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Canadian freestyle skiers face off-hill obstacles

Canada's Alexandre Bilodeau celebrates his first place finish in the men's dual moguls at the World Cup freestyle ski competition at Mont Gabriel in Sainte-Adele, Quebec, January 15, 2011.

SHAUN BEST/REUTERS

On the snow, all is grand with the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association and its mogul maniacs.

Alexandre Bilodeau is the Olympic men's defending champion and back after a year's sabbatical. Mikaël Kingsbury, 20, has a streak of 17 consecutive podium finishes, making the medal prospects for the Sochi Olympics bright going on golden.

But it's what comes after 2014 that concerns CFSA chief executive officer Peter Judge – and with ample reason.

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For the 2012-13 season, freestyle skiing saw its corporate sponsorship revenue nosedive to roughly $90,000 from $1.6-million. The loss of Canada Post Corp. as a prime supporter forced the CFSA to make some harsh decisions. One was cutting back on the number of events held in Canada.

Usually, Quebec and Alberta have been host for a combined aerials/moguls World Cup weekend. Instead, the two provinces each got one discipline, with the moguls going Saturday at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park.

The changes were made to reduce costs. It's a fact of life post-2010 Vancouver Games that has Judge trying to manage his sport's growth – slope-style and half-pipe have been added to the Olympic agenda – while sustaining overall success.

"As it always is with a home Games, the money sloshes to one end of the aquarium then immediately sloshes back to the other," Judge said. "Own The Podium [the funding program implemented for medal success in 2010] was the birth and sustaining force behind the strength we now have on the winter sport side. The problem for us is we're dealing with an eight-year-old business plan and eight-year-old money that has not been cost-averaged based on inflation.

"We're going to need to re-evaluate our business plan and try and find new sources of revenue to make sure we've got that success into 2018 and 2022."

OTP funding has traditionally been directed to elite-level athletes. Sport funding from the Canadian Olympic Committee is often designated for specific expenses – equipment costs, travel, coaching. Sponsorship money comes with no strings attached, which allows the various National Sports Organizations to use it on athlete development.

While the COC has been aggressive in securing corporate benefactors – it announced a new partnership with Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd. on Wednesday – such efforts have made it harder for the NSOs to find a sponsor all to themselves. As Judge explained it: "It's a tougher environment than it was seven years ago to tap into the corporate end."

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For high-end help, OTP will spend more money leading up to Sochi ($76.68-million) than it did for Vancouver ($69.9-million). It is also looking at investing in the feeder system of sports where the medal potential is high.

Until then, freestyle skiing has had to rethink its approach and tread carefully.

"I'm here to ski this weekend. I'm not here to do the case of the CFSA," Bilodeau said when asked if the athletes have felt the effects of the loss in sponsorship money. "I think all the athletes are disappointed not having a stop at home, that we're all Quebeckers. But Calgary still feels like home and we're really welcome and we're happy we have this."

Fortunately for the CFSA, its current lineup of athletes is a mix of youth and experience, which should continue to produce medals. Bilodeau, 25, who became the first Canadian to win a gold medal at a home Olympics, laughed when he said, "I went from youngest to the oldest in a year."

Kingsbury set a record last season by winning his first six events in a row. Overall this season, Canadian freestylers have won eight World Cup medals in recognized Olympic events.

The difficulty over the next 12 months will be determining which athletes get to make the trip to Sochi. The CFSA has selected five events, including the stop in Calgary, as part of the qualifying process.

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"In Vancouver, we were dealing with 18 spots in three disciplines. Now, it's 26 sports between five disciplines," said Judge, referring to the restrictive standards set by the International Olympic Committee. "It's a very dangerous game of musical chairs. Unfortunately, the probability we're going to leave home medal-potential athletes based on a bizarre quota system is a real problem."

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About the Author
Sports writer

Allan Maki is a national news reporter and sports writer based in Calgary. He joined the Globe and Mail in 1997 with an extensive sports background having covered Stanley Cup finals, the Grey Cup, Summer and Winter Olympics, the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the 1989 Super Bowl riot and the 1989 earthquake World Series. More

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