Banner year for amateur sports

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:27 AM ET

From swimming to curling, Rio to Vancouver, 2007 was a good year for Canadian amateur sport.

It was a non-Olympic year, and the Pan Am Games in Rio de Janeiro in July saw the Canadian team place third overall in total medals won. Canada earned eight Olympic berths for Beijing and, just as important, the Pan Ams helped instill a culture of winning.

Alex Gardiner, the Canadian Olympic Committee's senior director of Olympic programming, described the winning feeling as: "I've been to the dessert part of the buffet table and I want to go back."

Many athletes earned their just desserts this year -- and in other cases, heartache.

Toronto's Jeff Adams, an icon in wheelchair racing, continues to fight a suspension for a doping infraction for cocaine. This drama took attention away from fellow wheelchair racer Chantal Petitclerc's world records in the 200 and 1,500 metres.

Jessica Zelinka of London suffered a serious foot injury midway through the Pan Am Games' 800 metres, the final event of the heptathlon, but managed to finish and win the gold.

Zelinka is now on the mend, along with several Olympians on the injured list: gymnast Kyle Shewfelt, alpine skier Allison Forsyth and trampoline ace Karen Cockburn.

Rio was also the first time that a Paralympic multi-sport Games was held in the same city and at the same venues as the Pan American Games. Canada finished second at the 2007 Parapanamerican Games as swimmers Benoit Huot and Valerie Grand'Maison set world records.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, construction of facilities and venues for the 2010 Olympic Games is on pace to give Canadian athletes a brilliant home course advantage.

We must also give a nod to the COC's new athlete rewards program that will hand out cash bonuses for medals starting next year. It's a myth that medallists become wealthy after they win, so this is welcome compensation.

And how about Britt's grit? With two podium finishes in the downhill this month -- including a win in Aspen, Colo. on Dec. 8 -- alpine skier Britt Janyk is leading her team. This after she'd slipped down the pecking order last year and had to fork over $25,000 to continue to compete for Canada. After finishing fourth at the worlds, Janyk got her team status back and 80% of her expenses refunded.

The national women's hockey team won the 2007 worlds held in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Man., an event that broke records for both attendance and profits.

GOLDEN MOMENTS

In sledge hockey, Canada won the inaugural four-nation World Sledge Hockey Challenge, finishing the tournament undefeated against Norway, Germany and the United States.

Swimming and athletics are rejuvenated. Brent Hayden's world championship gold in the 100-metre freestyle was monumental, as was Pickering hurdler Perdita Felicien's world championship silver.

In non-Olympic sport, Canada's Jaret Llewellyn was named male water skier of the year by the international federation, the third time he's been recognized with the award.

Chris Rudge, CEO of the COC, also noted Dick Pound's retirement from heading the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"All the things he was castigated for several years ago, it turns out he was right all along," Rudge said.

Canadian world champions were crowned in curling as Glenn Howard, along with his team from Coldwater won his third world title in Edmonton. The Canadian men's eight won world gold in rowing. And the Toronto trampoline duo of Cockburn and Rosie MacLennan won the world synchro title, with MacLennan adding an individual bronze at the worlds in Quebec City in November.

And then there was some not-so-jolly news.

Basketball and volleyball are among several sports deemed by the COC to be underachievers and on the verge of losing all COC funding in the New Year.

The cuts will be confirmed on Jan. 11 and are part of the Road to Excellence summer sport strategy that focuses its support on sports with more medal potential.

"We've been informed that we've been cut drastically," said John-Paul Cody-Cox, Volleyball Canada's executive director.

"Right now I'm fighting and clawing for my funding as much as possible."

The COC's executive director of Olympic preparation and Games, Caroline Assalian, confirmed that COC summer sport support will be devoted to teams in the hunt for Olympic medals, including swimming, athletics, canoe/kayak, rowing, and diving.

"This is top-up funding to support those sports with the highest potential of medalling in Beijing," Assalian said. "I wish we could do more."


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