A new high-performance sport lab for Ontario's best amateur athletes, offering the latest in sport science and sport medicine testing, is part of a long-overdue vision to help keep top athletes from leaving the province to chase their sporting dreams.
The new lab, decked out with equipment to monitor athletes' muscle mass, strength, power and endurance, oxygen uptake and lung capacity, heat acclimation, and blood and urine composition, along with sophisticated video analysis, will help Ontario inch closer to the levels of support athletes receive in Alberta, Quebec and B.C.
The provincial government announced yesterday it is providing $1.2 million to the Canadian Sport Centre-Ontario for a "performance enhancement program" that will provide Ontario's high-performance athletes with increased access to sport services. The centre is housed in the Sport Alliance of Ontario building near Don Mills Rd. and Eglinton Ave., in Toronto.
"This [investment] is huge," said Greg Gannon, a sport physiologist and the centre's vice-president of sport performance. "Most of the national team programs have left Ontario. And most of our athletes who make any significant teams have to leave the province. This is allowing us to catch up to what we're seeing in other provinces."
Along with the sports lab, money will flow to 11 priority provincial sports to hire full-time coaches and add sport scientists to their teams. The targeted sports are: Track and field, cycling, triathlon, volleyball, basketball, soccer, rowing, cross country skiing, canoe, gymnastics and freestyle skiing.
Sport science includes the areas of exercise physiology, strength and conditioning, sport psychology, nutrition, performance analysis and biomechanics.
"Sport science services can make the difference between an athlete finishing on or off the podium," said Doug Hamilton, chair of the centre. "With this investment in essential support services for our high-performance athletes, the Ontario government is providing an important building block for athlete development."
The funds also will help develop Ontario Sport Review Panels so provincial sport organizations can evaluate their high performance programs, help implement the Long-Term Athlete Development model and support Web-conferencing to deliver National Coaching Institute training classes across the province.
Also this year, the Quest For Gold Program, funded by the provincial lottery of the same name, is giving 948 senior and developing Ontario athletes income top-ups ranging from $3,600 to $8,071.
Will all this help keep Ontario athletes home? According to Health Promotion Minister, Jim Watson, yes.
"We're starting to see some evidence that people are now realizing Ontario's back in the game with funding," said Watson, who cited beach volleyball Olympic hopeful Isabelle Czerveniak, who moved here from Vancouver two years ago to train full-time. "This is the next step to allow coaches and talent to develop their performances to the next level."
Yet despite the Dalton McGuinty government's chest-thumping, the new funds are a drop in the bucket compared to the sport investment of other provinces and countries. Ontario still ranks last per capita when it comes to amateur sport spending, according to Gannon, who -- in the longer-term -- envisions an Ontario sports institute concept that the centre has already started working towards with partners such as the Town of Markham and the University of Toronto.
"Part of our vision is to attract national teams to the province," Gannon said. "It's a good time to be involved in high performance sport in the city."
The handful of national teams currently affiliated with the Ontario sport centre include trampoline, beach volleyball, figure skating, women's heavyweight rowing, and basketball, both able-bodied and wheelchair.
Individuals from other sports train here too, such as about eight or nine of the 20 national women's hockey team members, veteran forward Jayna Hefford said.
"To have a facility down the road from where we train is going to help us keep pushing the limit," said Hefford, a double Olympic gold medallist who plays for the Brampton Thunder. "This is going to make it a little bit easier to help athletes get to the next level."