For the next two years Devon Kershaw can train on the cross-country ski course being used for the Sochi Winter Olympics without leaving Canada.
He'll benefit from a custom-designed indoor treadmill where two athletes on roller-skis can reach speeds of up to 35 kilometres an hour while facing grades up to 20 per cent. Using GPS equipment and high-tech cameras, the treadmill can replicate the trails at Sochi or other courses around the world.
Kershaw, who finished an agonizing fourth in the 50-kilometre classic race at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, knows the $200,000 treadmill doesn't guarantee him a spot on the podium in Sochi. But it's another step toward Cross Country Canada's goal of winning at least two medals in 2014.
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"I think it's another tool in our tool box to help us continually improve,'' the 29-year-old Sudbury, Ont., native said an interview Wednesday from the Canmore Nordic Centre. "It's something many of the big ski nations in the world that compete and win medals at the Olympics have.
"It puts us on a level playing field with those nations and those are the nations we need to compete against to fight for medals.''
The treadmill, built by Calgary-based Treadsport Training Systems, is part of an Own the Podium initiative to create a nordic consortium involving Canada's cross-country ski and biathlon athletes, plus their coaches.
The consortium's objective is to bring together sport directors from Cross Country Canada, Biathlon Canada and Ski Jumping/Nordic Combined Canada with advisers at Own the Podium, Canadian Sport Centre Calgary, WinSport Canada and the Canmore Nordic Centre. They will share critical research and information while identifying gaps in preparation to help the top cross-country skiers and biathletes prepare for 2014 and beyond.
More than $1 million in additional funding will be spent on these sports during this four-year Olympic cycle.
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"This is a wise use of funding,'' said Ken Read, director of winter sport for Own the Podium. "This is an outgrowth of what we learned from 2010.
"As we go forward it's the way we can continue to try and compete with the rest of the world. And it is the only way.''
Also this week OTP announced the hiring of Brian Rahill, a veteran Olympic sport administer, to work with Canada's summer-sport athletes.
Rahill will help create the training and competition environment that will provide summer athletes and coaches the greatest opportunity to win international medals, said Mark Hahot, OTP's director of summer sport.
Canada's goal at this summer's Olympics in London was to finish among the top 12 countries in medals won. In the end Canada earned 18 medals (one gold, five silver and 12 bronze) to finish 13th.
The objective at the 2010 Vancouver Games was to lead the overall medal count. Canada finished third in the standings with 26 medals, but the 14 gold was the most won by any country at a Winter Games.
If Canada hopes to top the medal count in Sochi athletes must reach the podium in nordic events. Of the 228 Winter Olympic medals awarded, 34 come from cross-country skiing and 29 from biathlon in 28 events. Of the 186 medals available at a winter Paralympics, 94 are awarded in 32 biathlon and cross-country events.
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The Olympic men's cross-country ski team had seven top-10 finishes in 2010 but didn't win a medal.
Tom Holland, high-performance director for Cross Country Canada, said the consortium will further develop a competitive culture of excellence within the nordic sports.
"Nordic athletes at all levels (coming) together for both short and long periods of time is key to Canada's success," Holland said in a news release. "We believe our athletes deserve the opportunity to have access to all of the much-needed resources to compete and win against the world's best.''
The consortium project has three major areas: research and innovation; Sochi venue-specific projects; and ensuring the Canmore Nordic Centre continues to provide a world-class training environment for podium-targeted athletes.
A major asset for Canadian nordic athletes in Sochi will be information gathered by Geret Coyne, who has been hired by the Canadian Sport Centre Calgary to build on OTP's 2010 top secret nordic venue research.
Coyne will lead the Sochi venue projects where he will gather and share data that will be interpreted and integrated into equipment, training and the competitive environment.
Other projects will focus on course profiling, ski base development and equipment preparation.
Kershaw said the new treadmill can't fully replicate the corners and downhill drops of the Sochi course. It will allow athletes to work with coaches to improve technique and biomechanics. It also will help improve and test cardiovascular training.
"We never had the opportunity before,'' said Kershaw. "We'd always had to do it on bikes or running. We don't race bikes or run.''
The Olympic and Paralympic athletes will also benefit from the addition of a rifle lab alongside the treadmill. Similar labs have previously only existed in Europe.
The $50,000 shooting system, which has been used at the Paralympics since 2002, has an infrared light, sound system, camera technology, and is equipped for most biathlon rifle stocks. The system has a pressure mapping program to help athletes establish the ideal position for their rifles.
Read said Canada's goal at the Sochi Olympics is to finish with the most overall medals. The Paralympic goal is to finish in the top three.
Canada has won three Olympic medals in cross-country skiing. Beckie Scott won gold in pursuit in 2002 and joined Sara Renner for a silver in team sprint in 2006. Chandra Crawford won gold in the 2006 skate sprint.
At the Paralympics, Canada has 23 medals, including 12 gold.
Myriam Bedard is the only Canadian to reach the Olympic podium in biathlon, winning two gold in 1994 and a bronze in 1992.
Brian McKeever has Canada's lone biathlon medal, a bronze at the 2006 Paralympics.
McKeever said the idea of sharing information, technology and training among nordic athletes sounds so simple, he's surprised it hasn't been done previously.
"I think it's a welcome change,'' he said. "We are stronger if we work together, that is becoming more and more clear.''
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