Why Quebec athletes are leading the medal count in Sochi

TORONTO – Six of Canada’s ten medals have been won by Quebec athletes so far—but many believe it’s more than just the millions of dollars the province provides for athletes and infrastructure.

The government allotted $65 million in 2011-2012 on its athletes and the construction of what’s billed as their “state-of-the-art” sport institute under the Team Quebec program.

Then there’s the amateur athlete trust, available to athletes who are members of a registered Canadian amateur athletic association and eligible to compete in an event as a member of the Canadian national team. There’s also a refundable tax credit for Quebec residents recognized as “top-level athletes” by the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS).

“The province of Quebec invests quite heavily in a wide range of key elements of high-performance sport… they have a brand new Institut national du sport that’s going to open later this year that’s going to be state of the art,” said Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger.

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Watch above: Professor of Kinesiology and Canada Research Chair of Physical Activity and Health, Ross Andersen, on why Quebec is such an Olympic powerhouse.

But she believes it’s more than just the funding.

Merklinger said key leaders in the province recognize the importance of integration between provincial and national levels, and work closely with organizations like Own the Podium so there’s a “seamless pathway” for athletes moving up to junior, then senior national team levels on their way to the Olympic Games.

“Quebec does a tremendous job in profiling their athletes,” she said.

“The various players that are involved in the province really take very seriously the need to create these role models and talk about them and promote them and get them into Quebec households, so that the young developing boys and girls in the province of Quebec and around the rest of the country as well can be inspired and motivated.”

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Two-time gold medal winner Alexandre Bilodeau praised the coaches from his province, and hopes to be as inspiring to younger athletes as Jean-Luc Brassard was to him.

“It’s amazing how many coaches are coaching outside Quebec and it’s amazing how many coaches we produce here,” said the men’s freestyle moguls champion. “When you produce coaches, athletes and people it inspires others and it snowballs. It’s like the economy. If the economy’s doing well, it leads to other gains. It’s the same in sports.”

Bilodeau Kingsbury
Gold Medallist, Canada’s Alex Bilodeau (R) and Silver Medallist Canada’s Mikael Kingsbury celebrate on the podium. FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images

But one kinesiology and health science professor says the Quebecers’ domination could be because the Olympic events we’ve seen so far have what he calls “strong sporting traditions” in the province.

“When things change to the sliding events (luge, bobsled, skeleton), we might see more medals coming from Calgary/Vancouver where training centres for these sports are based,” said York University’s Joe Baker in an email to Global News.

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Merklinger noted that Ontario and British Columbia have also been successful when it comes to a well-coordinated, integrated approach between the provincial and national levels of sport for athletes. She agreed that some sports have particular geographical ties.

“If you want to be a short track speed skater in Canada, most of those athletes know they’re going to have to move to Quebec at one point because that is the hotbed of short track speedskating,” she said.

Bilodeau’s coach, Michel Hamelin, also credits the amount of ice in Quebec for preparing athletes training for the Olympics.

“The kids learn to ski on ice and have a better edging, a better body position, and that helps a lot in mogul skiing.”

Watch below: Global’s Geoff Hastings looks at how Quebec athletes are dominating for Team Canada

With files from The Canadian Press


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