It might be the Games, but you still play to win

Robin
Robin Short
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There are still eight years to go before Newfoundland - quite likely the metro St. John's region - stages a Canada Games again, but already there's a movement to ensure the host province has a best-ever finish, or close to it.
And it's started with a change in culture, one that for too long encouraged a "happy to be here" - dare we say losing? - mentality at the Games.

Just showing up with a 'Hip hip, Horray!' attitude won't cut it anymore.

"I would argue the teams that are going to Canada Games now," said Michelle Healey, the chef de mission for the 2013 Sherbrooke Newfoundland team, "which are most prepared and most positioned to win medals, have done all the work needed to prepare for these Games.

"They've got their homework done. It's the way it should be, and the way it's going to be."

Newfoundland and Labrador is in line to play host to the 2021 Canada Summer Games, the second Summer Games after St. John's was the site of the 1977 event.

Corner Brook played host to the 1999 Winter Games.

The Sherbrooke Games mark the third Canada Games since the formation of Newfoundland's High Performance Program under former rugby pro Rod Snow, the assistant chef in Sherbrooke, and Jerome Brennan, the head strength and conditioning coach at the Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre.

It's Brennan who designs and implements the strength and conditioning programs for Canada Games and provincial teams.

Under the program, athletes from Newfoundland who will be representing the province at Canada Games will be expected to buy into the physical and mental preparation aspect of training.

The school of thought is that while other, larger provinces may have a deeper talent pool, no other teams at Canada Games will be in better physical condition than Newfoundland's.

"There is definitely a certain degree of accountability," said Healey, who was head at the 2011 Halifax Winter Games and assistant in 2009 in Summerside, P.E.I. "We have changed the culture in terms of what it means to go to Canada Games as a Canada Games athlete.

"Summerside was the first year teams were introduced to the High Performance Training program, and in 2011, we put more of a mandatory approach on it. Heading into 2013, it was mandatory across the board.

"I would say we probably had 85 to 90 per cent of the teams that were actively engaged and working directly with Rod and Jerome to do all the physical and mental prep work."

So what about the other 10 to 15 per cent who were not?

Maybe it's a geographical thing, where athletes are spread from one end of the province to the other, making it difficult to come together for practice.

Maybe they didn't get the memo.

Either way, excuses will no longer be easily accepted.

"If people aren't doing the training, then we are willing to leave them behind," Healey said.

"I don't understand it. If you could finish fifth or sixth with some training, or ninth without, why would you not want to finish sixth?

"If you're not doing that work, why are you going?"

Of course, Healey and just about anyone else can talk about this until the cows come home. If they really want to catch the sports' attention, they can hit them where it hurts the most - in the wallet.

"If we're going to truly fix this, and get a 100 per cent buy-in, I think the next Games cycle you have to tie it into their Canada Games funding," she said.

"If teams are doing their homework, it impacts the amount of funding they receive from government in terms of a grant to get ready for the Canada Games."

Which bring us to the cash.

If Newfoundland is to enjoy a performance for the ages in 2021 - and topping 1999 will be a task, given the 19 medals this province won in Corner Brook - sports will need funding.

Let's face it, it's no secret why Canada enjoyed such a remarkable 2010 Vancouver Olympics considering the millions and millions of dollars generated from the Own the Podium program.

"I think what we have seen over the last two Games cycles is an effort by government to increase funding where it makes sense," Healey said.

"We've went with this High Performance request for additional funding, on top of all the Canada Games grant funding that occurs, and government was supportive because we had a strategy, and we had goals set in terms of what we want to do.

"I think without increased funding, you just can't do it. But your funding needs to be used in a strategic way. If we can do that with public finds and reach out and make some private linkages, that will only help develop the sports."

The Games program received $25,000 from the provincial government for the High Performance Program and last year, Healey said, in excess of $200,000 in funding was devoted to the Canada Games program.

Better than it has been before, no doubt, but more is needed.

Then it's up to the sports to put it to good use.

Organizations: Canada Games, Newfoundland and Labrador Sports Centre.It

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, Corner Brook Summerside St. John's Sherbrooke Halifax

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