CALGARY – The baby-faced men’s ski jump team will be Canada’s first athletes competing at the 2010 Winter Games, even before the Olympic cauldron is lit at the Feb. 12 opening ceremonies.
Stefan Read, at 22, MacKenzie Boyd-Clowes and Trevor Morrice, 18, plus 17-year-old Eric Mitchell will compete in normal hill qualification earlier that day in Whistler, B.C. All four are from Calgary.
They’ll aim to finish in the top 30 and qualify for the finals Feb. 13. Canada is not expected to win a medal in ski jumping.
“Four years ago, some of the guys, even two years ago, they didn’t even dream they would be part of the Olympic team,” head coach Ted Bafia. “I think that’s a great success for them that they actually achieved that goal.”
Canadians may be surprised to learn they’ll even have a ski jump team at these Olympics because it is a sport at the bottom of the priority list in the country’s quest to win the most medals at its own Games.
After the 1992 Winter Games in Albertville, France, a Canadian didn’t compete in Olympic ski jumping again until the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy.
When Own The Podium, the five-year, $117-million plan to help Canada win more medals than any other country at its own Games, identified which sports had potential to produce medals in 2010, ski jumping was not one of them.
The sport has received the least amount of funding from OTP at $410,000 over five years, compared to over $10 million for the alpine ski team.
“Money can’t buy everything,” Bafia said. “We had a small group of athletes on which we focused our efforts. I think we had enough money to make the best of it.”
Read, the nephew of Canadian alpine skier Ken Read, is the lone athlete on the team with previous Olympic experience. He finished 30th on the normal hill and 42nd on the large hill in 2006.
“Top 20 would be crazy good,” Read said. “We’re not expected to win a medal, so there’s not much pressure on that. A medal would be insane to get.”
Had women’s ski jumping been included in the 2010 program, Ski Jump Canada would have received more funding because Canada had athletes ranked in the world’s top 10. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last month it would not hear the women’s appeal to be included in the 2010 Games.
The IOC voted in 2006 not to include women’s ski jumping in 2010 because the sport was not developed enough.
“When the (IOC) made the announcement, we had two girls in the top 10,” said Brent Morrice, who is chairman of Ski Jumping Canada and also Trevor’s father. “It would have been enormous for our organization. Your sport gets recognition. Not your gender.”
Canada’s national ski jump program is rebuilding from virtually nothing in the mid-1990s. The country’s last ski jumper with medal potential was Horst Bulau, who compiled 13 World Cup victories during his career and finished seventh in the large hill event at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary.
Up until the ski jumps were built in Whistler, the only place to train was at Canada Olympic Park where jumps were built for 1988.
The large hill jump at COP hasn’t been used since 2003, but the smaller, developmental jumps have helped keep Canada’s ski jump program alive as all four 2010 Olympians started out on them with the Altius Nordic Ski Club.
“We’re in a country that doesn’t have a big base of jump facilities,” Bafia said. “What we have is hardly existing and we’re competing with European nations and Japan where the sport is a big deal.
“Our development is a constant struggle. We don’t have a system that will support athletes over the age of 18. High school and then it’s practically over. It’s a competitive sport that’s a full-time job. Without a support system, not many people can afford to spend seven or eight months in Europe.”
Mitchell secured the fourth and final berth on the Olympic team just a month ago by finishing in the top 30 at a Continental Cup in Estonia. The Continental Cup is a level of competition below the World Cup.
“I’m probably going to be youngest competing there at the Olympics so I’m looking for the best experience I can have and get a good performance in as well,” Mitchell said. “I’m there to do the best I can do and hopefully some day compete for a medal at the Olympics.”