NEWS
10/28/2011 11:49 EDT | Updated 12/28/2011 05:12 EST

RBC, The Bay extend Olympic commitments in what COC calls' 'milestone deals.'

TORONTO - Two longtime Canadian Olympic sponsors stepped forward again Friday.

RBC and Hudson's Bay Co. renewed their financial commitment to the Canadian Olympic Committee, drawing praise from both COC president Marcel Aubut and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

"We are very fortunate to have (a) private sector who believes so much in it that even in tougher times they are still there and in a milestone way," Aubut told reporters. "They are milestone deals.

"It's (a) new day today, for the future of the athletes and their performance in 2012, 2014 and 2016 — in London, Sochi and Rio."

Asked how much the announcements were worth, Aubut said the deals were unprecedented — "a lot bigger" — not counting those around the Games that Canada has hosted.

"But it's a huge milestone," he added, citing confidentiality in not detailing the exact amount.

Both new deals extend beyond the 2012 Summer Games in London.

"I look forward to bringing you more good news like that in the weeks and months to come," said Aubut.

The good news was tempered somewhat by word later Friday that a failed drug test had cost Canadian wakeboarder Aaron Rathy his silver medal at the Pan American Games.

Games officials say the 23-year-old from Nanaimo, B.C., had tested positive for the stimulant methylhexaneamine. Rathy, via a COC statement, apologized "for the inadvertent use of a banned substance."

The sponsorship announcements were made across the street from Air Canada Centre at the Real Sports Bar and Grill, where politicians, officials, athletes and videos praised the sponsors.

The COC called the RBC deal an expanded partnership that includes more support of Canadian athletes. It also features "more programming to support athlete funding, philanthropy and sponsorship to a National Sport Federation."

RBC's ties with the COC started 64 years ago when Sidney Dawes, a founder of the COC, asked the bank's president for help getting the Canadian team to the 1948 Olympic Winter Games in Switzerland.

"Investment in our athletes is an investment in our country," said RBC president and CEO Gordon Nixon.

The Bay's new eight-year deal as official outfitter to the Canadian team stretches from 2013 to 2020, covering all Olympic, Pan American and Youth Olympic Games.

It includes "cash, merchandise, marketing value-in-kind and philanthropic programs" such as the successful red mittens campaign.

"We are pledging our support to help Canadian athletes make history," said Bonnie Brooks, president and CEO of the Bay.

The department store chain's 2006-10 Olympic support program was worth $21 million, she said.

The mittens alone have raised $18.9 million this year and last, Brooks added.

"We like to say mittens equals medals."

The Bay's connection with the Olympics dates back to 1936 when the Canadian men's ski team wore the department store's iconic striped coats at the Games in Germany.

The Bay is scheduled to unveil its 2012 Canadian team uniform next week.

Brooks, perhaps not the most objective observer, called them "spectacular."

Flaherty, who called it "an important day for Canadian athletes," said the federal government will continue its commitment to sport — "even though, as you know, we are in challenging economic times here and around the world."

Flaherty noted that the largest financial supporter of the Olympic movement were Canadians themselves, via their taxes.

"And thank you for all the taxes you pay," he said, drawing laughter. "You don't hear that very much, I know. Thank you."

Flaherty also paid tribute to Canadian athletes.

"You inspire us. You inspire all Canadians ... You are all role models, you are all ambassadors."

The 2012 Games open July 27.