Team Canada prepares to kick a little booty in 2010

Lesley Hawker, Canada's third-ranked woman.
Lesley Hawker, Canada's third-ranked woman. (Getty Images)


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By Laurie Nealin
(10/15/2007) - By the time Canada's elite athletes arrive at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, the figure skating venue should feel as comfortable as an old shoe or, in this case, a well-worn skate boot.

Come 2010, Canadian figure skaters will have had four successive, high-performance training camps, one national championship, and perhaps two ISU events under their belts on Pacific Coliseum ice. The 2008 Canadian Championships will be held there in January, while the ISU Four Continents is slated for the facility one year previous to the 2010 Games.

The training camps, jointly funded by the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee, Skate Canada, and Own the Podium (OTP), are one component of the multi-sport strategy intended to put Canada on top in the overall medal count come 2010.

At Skate Canada's annual camp last month, national team members were required to perform their competitive programs in a simulated competitive environment with judging panels present. The public was invited to watch the two session's free-of-charge. A thousand people showed up each day.

Patrick Chan, the 2007 world junior silver medalist who opens his season at Skate America next week, greatly enjoyed the camp. "They told us about the improvements they're making to the venue and it was really a great opportunity to skate in the rink where the Olympics will be. It's a big advantage, I would say. We're really lucky to be able to go there every year and try out the ice, so when we get to the Olympics we don't feel out of place."

According to Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high-performance director who was the 1992 Canadian men's champion, the ice surface will be Olympic size come next year's camp, providing the Canadian team with an even more realistic simulation for the Games.

In addition, the fall camp helped to ensure that skaters would be ready to compete for the podium at their assigned senior internationals and Grand Prix events including Skate America beginning Oct. 26 and Skate Canada Nov. 1-4. (Ice Network will have extensive coverage of both events.)

"Everyone was healthy and it was a very successful three days," Slipchuk said. "For what the level of world skating is at after (2007) Worlds, our skaters have gone home and done their work, definitely put themselves into position to be with the best of them this year."

OTP also provides funding to individual athletes, offers integrated sport science and sports medicine support, and allows for enhanced technical and analytical consulting for both coaches and athletes.

Lesley Hawker, Canada's third-ranked woman, truly appreciates those extra dollars and the overall support.

"Own the Podium is about all of Canada -- government, corporate, provincial -- coming together to help the athletes. It's great to know they're all behind us as a huge, huge support team helping us to be on the podium in Vancouver," said Hawker, who kicks-off her season at Skate Canada.

Figure skating's liaison with OTP is Theresa Schlachter, a former bobsledder who coached Canadian athletes to three medals in skeleton at the 2006 Olympics and is now committed to getting the skaters whatever help they need to land on the Olympic podium.

"Personally, the direct financial aid gives me what I need help with - more lessons, more ice time, better costumes, better choreography, so I can be ready to make it to the Olympics and do really well when I get there," said Hawker, who has been training in Michigan with Richard Callaghan for the past two years.

At the camp in September, Hawker was able to spend some time alone on the ice at The Pacific Coliseum for just a few minutes, but that memory will endure to 2010.

"Skating around, I thought about how this would be the Olympic venue, how it would be brimming with people, the excitement, the Olympic rings on the ice," said Hawker. "I can visualize that every night now. I know what the ice is like, what the backstage is like. It's starting to feel more like home, so it's been incredible to be able to be there.

"Anytime you can walk into a rink and it feels like home, it's such a huge advantage, especially when it's the Olympic Games with the pressure of being the hometown team."