Plenty of skaters, nowhere to train

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 1:42 PM ET

Canada has been a world leader in mining for precious metals such as gold and silver.

In sports, our most successful "miners" have been the speedskaters, who have taken over as the clear No.1 source of Olympic gold, silver and bronze for Canada.

Heading into this winter's Olympic Games in Turin, optimism is running high for our speedskating team.

However, Ontario's contribution to the effort will be negligible, despite some surprising local numbers.

In Ontario, we have 3,000 speedskaters registered on 27 clubs. That is a a tremendous number. However, I will let you guess how many speedskating ovals we have in the province.

Give up?

Well, we have the grand total of zero such facilities. Yet, we have prime minister Paul Martin handing out billions of pre-election dollars and premier Dalton McGuinty too busy supporting Ottawa's bid for the next Commonwealth Games.

At any rate, it's a shocking state of affairs that our governments don't give a damn about elite amateur sports facilities, but just happen to be around for photo ops when our athletes win gold, silver or bronze medals in the Olympics or world championships.

How, then, can we have 3,000 registered speedskaters in a province without any official tracks to train on?

Where do the Ontario speedskaters train, anyways?

Well, our carded athletes who are living on a pitiful $18,000-a-year financial support, have to travel to Calgary or Lake Placid in New York to work out at Olympic facilities. Some also travel by car to St. Foy, Que., where there also is such a facility, and that is where some of our outstanding speedskaters come from. Only a few venture to take the 15-hour drive to Winnipeg to train there.

Allan Heritage, a dedicated worker on behalf of speedskating, has been trying to earn support for an oval at Lakefield, near Peterborough. However, his pleas have fallen on deaf ears at all the government doors on which he has knocked.

"Our speedskaters earn 50% of our Olympic medals, but all I get from the governments is lip service," Heritage says with a sigh. "We get moral support from our speedskaters like Catriona LeMay Doan from as far away as Saskatoon, but it won't help us financially in Ontario, even though she came here to help us with a leukemia charity event. However, we need actual dollar help to build the $10-million facility at Lakefield.

"We are trying to shoot for the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, so we have several Ontario speedskaters on the team. Our speedskating club, the Kawartha Quarks, is focused not only on our elite athletes, but is also community-based. Our organizing committee has been together for four years and we need the financial support."

Canadian Olympic officials are sympathetic to the plight of Heritage and his associates -- Christine Quigley and Graham Wilkins -- the latter a former outstanding Canadian oarsman.

"The shortage of sports facilities for elite athletes is affecting not only speedskaters, but also many of our other sports," said Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "There is no doubt that here in Ontario we are behind B.C. and Quebec in that respect. Mind you, the current Ontario government is giving an indication that things will improve."

Dave Bedford, the newly appointed revenue and communications executive director of the COC and chef de mission of our 2004 Olympic team in Athens, echoes his boss' sentiments,

"All of us are aware of the lack of amateur sports facilities in Ontario," Bedford says. "I think the Ontario government should take lessons from Quebec and start building facilities."

Ontario speedskaters, naturally, can hardly wait.

GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

Former Maple Leafs Peter Zezel and Mark Osborne are assisting in the preparations for the Canadian Multicultural Hockey League's 16-team, four-day tournament. Winner of the Canadian Cup will see the trophy displayed in the Hockey Hall of Fame. The tournament --Dec. 27-30 -- will take place at Ted Reeve Arena and Scarborough Arena Gardens. Zezel will be the manager of the Serbian team while Osborne is the tournament's spokesman ... Debbie Low, a hard worker for amateur sports and paralympics, has been named president of the Sports Alliance of Ontario ... Many thanks to the contributors of this week's Toronto Sun Variety Village Christmas Fund. Their names are displayed to the right.

VARIETY VILLAGE CHRISTMAS FUND DONATIONS

Brian Russell $150.00

Pat Blain $150.00

Rick Booth $100.00

Paul Simas $100.00

Frances Schissler $50.00

Brian Farmer $50.00

Douglas Redknap $50.00

Cal McCarthy $50.00

Neil and Patricia Chard

$50.00

Wayne and Jayne Smith

$30.00

Olga Capesky $30.00

Dennis Kutsukake $30.00

Gaye Coyne $25.00

Paul Taubert $25.00

Shirley Scaife $20.00

Andrew and Diana Pawlak

$20.00

Thomas and Theresa Bernaske $20.00

Greg Clark $15.00

Andy Grinbergs $10.00

Marnie McCoubrey $10.00

Carl Anderson $10.00

Mrs. Jane Esert $10.00

Raymond Cheng $10.00

Audrey Anderson $10.00

Ken Schlechter $5.00

Stewart MacDonald $5.00

Dave Gilmore $5.00

Total $1,040.00

Total to date $4,588.50


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