What the 2010 Winter Olympics wrought, a decade of Canadian confidence in sport

The Canadian Press

Mikael Kingsbury's perception of his own potential changed a decade ago.

He was a 17-year-old forerunner testing the moguls course for competitors about to ski the Cypress Mountain slope at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Kingsbury witnessed Alex Bilodeau win gold and become Canada's first Olympic champion at a home Games.

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"Seeing a Canadian win the Olympics, Alex, and knowing him since I'm very young and seeing him accomplish his dream was huge," Kingsbury recalled.

Ten years later, Kingsbury is the current Olympic and world champion.

On the other side of the country in Halifax, 14-year-old gymnast Ellie Black watched the Winter Olympics on television and wished she was in Vancouver celebrating the host country's success.

Fourteen gold medals won by the Canadian team in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., set what was then a record for the most by any country at a single Winter Olympics.

"I think that inspired a lot of us to really see that 'OK, we can make it to the Olympics, we can be on top of that podium, we can have those performances and have that success,'" Black said.

"If you have those dreams, you've just got to work hard to make them happen."

Black became the first Canadian to win an all-around medal at the world gymnastics championship in 2017 with a silver.

She's a medal contender at this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The afterburn of 2010 is fuelled by inspired athletes and stable money a decade after the Feb. 12 opening ceremonies.

The prevailing wisdom is it takes a decade and a half to build an Olympian.

So Canada is still in the window of athletes like Kingsbury and Black, who both aspired to more after 2010 and are reaching their athletic peak.

"There will be some gas left in that story and some of those young people from back then will be on the team in Tokyo for the Summer Games," Swimming Canada's high-performance director John Atkinson said.

Marielle Thompson was a ski cross forerunner in 2010. She watched Ashleigh McIvor win gold and duplicated the feat four years later in Sochi, Russia.

Kelsey Serwa made it three straight gold in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

"I think a big part of keeping the fire burning is realizing what we did and making sure it's part of our culture now," said national ski cross team high performance director Dave Ellis.

The federal government has maintained an annual investment of about $200 million in Olympic and Paralympic winter and summer sport.

Own The Podium, established five years out from 2010 to get athletes on the podium at their home games, directs about $65 million of that money to the sports federations developing athletes with medal potential.

OTP assesses medal potential and provides technical expertise to sport federations.

The targeted-funding strategy survived a federal government review in 2017.

Investment in coaching, sport science and technology, next-generation athletes five to eight years out from peak performances and the establishment of sport institutes across Canada are also part of the 2010 legacy.

The Canadian Olympic Committee prepares athletes for Olympic Games and looks after them upon arrival, as well as contributing $9 million annually to OTP's work.

The COC currently has 36 sponsorship contracts.

"There's a tremendous interest in our corporate community of being partners with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Canadian athletes," COC chief executive officer David Shoemaker said.

"I give the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver an enormous amount of credit in developing the proposition around sports marketing and partnerships in the Olympic Games in Canada.

"So many of our premiere national partners got their start in the Vancouver 2010 Games."

Canada set an audacious goal of winning more medals than any other country in 2010.

Twenty-six in total ranked the host team third, but Canada won the most gold.

Norway and Germany have since joined Canada as record holders with 14 gold apiece in 2018.

Canada has maintained its status as a winter-sport power ranking fourth in Sochi with 25 medals (10 gold) and third again in 2018 with 29 medals (11 gold).

The impact of 2010 on summer sport took a little longer to manifest. Goals were more modest — a top-12 ranking among countries in the 2012 and 2016 Summer Olympics.

Canada's 22 medals in 2016 matched the country's best output at a non-boycotted Summer Games and ranked the country 10th.

"We're getting better at telling our story around why sport matters and why excellence in sport matters to our country, why winning medals at the Olympic and Paralympic Games is important," OTP chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said.

"Developing a whole new generation of future leaders and a generation that will inspire Canada's youth to become more physically active."

The Paralympic Games in Vancouver and Whistler also solidified Canada as a winter-sport player.

Canada hit the target of finishing top three in gold medals won in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

A dramatic increase in the number of countries investing in summer parasport this century has eaten into Canada's medal haul at Summer Paralympics.

But 2010's most significant impact was raising parasport's profile at home, according to Canadian Paralympic Committee CEO Karen O'Neill.

"We no longer had to explain what parasport or Paralympics were," O'Neill said.

"From a brand standpoint, we've moved up to about 80 per cent recognition where Canadians recognize the Paralympics as a highly-competitive event for athletes with a disability.

"Ten years ago, we'd be lucky if that number was double digits."

Chantal Petitclerc, winner of 14 Paralympic gold in wheelchair racing, believes 2010 altered attitudes towards people with disabilities, even within their own families.

"The little boy, the little girl, the little kid with a disability, who went to the games with parents, it inspired them and it inspired the parents," the Canadian senator said.

"They see the potential, they see the strength, they see something unique at the Paralympics and they go 'we can give something to this child and this child has more potential than limits.'

"That is the power of the Paralympics. It will never come out in statistics, but it's real."

It took 2010 for Canada to brazenly tell the world it wanted to win. Own The Podium's name, intended to be aspirational, raised international eyebrows.

Shoemaker, who was president of the Women's Tennis Association at the time, credits 2010 for breakthroughs in Canadian tennis now led by 2019 U.S Open winner Bianca Andreescu.

"I don't think anybody back then was dreaming the same way about winning major events in tennis," Shoemaker said.

"Vancouver in 2010 allowed us to think differently and have an attitude about winning. The outcome was the attitude of Bianca Andreescu. People will say that's indirect, but I think the causation is absolutely there.

"It's swagger and an attitude that didn't exist before Vancouver 2010."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 11, 2020.

Follow @DLSpencer10 on Twitter.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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