by not hitting the competitive circuit during that time.

Before the event, there is already talk of a judging controversy that suggests North American skaters like Chan may be favoured over a European like Plushenko.

Canadian team leader Mike Slipchuk, who was on the judging technical committee in Turin four years, said he has faith the points system won’t be compromised.

Considering the coin skaters sink into their professions, fairness is the least the judges can do when their fingers hit their keyboard to enter scores.


MORE FROM RYAN PYETTE

POLL