Photograph by: Colleen De Neve , Calgary Herald
Like the Little Engine that Could, Canada’s ski jumping teams chug towards the Sochi Olympics as the decided underdogs of our nation’s Olympic team.
They train and compete in obscurity, out of the limelight.
Names such as Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes, Atsuko Tanaka and Alexandra Pretorius are more well known in Europe than in their own country. Maybe even in their own city. Calgary.
Ski Jumping is one of only two winter sports not to receive any funding from Own the Podium (their nordic combined cousins are the other), so they’re tasked with doing more with less. And that gives them a chip on their shoulder, but no less resolve to achieve top results.
“They told us to get results and we’d get funding,” explained national team head coach Gregor Linsig. “And we got podiums. Alexandra’s won twice so far . . . and they still refuse to give us money. I don’t know what they’re expecting. We’re doing what they ask.
“It’s a mystery and I’m kind of over it with what they’re telling us. We try to do our best and we are doing our best. We’re doing what they asked and we still don’t get a dime, so we’ve got to look elsewhere I guess.”
Elsewhere has been relying on the charity of their opponents, such as last month when Boyd-Clowes travelled to Slovenia to use their wind tunnel technology for free because the cost was too great in Canada. And, despite receiving a base of funding from Sport Canada and the Canadian Olympic Committee, it also means relying on limited private sponsorship to pick up the slack (Lesley Stowe’s Raincoast Crisps out of Vancouver is the team’s major sponsor).
From Own the Podium’s perspective, the women’s national team, which did receive $100,000 in funding from the organization last season before the money was cut this fiscal year, the team is not seen as a medal threat in Sochi.
“Our analysis of women’s ski jumping, which is what support has previously been provided for, indicated there were no athletes, based on our view, who were well positioned for a podium performance,” explained Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger, who oversees a mandate to grant funds based on medal potential.
“There are girls in development within the sport and certainly those are positive signs, so we’re very hopeful that the sport will continue to progress, but at this point, in this period of time leading into the Games, the performances to date are not assessed to be a strong threat for a podium performance.”
The ski jumping contingent contests that assessment, pointing to recent summer Grand Prix results.
Pretorius, who won a 2012 Grand Prix event in Courchevel, France — becoming the first Canadian ski jumper to win a major international competition since Horst Bulau did in 1983 — also won the 2013 summer season opener in Hintzergarten, Germany. In that triumph, she beat arguably the best women’s ski jumper in the world — Sara Takanashi of Japan.
Pretorius later blew out her knee, so she wasn’t able to match her second-place overall result from the 2012 Grand Prix, but she is aiming to return to World Cup competition in December in time to warm up for the Olympics.
Tanaka also posted a summer podium, claiming third spot in the final ladies event of the Grand Prix, in September in Almaty, Kazahkstan. Only Takanashi and Slovenian sensation Katja Pozun beat her. The third member of Team Canada, Calgary’s Taylor Henrich, was in the top 10 three times this summer, including a fifth-place result in Courchevel.
On the men’s side, Boyd-Clowes was in the top 25 four times, with his best result an 18th in qualifying (the GP was cancelled) at Hinzenbach, Austria, just two metres shy of the winningest ski jumper of all time, Gregor Schlierenzauer. In other words, Canada’s top male jumper may not be a podium threat yet, but he’s earning respect from the world’s best.
“I think our peers in the ski jumping community would disagree with (Own the Podium’s) assessment. I think we would disagree as well,” said Ski Jumping Canada’s high performance director Curtis Lyon.
“Our results have definitely improved to the point we are winning A-level competitions.”
Merklinger intimated that Own the Podium is looking for WINTER World Cup success, which eluded the Canadian team last season.
“In women’s ski jumping, there are a dominant group of four athletes that have really dominated the podium the last couple of years (Takanashi, American Sarah Hendrickson, and Austrians Daniela Iraschko and Jacqueline Seifriedsberger). So if one of the ski jumpers was to finish ahead of those athletes at an important World Cup event, that would certainly be an indication for us to revisit, based on that result,” she said.
“As an organization, we are in a position to be able to respond in a very nimble manner if a particular athlete has demonstrated a performance a nd respond to that in terms of recommending additional financial support,” added Merklinger, noting Own the Podium’s brain trust meets every three months to discuss progress of sports organizations within Canada.
On the outside of the boardroom, Canada’s ski jumping teams are pushing forward regardless, readying for the World Cup season, which begins Nov. 22 in Klingethal, Germany for the men and on Dec. 7 in Lillehammer, Norway for the women. It all builds toward Sochi in February, which will be the local jumpers’ greatest chance to change hearts, minds and wallets in their own country.
“We feel like underdogs, but we played the charity case for awhile and that’s not the case now,” said Linsig. “We’re going full bore with what we want and we’re going to be successful our way.”
- Emily Sarsfield: Sochi 2014 result would help future ski-crossers (sykose.com)
- Ski Cross Star Serwa Back on Snow (sykose.com)
- Canadian ski jumper Pretorius having surgery (sykose.com)
- Takanashi Wins at Final Sochi Test Event (sykose.com)
- After long battle for inclusion, women’s ski jumping ready for Olympic debut at Sochi Games (sykose.com)
- Sochi 2014: Likely stars of Winter Olympic Games (sykose.com)