Canada’s “Own the Podium” has come under a lot of heat lately, in light of some peoples *disappointment* with Canada’s medal performance.

For those unaware of the Own the Podium is a program Canada launched in January 2005 to:

prepare our athletes to become the top winter sporting nation in the world by 2010. To achieve the goals of 2010, the focus of the program was to provide additional resources and high performance programming to Canadian athletes, coaches and support personnel.

Wikipedia

One of the more notable condemnations of the program came when Olympic speed skater Denny Morrison called out the Own the Podium program specifically when discussing his disappointing 13th place finish. Specifically he mentioned the program not allowing him to train with his American training partner Shani Davis (who finished second) cost him a top spot.

“There’s a lot of ways of looking at it,” Morrison said. “I mean, I just think it would be nice to train with Shani and be able to have him push me or pull me,” Morrison said. “There was a time, back in the day, we used to just everyday in practice push each other. You’ve all heard the story, he was faster than me and eventually I was able to keep up to him.”

While I’m dubious that the program is specifically to blame, I find it very surprising and disheartening (if true) that our athletes weren’t able to train with partners/competitors that raise them to the top levels of their sport.

The perfect counterpoint came last night when Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skated to gold in Ice Dancing… Yeah, that right, I watched it, wanna make something of it?!

One of the things that intrigued me in their post performance interview was both of them specifically calling out their training with Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White being pivotal in pushing them forward and continually upping their game. I’m unsure of why the Ice Dancing pair was allowed to compete with their competition while Denny Morrison was not, but I would suspect it’s the fact that both the Canadian and American pairs share a coach… How weird is that?

Anyway… Ice Dancing aside (yes, you can breathe a sigh of relief), I’m interested in what our readers think of the Own the Podium program.

I for one think it’s a fantastic… LONG overdue. When you look at the support athletes in the USA, China, Britain or Korea, and Norway get, it embarrasses me what most Canadian athletes need to go through to get to the top echelons of their sports. I think we’re only seeing the beginnings of what’s possible with the proper support they’re starting to get.

With that said, I think the program was a wee bit over-ambitious for these Olympics. Lead the medal standings? Become the top sporting nation? For real!? Building programs like these take many years, and to think that we could go from a mid-level performer (on a global stage) to leading the charge in 5 years is a little unrealistic in my mind.

Overall, I think Canada is doing great. We’ve had some disappointments, and some young up-and-commers may not have lived up to the pressure we put on them, but with continued support I have no doubt we’ll see the likes of Patrick Chan (figure skating) and Mellisa Hollingsworth (skeleton), and Charles and Francois Hamelin (short track speed skating) on the podium in coming years. Besides, the games aren’t even over yet… Just yesterday we pulled in another gold in women’s ski-cross.

I guess the one failing I noticed (as an experienced couch coach ;-) is the seeming inability of some of our athletes to rise to the enormous Olympic pressure. Perhaps evidenced by our 16 fourth and fifth place finishes on this past “Super Sunday.” I’m not sure what the program entailed specifically, but I hope that just as many of these athletes have matured through valuable experience at the global level, the Own the Prodium program can also mature and support the athletes with the psychological pressures that come with carrying a nations expectations on their shoulders.

So now I’ll toss it out to you – Canada’s “Own the Podium” program… Good or bad? Integral to the Canada’s sporting success on a global stage, or putting unneeded pressure on Canadian athletes?

For our readers outside of Canada, I’m interested in your 2¢ as well – How are your athletes supported? How does your nation feel about that support?