Living proof

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

Look no further than Duff Gibson as proof extra cash can alter an athlete's performance.

The Calgary firefighter pulled a quad muscle before the 2004-05 World Cup season began.

He wasn't sure if he would even have the chance to defend his skeleton WorldCup title.

Luckily for Gibson, the Canadian Sport Centre added some extra dollars for the team to take a physiotherapist through Europe. The trainer worked vigorously on Gibson, propping the 38-year-old up to race each week.

Without the attention, Gibson's season was toast. The effect could have been devastating. A terrible campaign may have shattered his confidence. Heading into the Olympic year, he might not have recovered in time for the Turin Games in February.

No one would have listened to an excuse about lack of support. The public wants medals.

As it stands, Gibson is humming along nicely after finishing third in the World Cup standings. He was also third in the world championships Monday.

This is a prime example of why amateur athletes in this country needed the 17% boost in funding tabled in yesterday's federal budget.

To the casual fan who only pays attention to Olympic sports two weeks every four years, the excuse our athletes need more dough to compete on the world stage can fall on deaf ears.

The extra cash doesn't just get funneled into the bank account of a top speed skater, skier or luger.

The effect is more indirect but the money is a start to putting Canada on a level playing field.

When European teams come to Calgary to compete, like in this weekend's world bobsled and skeleton championships, they often bring one support staff member per athlete.

When Canada goes overseas, the ratio is more like one-to-10.

Dale Henwood, president of the Calgary chapter of the Sports Centre, hopes that changes.

"When I talk about the performance-enhancement teams, which is what I call them, we need athletic therapists and physiotherapists travelling," Henwood said.

Doubling the size contingents adds plenty of costs. There are bills for flights, hotel rooms and meals. It's simply easier to send the athletes with a single coach.

"At best, those people might travel once a year," Henwood said. "With the new money, hopefully we can have these people as part of the teams."

Another issue is coaching. Once an athlete reaches a high level, it becomes harder to improve.

The competitor needs special attention, which requires a dedicated coach. The coach must spend his entire working day with one medal hopeful, honing and refining his or her game, while letting others train on their own.

Henwood would use the extra space in the budget add more coaches and ease the schedule.

"The closer you get to the top, the more time you need to spend to shave six hundredths off your time," Henwood said.

Which can be the difference between the podium and fourth place.


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