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Problems facing Biathlon Canada
By:  Unknown, (xczone.tv)   (2003/07/02)


Articles on the problems facing Biathlon Canada
Sources unknown, articles submitted by: David McMahon & Lise Meloche - www.xczone.com
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Top biathletes quit Canada as COA poisons sport.

Maryke Ciaramidaro is sick of trying to make a difference and has left Canmore to compete with the Italian biathalon team. Maryke Ciaramidaro has bid arrivederci to Canada.

The Canmore athlete made good on her threat to quit Canada’s troubled national biathlon program and is continuing her promising career with the Italian team. Despite numerous attempts to convince Canada its funding program and selection processes are hopelessly flawed, the 21-year-old feels the organization has done little to improve the climate for biathletes.

The CANADIAN Olympic committee has the toughest criteria in the World which in effect would eliminate most of last Olympic medalists. The COA requires that athletes be under 25 years old and have finished better than top 12 in the World twice. It is an outrageously pompous stance that does nothing to help Canadian sport. Some have questioned the legality of age limitations and athelete contracts with regards to the Charter.

Ciaramidaro, who holds dual Canadian and Italian citizenship, is now a member of the Italian ‘B’ team, and will likely get a chance to qualify for the ‘A’ team later this year.

“I was sick of all the energy spent trying to make a difference,” said Ciaramidaro from her new training ‘base’ in Antholz, Italy. “I was pretty upset with Canada in general – everything from support to the Canadian Olympic Association (COA); the way everything is done in Canada,” she said.

In January 2002, prior to the Salt Lake City Olympics, Ciaramidaro sent a scathing letter to Wild Rose MP Myron Thompson and Banff/Cochrane MLA Janis Tarchuk, outlining the woes of the biathletes. “I am seriously considering going to Italy in the future because I am sick of year after year of political bullshit,” she wrote in the lengthy letter, hoping the two government representatives would take note and throw some weight behind the issue.

Biathlon Canada’s then-executive director, Rick Nickelchok, vowed that “change is required in philosophy and change is required in criteria.” But 18 months later, the scenario for Canadian biathletes has arguably worsened, and the national program is left crumbling.

Biathletes are suffering as a result of fewer funding dollars, and according to national biathlon team coach Richard Boruta, Olympic qualifying standards for the sport are about to be raised. “They are cutting funding but asking for higher performance,” said Boruta of Biathlon Canada’s subsequent action. “It makes no sense to me.”

Ciaramidaro, clearly relieved by her departure, defends her move, saying, “I gave it the best chance. I could have moved before the Olympics.” “The year before the Olympics I had the chance to come here, and I stayed (in Canada) and I got a kick in the ass,” she said.

A veteran of four world junior championships, Ciaramidaro has trained since the age of 10, and worked tirelessly to compete at the international level. She fears all the years of training would have been wasted if she left her future in the hands of Biathlon Canada.

“When (Biathlon Canada) realized I was serious about leaving, that’s when they put an effort into finding funding. It would have meant a lot more to me if they’d have put the effort into all the athletes for years and years. We would have had a great team by now. “I’m not willing to stand for that,” she said.

Ciaramidaro has settled quickly into her new training schedule, and although she admits to struggling with the language, has no regrets. “Now that I’m here they couldn’t pay me a million dollars a year to come back. I’m so happy here, she said. “Here everything is laid out for me, they treat you like an elite athlete.”

Boruta regrets losing one of the county’s brightest biathlon prospects, but supports Ciaramidaro’s decision to leave the troubled program. “If this will help her achieve her goals it’s probably the best thing,” said Boruta, who is clearly concerned about the sport’s future. “Right now (biathlon) is lacking money resources and I think the only hope is to get the Winter Olympics in 2010 in Vancouver,” he said. “I’m concerned that biathlon in Canada could be disappearing slowly.”

