Canada Olympics president sees crucial role for Victoria

Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, quipped Saturday that maybe it's "something in the air or perhaps the coastal tides out here."

Whatever is in the air or water, Victoria's contribution to the Canadian team for London 2012 promises to be as substantial as it is for most Summer Olympics.

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That's why the COC is holding its board meeting in Victoria this weekend, marking only the fourth time it has been held outside Ottawa as the B.C. capital joined Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal.

"Victoria teaches us very well. Clearly, Victoria has what it takes to be a sports capital," said Aubut, formerly president, CEO and co-owner of the NHL's Quebec Nordiques from 1978 to 1995.

"It's at these centres where most of our athletes train," said Aubut, speaking at the Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence on the Camosun College Interurban campus, where many Canadian Olympians train.

"For the future of sport in Canada, a lot of success is going to come from these [training centres]. It takes partnerships to make an Olympic champion. London is less than five months away. We have high hopes for London and an ambitious target of being top-12 in 2012. Victoria is going to be part of that chorus before, during and after the Games. It will not be easy.

But achieving excellence is never easy."

That's why hundreds of athletes around the capital region are huffing and sweating this weekend in a city expected to produce as many as 45 athletes for the London Summer Games.

Lindsay Jennerich, among a flotilla of London medal-threat rowers from Elk Lake, strained sinewy muscle on the stationary rowing machine during a demonstration Saturday for the committee at PISE.

Across town at Saanich Commonwealth Place, London hopeful swimmers led by Olympic-medallist Ryan Cochrane took part in time trials while London triathlon medal favourite Paula Findlay races in the Bazan Bay 5K today in Sidney.

Numerous past Island Olympians spanning the years - from Helsinki 1952 sprinter and retired B.C.

Supreme Court justice Bob Hutchison and Rome 1960 swimmer Bob Wheaton to Atlanta 1996 silver-medallist rower and Beijing 2008 gold-medallist rower Dominic Seiterle - were also on hand for the weekend festivities.

"You need a support network in sport, and Victoria does that exceptionally well," noted Aubut.

"And in addition to training athletes, Victoria also has a tradition of hosting events such as the Commonwealth Games, FIFA U20 World Cup and Scotties and Ford world championships in curling."

Brian Price, the rowing coxswain for the goldmedallist 2008 Beijing Olympic Canadian eight, was chosen the athlete representative to address the COC this weekend and proved an eloquent choice.

"When I first came here in 1999 from Ontario, the legacy was already in place from the 1994 Commonwealth Games," said Price, in explaining that Greater Victoria's sporting success on the international stage isn't by accident but design.

"But we haven't been complacent. They are always pushing the envelope here in Victoria with sports. It's always pushing, pushing, pushing. That's what the Victoria community has done. That's what we also do as athletes and that's what we respect as athletes."

Canada looks to a change of season in London after using a dramatic hosting bump to top the gold-medal count at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics in sports not common to the majority of the world that doesn't freeze. Over much of the planet, London and not Vancouver will be viewed as the true test of global sporting greatness for this quadrennial.

"I hope [Vancouver 2010 success] is not a fleeting moment," said Oak BayGordon Head MLA Ida Chong, B.C. minister of community, sport and cultural development, in addressing the COC.

But although the federal Own the Podium medals funding push - so conspicuously successful for Vancouver 2010 - is being carried over, Canada has already shown slippage in summer sports. At Delhi 2010, fourth-place Canada finished out of the top-three medal winners at the Commonwealth Games for the first time since Perth in 1962.

At Guadalajara 2011, fifth-place Canada slipped out of the top-three medalwinning nations at the Pan American Games for the first time since Chicago in 1959.

Caroline Assalian, chief sport officer for the COC, countered that the Commonwealths and Pan Ams are developmental games and not an indicator of how Canada will fare in London.

"The world championships [in the various summer sports] are a better indicator," said Assalian, of Canada's goals of cracking the top-12 at London.

"We will have a very strong team."

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