Blog Entry

Behind Canada's "own the podium" program

Posted on: February 19, 2010 9:07 am

By Ina Fried

Determined to make a better medal showing on its home soil, Canada has spent millions of dollars over the past several years in an effort to "own the podium."

And a big part of that effort has been a "top secret" program that aims to give the country's athletes better uniforms and better equipment, as well as access to technology that can help them improve their performance.

In the past five years, Canada has invested $8 million exploring anything that might give their athletes a boost, including better materials for uniforms, putting athletes through wind tunnels, and using motion-capture software to measure body position.

In all, 55 projects were selected involving 20 institutions and 150 researchers from the National Research Council, universities, and private companies.

"It's pretty exciting," said Todd Allinger, the Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering who manages the "top secret" program. "We know we've made a bunch of gains." 

Begun in 2004, the Own the Podium program set the lofty goal of leading the overall medal count, an ambitious goal, considering Canada failed to win a single gold medal at the two previous Olympics it hosted, the 1988 Calgary Winter Games and 1976 Montreal Summer Games. Although things improved in more recent games, even athletes in the 2002 and 2006 games said they were out-gunned from a technology perspective.

"Some of athletes were saying, 'we can't beat the Americans because they have better suits,' or 'we can't beat the Austrians because they have better skis,'" Allinger said.

He co-authored a report that stated that Canada could capture the top medal spot, but only if it made significant investments in training and technology. The country stepped up, pouring millions of dollars to fund research and training efforts across the country.

Among the projects are several conducted at nearby University of British Columbia. There, professor Savvas Hatzikiriakos has led a team looking into ways of reducing both ice and snow friction.

A new base for skis and snowboards that can reduce friction by 20 percent already appears to be showing results. Canada led the medal count at the world championships last year and has won several medals, including two golds in snowboarding, both by athletes using the new base.

One way you can tell a Canadian snowboard racer is just by looking at the underside of their board. While other countries ride boards proudly showing the company that made it, Canada's are plain black, showing that they are using the base that Hatzikiriakos helped develop.

Photo Gallery:
Technical effort to win gold

And while Hatzikiriakos worked in the lab, fellow UBC professor Sheldon Green took to the local slopes, studying which compounds performed best in which conditions.

"We ended up building a database consisting of a whole bunch of snow and weather variables that is used by ski technicians to give them some guidance," Green said. In the past, technicians have relied on trial and error and their own experience to choose the right ski waxes and grinds. While not downplaying the importance of experienced and knowledgeable technicians, Green said "instead of just memory that can be fallible, this gives people a scientific database."

Meanwhile, in another project, researchers used GPS to measure the effectiveness of different lines that skiers could take when tackling a particular slope.

"Sometimes the fastest way down hill might be a direct line, but there might be a faster speed that takes more distance," Allinger said.

Technology is obviously only one component, with the top athletes being the most important thing, followed by the right conditioning and training.

"We cannot bump someone from 20th place to the podium, but we can improve [them] a little bit," Hatzikiriakos said.

Allinger concurred but also noted that there is often a minuscule difference between medaling and missing the podium. For example, Allinger noted that Kelly Vanderbeek was fourth in the Super-G skiing event in Turin, Italy, finishing just three hundredths of a second away from the bronze. "We want to ensure that doesn't happen because of equipment or technology."

So how is it going? Well, Canada has already won three gold medals at the Vancouver Games, though it still trails overall medal leaders Germany and the United States by a significant margin.

However, the head of the Own the Podium program has urged people not to judge the program until the games are over, noting that some of Canada's strongest medal contenders compete toward the end of the games.

"Ostensibly, it may appear we are behind in the medal count, but in day by day analysis we have bested our performance in Turin," Own the Podium CEO Roger Jackson said in a statement to CNET. "Coming into these games, we knew we must be patient as our best chances for medals fall in the last four days of the competition. While we congratulate the other countries for their fantastic performances thus far, we remaining focused on our game plan."

While many of the "top secret" projects have proved fruitful, not all were ready for this year's games. Hatzikiriakos points to an effort to make a microscopic pattern on speed skates that mimics the water-repelling lotus leaf. The problem, he said, wasn't that it didn't reduce friction. It just worked a little too well, meaning skaters didn't have the control they needed in the turns. Hatzikiriakos' team did succeed in helping skaters choose better metals to use in their skates.

There has been some criticism that Canada has gone a bit over the top in its effort to win more gold, particularly in the way it has limited access of international athletes to venues like the Whistler Sliding Center where the luge, bobsled, and skeleton take place. Allinger rejected that idea.

"I know that the athletes have had more access to this track than any other Olympic track before the games," Allinger said.

Ina Fried is a Senior Writer for CNET News. She will be in Vancouver covering various angles for both and her CNET Blog " Beyond B1nary ". You can also follow her on twitter at:


Since: Apr 18, 2009
Posted on: March 1, 2010 3:25 am

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

Becuase Canada has 10 times the intelligence?  C'mon, just kidding, sort of.

Since: Feb 27, 2010
Posted on: February 28, 2010 11:46 pm

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

Oh come on redskins#1 . . . where's that great Canadian humor I've been hearing about?  That part of my post was written with sarcasm and yes, that is ridiculous.  My point was how ridiculous it is to say you calculate medal count according to population.  There are so many other factors . . . culture, life styles, money for training, genetics, etc.  By the way, speaking of population statistics, why does the US have 10 more times as many people than Canada? Hmmmm . . .

