Financial support puts wind in Canucks' sails

ALISON KORN -- For Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:53 AM ET

Having the resources to train full-time, instead of having to raise funds constantly, has made all the difference to two area sailors who recently returned home with world championship silver medals -- and a berth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

For skipper Oskar Johansson of Toronto and crew Kevin Stittle of Orangeville, the support received from Paul D. Phelan of the PJ Phelan Sailing Foundation allowed the pair to ship boats to Australia and New Zealand and focus solely on training and competing in the 2008 Tornado world championship.

"It changed my life," said Stittle, a 2004 Olympian who used to spend half his time fundraising to support his sailing ambitions. "This kind of support really makes it happen."

The duo's results are particularly exciting because as a team, they're newbies compared to many of their rivals -- they only paired up in 2005. Other countries' crews have been sailing together for 10 years or more. Until now, Johansson and Stittle's best result at a world championship was 16th in 2006.

"This was a fabulous performance," coach Rob Fox said. "Oskar and Kevin have been training hard and deserve this spot. Now we will have to refocus to keep on the podium at the Games."

This week, Johansson, 30, and Stittle, 28, were down at Toronto's Royal Canadian Yacht Club showing off their medals and giving thanks.

Johansson is a product of the high-performance centre there, and names director Mike Milner as a mentor. The same club also boasts Finn sailor Chris Cook, who won a world bronze and qualified for Beijing, and is a friendly rival as they try to outdo each other internationally.

Johansson's competitive sailing career started at the age of 14 while racing Lasers out of the Oakville Yacht Squadron. He finished 15th at the 2004 Olympics and is a Pan American gold medallist and five-time Canadian national champion. He graduated from Queen's University in 2002 with a B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering and a B.A. in Economics.

Stittle started windsurfing when he was 5. After becoming three-time national champion, a Canada Games gold medallist and a Pan Am Games bronze medallist in windsurfing, Stittle switched to Tornado sailing three years ago. And now, he's thrilled to be preparing for his first Olympics.

"This is a double shock," he said, "to finally reach my dream to compete in the Olympics and to realize a lifelong dream of a podium finish at the worlds."

OLYMPIAN'S WIFE DIES

Lynn Millar, wife of Canada's most frequent Olympian, Ian Millar, passed away this week at the family's farm in Perth after a long illness.

Lynn Millar played a crucial behind-the-scenes role in the achievements that have made Ian Millar Canada's most decorated equestrian, an eight-time Olympian known worldwide as "Captain Canada." She was involved in developing the top-class training facility at Millar Brooke Farm and in the training of Millar's mounts.

The Millars married in 1969 and have two children, Jonathon, 33, and Amy, 31, both accomplished show jumpers.

"This is a very, very sad, tragic day for us," Ian Millar said. "I would love more than anything to have Lynn by my side if I am asked to ride at this year's Olympic Games. Amy, Jonathon and I will move forward. That is the only way Lynn would want it."

FEMALE COACHES ON RISE

More than 875 women in 35 Canadian communities have been trained to coach hockey, softball, and soccer, the Coaching Association of Canada announced this week.

Starting in November 2005, the WE ARE COACHES program began working to train, and retain women coaches at the community sport level through a mix of classroom instruction, demonstrations, and practices.

Typically in these sports, the ratio of female to male coaches has been far less than the ratio of girls to boys who participate.

"When children see women in a leadership role in athletics, they grow up thinking of it as natural," said Sheilagh Croxon, a two-time Olympic-medal-winning coach in the sport of synchronized swimming, and consultant to the program.

"This is something we want to encourage for their development and for the future of sport," she said.

Despite this progress, Croxon noted that of the Canadian team coaches at the 2006 Turin Olympics only 14.6% were women, while women athletes won more than 67% of the medals.


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