Rising Star Leaves Canadian Biathlon Team To Compete For Italy

Canada's quest to be the number one nation at 2010 Winter Olympic Games and our tough, new performance criteria for Olympic sports may look good on paper, but in practice they have driven away one of the country's most promising young Olympic athletes.

Mar˙ke Ciaramidaro, 21, of Canmore, Alta., widely regarded as a rising star following in the tracks of triple Olympic biathlon medal winner Myriam Bédard, is fed up with the Canadian sport system and has left the country to compete for Italy where she'll have more support and greater opportunities to win an Olympic medal. Both of Ciaramidaro's parents were born in Italy, giving Mar˙ke dual citizenship.

Canadian biathlon officials were looking to Ciaramidaro, the 2001 European junior champion in the individual competition, to lead a developing Canadian team in its bid to reach the podium at the 2010 Winter Games.

As a first-year senior athlete in 2002, Ciaramidaro was extremely disenchanted when the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) denied her appeal to be named to the Canadian Olympic team for the Salt Lake City Games. Since then the COC has raised the already tough performance criteria for Olympic qualification from two top-16 international results to two top-12 international results, making it even more difficult for young athletes like Ciaramidaro to gain the "Olympic" experience they need early in their careers to ultimately reach the podium at the Games.

Most of the countries Canada competes against in biathlon, including Italy, have less stringent Olympic qualification standards.

Biathlon Canada executive director Rick Nickelchok says he made every effort to keep Ciaramidaro in Canada but understood her reasons for leaving and placed no obstacles in her way. "We want every athlete to achieve his or her potential and goal in sport," says Nickelchok. "Mar˙ke has clearly demonstrated that she has the talent to perform extremely well at the Olympic Games. She believes her dream of competing at the Olympics can best be realized with another country because the Canadian system is not supportive and does recognize her talent and effort."

Ciaramidaro initially left the Canadian team following her Salt Lake disappointment to reconsider her athletic career and explore the Italian option. She returned in January 2003 and competed for the Canadian Forces team at the World Military Championships in April. In May, she joined the Italian team and is expected to earn a spot at the 2006 Games.

Nickelchok says Ciaramidaro’s flight to greener pastures could be the harbinger of similar defections in other sports for athletes who hold dual passports, as well as an increase in the premature retirement of other talented, young athletes who don't get the support or opportunities needed from the Canadian system to pursue their Olympic goals.

"It's a clear warning sign that the new COC criteria are too tough for many developing sports which are not winning medals right now but have the potential to contribute to Canada's goal of being number one at the 2010 Olympics," says Nickelchok.

Ciaramidaro’s defection is damaging to Biathlon Canada in more ways than one. The organization not only loses its brightest prospect for a medal at the 2010 Games, but also a main cog in raising the team's overall international ranking, which in turn is critical to obtaining funding from the key sport system funding partners, including the federal government (Sport Canada), CODA (Calgary Olympic Development Association), Canadian Sport Centre - Calgary and the COC.

Canadian biathletes are currently struggling with significant funding cuts from the COC. Due to Biathlon Canada’s lack of recent international success, the COC has already cut its support by 50 percent for the current quadrennial ending in 2004 to about $135,000. Another 50 percent cut is expected in the next quadrennial leading up to the 2010 Winter Games which may well take place in Canada.

To make matters worse, the Canadian Sport Centre - Calgary, which also receives funding support by both the COC and Sport Canada, has recently cut off all support (coaching, sport medicine and sport science) to members of the national biathlon team and CODA has reduced it’s support to the same athletes by 60 percent.

"The Canadian sport system rewards sports and athletes who are currently winning international medals, but this short-sighted new approach neglects the development of talented young athletes in lower profile sports," says Nickelchok.

"It's a catch-22 situation. To improve your performance you need money to give athletes top-level training and competition opportunities, but without adequate funding you can't produce better results, no matter how high you raise the performance bench marks."

Interesting Reading. . .
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