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Own The Podium's new chief executive officer has high hopes for women's soccer

01/26/2012 07:08 EST | Updated 03/27/2012 05:12 EDT
The new head of Own The Podium will watch the Canadian women's soccer team's game Friday in Vancouver with keen interest.

Canada can qualify in women's soccer for the Olympic Games in London this summer with a win over Mexico in their CONCACAF qualifying tournament semifinal.

The top two teams in the tournament punch their ticket to London, so Canada just has to beat Mexico and make the final to ensure an Olympic berth. Anne Merklinger has high hopes for the soccer team if they can get to London.

"Depending on the outcome . . . we'll be well-positioned for a top-eight position and once you're in the top eight, it's one match way from being the podium," Merklinger said Thursday after OTP announced her appointment as chief executive officer

It's been a thorn in the side of Canadian sport that the country's teams don't traditionally win medals at the Summer Games.

Canada hasn't put a full soccer, baseball, basketball, softball, water polo or volleyball team on the Olympic podium since a men's basketball silver in 1936, although the beach volleyball duo of John Child and Mark Heese took bronze in 1996.

Own The Podium doles out federal government funding based on a sport's medal potential at Olympic Games. In 2010, the feds said $6 million of their approximately $70 million a year in funding had to go towards team sports.

While the plan isn't expected to bear much fruit before the 2016 and 2020 Summer Games, women's soccer and women's water polo were deemed Canada's best chances for team success in 2012.

"We look at teams where we see real potential," OTP board chairman John Furlong said during the conference call. "We have one of these teams now. They're competing in Vancouver this weekend.

"We have some of the best players in the world playing for us. They're in the elite class in that sport. The goal we have with them is once we get them to that place where they break into that class, is to get them to finish it off and achieve that result that we all want.

"The impact of winning in a team sport in the Olympics is extraordinary. It causes many people to want to play the sport."

The women's soccer team finished eighth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, falling 2-1 in extra-time in the quarter-final loss to the United States.

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