Rod Snow, Team NL’s assistant chef de mission. — Photo by Kenn Oliver/The Telegram
As the Canada Summer Games concluded Saturday afternoon, Team Newfoundland and Labrador found itself tied for 10th place in the medal standings with Prince Edward Island.
Over the course of two weeks, the province’s team collected a pair of medals; swimmer Owen Daly’s first-week silver in the 50-metre butterfly and Chris Dugas’ bronze in the men’s Special Olympics 200m. This on the heels of a six-medal performance at the 2009 Summer Games in Prince Edward Island.
And while there’s no discounting that the more than 300 athletes sent to Quebec represented the province well, there are those who will say the team as whole failed to deliver on expectations.
“I do get the criticism, and I understand in some instances, where we get athletes and teams who just come here for the experience,” said Rod Snow, Team NL’s assistant chef de mission and the man in charge of the province’s high-performance program.
“But for the most part, everyone comes here to compete and test themselves against the best in the country. It is difficult coming from Newfoundland. That’s not a crutch we want to lean on too often. But that’s a serious truth and fact that we’ve got to understand and find a way to get over it and move to the next level.”
When the road to Sherbrooke started about two years ago, Snow said they reached out to the provincial sports organizations (PSO) and their Canada Games coaches, offering the services of the HP program.
“For us, the biggest one was strength and conditioning. Then they had access to consultants in mental training and sport nutrition,” Snow said.
“The biggest responsibility was on the PSOs to have their athletes ready from a skill and competition perspective and we would take the burden from them for the other high-performance components.”
And largely, the buy-in was there.
“Physically, we’ll stood up to anyone in the tournament,” asserted Mike Power, coach of the boys soccer side that made it all the way to the bronze-medal game and finished fourth after a 3-0 loss to Ontario.
“Our strength and conditioning program was excellent with Jerome (Brennan) and Rod and the boys. They did a fantastic job.”
But in a lot of ways, Team NL was a little late to the high-performance party.
“What you’ve got understand is, though we’re making great strides to kind of progress and compete at a higher level, the big provinces like Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Quebec… are making the same strides, They’re not standing still,” said Snow.
“It’s a big gap to bridge and in lots of way it’s impossible for us to bridge it, but it’s what we’re aspiring to.”
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Snow re-stated his belief that the fact Newfoundland and Labrador is a small province — therefore one with less high-calibre athletes to choose from — is an excuse that can’t be constantly cited But the reality, he added, is that no matter how much high-performance training is available, some PSOs don’t always have the necessary resources to make that training count as much as it should.
Take the province’s diving team, for instance. The Aquarena is the only facility on the island where they can dive, but it’s also the most widely used indoor public pool in the city and last year, was lost to the divers while upgrades were taking place.
“If we are going to put these expectations on ourselves, and I don’t think they’re unreasonable, then we need to have a hard look at how we can accomplish that, especially through access to facilities,” Snow said.
“Facilities aren’t cheap, but they are a legacy piece and once we have them, we have them.
“I’m looking forward to 2021 when we host the Games. I think a big failure would be to have those sort of facilities a year before the games. We really need to have them in place so we have a couple of years to use them for our own preparation.”
Another element is the largely financial ability for athletes to get off the island and test themselves against the rest of the country.
“We have to make certain they have the resources and tools on hand that allow them to compete on a level playing field with everybody else in the country,” said Snow. “If they have the same access to the same level of standards in terms of competition and preparation, and the other elements of the high performance program, there’s no reason to expect we can’t compete with them.”
He suggests that in order to see a marked improvement at the Games, it must be accepted that time for talk is long past and that it is going to take the continued effort from the HP program, the PSOs, government and those within the private sector with a vested interest in amateur sports.
“We need to have a debrief with all the interested stakeholders and partners,” he said, “to make sure we’re not content to sit where we are and take our chances with the way we prepare now.
“We’ve got to pose difficult questions and find the right answers so that we can continue to grow.”