Crazy plan paying off

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:27 AM ET

Ken Read, the famous one, and Max Gartner, the coach with the famous wife, used to spend a lot of time talking about what was wrong with Canadian skiing.

They would do what we all do: Hang around and try to solve the problems of their world.

What would you do if you were in charge? Whom would you hire? How would you change things?

Read knew one thing: If he ever ended up in charge, he wanted Kerrin-Lee Gartner's husband working alongside him.

"I had to convince him to come in," Read said yesterday, speaking from a cell phone on a chairlift at Lake Louise. "When I was (broadcasting skiing) it was heart-breaking to watch the Canadians. There wasn't much good to say. When you see a program that's sputtering and you think it may not be the athletes, it's frustrating and disappointing.

"I knew the potential was there for Canadian skiing, and so did Max. He was familiar with all of it. He didn't like the wavering leadership. He didn't like where the priorities were (at Alpine Canada). Max is a coach and he's there for the athletes. He didn't think anybody in Canadian skiing wanted to listen. So he didn't want to get involved."

Read is telling this story to avoid talking about himself, which is something he is rather adept at. Less than five years ago, with an invisible program and barely a name to be found anywhere, he took over the Canadian Alpine Ski program.

During those few years, Read has proved to be every bit the kind of meticulous competitor he was as a champion skier in bringing a once-proud program back from near life-support.

These past two World Cup weekends once would be the stuff of Page 1 stories. Four races, four different disciplines, both sexes, four different medal winners.

Just not so much anymore.

You may not know the skiers' names because the Reads and the Podborskis and the Irwins come around only once in a lifetime. There will never be a time like that again, never be a story like the Crazy Canucks.

But the past two weekends, John Kucera and Manuel Osborne-Paradis and Michael Janyk and Kelly Vanderbeek all accomplished what they had never done before: One gold medal, two silver medals, one bronze. Their ages: 22, 22, 25, 23.

When asked how this had happened, how this not-so-Crazy Canuck had inherited a program in disarray and turned it back into a national treasure, Read was most diplomatic.

"I was smart enough to hire Max and listen to him. I think you have to give credit where it's due. Max and Dusan Grasic (director of athletics) have put together a very good staff ... This is a culmination of a lot of years of hard work.

"It really goes back to a couple of key principles. We needed a clear focus for skiing. We needed to establish that we're in this business to win. We had to be clear about that, It's easy in a country like ours to get distracted, worry about funding, get caught up in the other things.

"We needed to develop athletes with a long-term view, manage them very carefully and give them time and experience. During the '90s, if someone came out and didn't deliver, we chopped his head off and went on the next talent. We didn't build anything. We didn't develop anything."

Now the program is building, for today, for tomorrow, for beyond the Olympic Games of 2010, where they expect to win four medals in skiing, which if reached would represent the remarkable.

"A lot of this sounds cliche, but the devil is in the details," said Read, who is establishing the model for which all Canadian sports should follow. "If you're sloppy in the details, you can be sloppy in your results. You have to instil an ethic of working, an ethic of being relentless, you have to find the right coaches, smooth the way for the athletes.

"On the start list at each World Cup race, they list the athlete's name and their year of birth. The past couple of years we've had the youngest guys and I think we're now starting to see the results of that."

Like a proud poppa, these are the kids of Ken Read -- no longer Crazy, just Canucks.


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