Since: Apr 18, 2009
Posted on: February 28, 2010 5:24 am

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

Oh my god.  togtog, that is the most moronic thing I have ever read regarding this argument.  ALL of amateur sports is tiered based upon this very thing.  Take college basketball, Div 1, Div 2, etc.  This is based upon the number of students enrolled in the school, yet you don't see the smaller schools sending teams of 2 to play basketball.  All a larger place does is
1) provide more funding,
2) have greater selection to athletes.
Case and point, where you might have 25 downhill skiers competing for your 4 spots, we have 10.  Etc. Etc.

Since: Feb 27, 2010
Posted on: February 27, 2010 10:31 am

Medal Count Wars

I congratulate all of the athletes on what they have accomplished at the Olympics.  I do have to say that I'm kind of getting tired of the Canada vs. the US instead of All Countries vs. All Countries.  I have heard so many interviews from Canadian athletes and spectators saying that they hate losing especially to the Americans.  Also, I love the TV coverage of Canadians booing US teams and athletes.  Nice touch--very classy!!  I believe that it is the typical problem of a Canadian identity crisis that Canadians seem to display (especially when they travel luggage covered with red maple leafs).  "Oh no--someone might think that we're Americans!"

I am sick of seeing the comments on message boards stating that the US has 10 times as many people, so Canada is winning the medal count against the US by a landslide . . . blah blah blah.  I guess if you want to go that route--if we have ten times as many people, then I only think that it's fair that we have ten times as many people competing.  So, Canada you have 193 athletes competing.  I guess we should have sent 1,930 athletes instead of 216--just to make it fair right!  Or, maybe Canada should have only 20 athletes at the games.  We must be fair in the true representation of the population of each country don't you think?!

Why when every year the olympics come around every olympic message board out there you can find several Canadians who feel they need to defend their medal count.  Chill out!  Nobody cares except for you. 

Since: Mar 19, 2009
Posted on: February 22, 2010 7:38 pm

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

StreetRat....I know what you mean. Trolls and douche's ruin the internet for normal people. LOL

Since: Mar 19, 2009
Posted on: February 22, 2010 7:36 pm

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

Did you hear about what Russia did to the Germans during WW2?  Probably the single biggest turning point in the war.

Good point about Russia. That crazy Russian winter hurt the german army as well, LOL.

Since: Oct 22, 2006
Posted on: February 22, 2010 11:59 am

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

I agree with this.  Two of our most populous states are Texas and Florida.  People who live there ski, ice skate and play hockey every day.  OK, being a Canadian of superior intelligence I'm sure you see through my sarcasm.  Every country hosting an Olympics wants to do well on home soil.  But as others have pointed out, the public "Own the Podium" campaign by a host country wasn't borne from the ideals of sportsmanship.  Regardless of the arrogance and condescension I get from Canadians I meet, I still cheer for Canadian teams and athletes except when they're playing the USA.  I'm confident most Canadians wouldn't reciprocate.

Since: Jan 6, 2010
Posted on: February 22, 2010 9:29 am

Own the Podium, eh?

From what I've seen so far (e.g., the hockey loss, the technical malfunction of the caldrons at the opening ceremonies, the glitches on the slopes, the runs, the tracks, etc.), Canada not only doesn't OWN the podium, I doubt seriously that it could PAINT the podium.

Since: Jan 8, 2010
Posted on: February 22, 2010 7:50 am

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

I really don't hate Americans in general.
I see our two countries as allies and friends.I'd trust someone from the maritimes fighting at my side in a war (for a long time, though, the American military was scum of the earth in the eyes of the Canadian military, but that's changing, I guess), but not from Toronto, though.  That being said, one of the biggest American haters I've met was from Monteal.  The first four people I've met from Toronto over the past 10 years were real know-it-all *!%@, and American haters.  I think it's complex driven, and it's because Toronto is not New York, and it's not even Chicago.  (I guess I'm looking down on the country again.)  The fifth person I've recently met from Toronto might change the trend.  Here's holding out hope.

I just let that NOVOROB guy get under my skin and shot off at the mouth.Don't take it personally.  I've had years of practice taking a beating from Canadians until I've learned how to hold my own.  It's comes with time, and you'll get better at it, especially if you have to work and live with Americans on a daily basis.  I had a double wammy for a while:  working with Canadians in South Korea.

I really do get sick and tired of seeing guys like that talk like we owe the US something and they have the right to look down on our great country.
I've never said one time that Canada owes the U.S. anything.  Not one time!  Okay, I wrote in a couple of my posts that Canada's cities along the boarder are boader towns in a couple of my posts.  That's probably looking down on your great country, and may even sound like I think you owe the U.S. something.  Let me make it clear"  I DO NOT THINK CANADA OWES THE UNITED STATES ANYTHING AND VISE-VERSA.

In my calmer moments I do realize that guys like that are really in the minority in both countries.
If you randomly plucked five Canadian guys and five Americans guys out of their respective countries and put them in third country working as expats, I'd place money on one of the Canadian guys lobbing the initial volley and starting first with the know-it-all, self-righteous crap. (basically doing something first to start the relationship / morale rolling in a negative direction), expecially if you plucked the guys from Toronto.  That being said, people from Vancouver can be cool, and people from the maritimes are down-to-earth.

Since: Jan 17, 2010
Posted on: February 22, 2010 1:58 am

Behind Canada's 'own the podium' program

Kev-oI need to appologize to you.  I really don't hate Americans in general.  I see our two countries as allies and friends.

I just let that NOVOROB guy get under my skin and shot off at the mouth.  I really do get sick and tired of seeing guys like that talk like we owe the US something and they have the right to look down on our great country.

In my calmer moments I do realize that guys like that are really in the minority in both countries.

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