SPORTS

Federal government tops up sport science money for Canada's Olympians

02/11/2015 06:02 EST | Updated 04/13/2015 05:59 EDT
CALGARY - The science and technology behind Canada's Olympians got a financial re-boot Wednesday with the announcement of extra federal government money.

The Government of Canada is topping up the Innovations For Gold program by $1 million this year and up to $1 million each of the next two.

"Canada is a leading sport nation. We want to keep it that way," said Bal Gosal, Canada's Minister of State for Sport.

"From learning more about how sleep can help an athlete's recovery to working on head-injury prevention screens, this cutting-edge research is going to provide lasting benefits to our athletes."

Own The Podium spent $8 million on 55 winter-sport projects collectively named Top Secret prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C.

But the money for giant treadmills, global positioning units, cables to catapult speedskaters and human physiology studies shrunk post-2010 to about $1 million spent annually across summer, winter and Paralympic sports combined.

Canada was falling behind other countries in the sport technology arms race again until Wednesday's announcement.

OTP chief executive officer Anne Merklinger can now work with $6 million over the next three years for Top Secret's successor, Innovations For Gold, as long as her organization raises its half for the feds to match.

"This new funding will enable us to get back on track," she said following a news conference at WinSport in Calgary. "If we are not driving research and innovation in high-performance sport, we are not in the game."

One of the few projects Innovations For Gold could afford after 2010 was the alpine sit-ski for para-alpine athletes.

Canadian Paralympic Committee president Gaetan Tardif watched with trepidation as athletes from other countries crashed all over the mountain during last year's Paralympics in Sochi, Russia.

The warm weather and soft snow made the terrain a nightmare for sit-skiers.

"Our Canadian athletes went down that course, they didn't cartwheel, they weren't taken out on stretchers, you could see that sit-ski could really adapt to the conditions," Tardif recalled.

"They went down safely and they went down faster and they won half of the Canadian medal haul at the Paralympics on that alpine sit ski."

Para-alpine skier Kurt Oatway of Edmonton estimated his sit-ski cost "probably somewhere around half a million to a million over the last three to four years," he said.

The Paralympian knows other countries will bring their own high-tech sit-skis to Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018.

"Today's announcement will hopefully provide us with funding to move forward into next year and the year beyond," Oatway said.

"The Japanese have dedicated a large chunk of time, resources and money into developing a specific sit-ski for them. I think ours is one that can do battle with it on the world stage."

OTP is also funding a concussion research project at the WinSport Medicine Clinic at the Canadian Sport Institute Calgary (CSIC). OTP money helped pay for a robotic, virtual-reality device that monitors sensory, motor and cognitive function in people with brain injuries.

Olympic bobsledder and former CFL player Jesse Lumsden demonstrated the technology Wednesday for Gosal.

"It's an objective test that can't be cheated like the three-word trick we used to do in football," Lumsden said, referring to players being told to remember three words as a test of their memory following a hit to the head. "You get objective feedback that can't be tainted by anything.

"You can really establish how severe the injury to the head is. This is helpful for return to play because of its objectivity."

OTP doles out federal government money to Canada's sport federations based on medal potential. The feds provide about $200 million annually to high-performance sport in Canada.

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