Canada’s top winter Olympians meet in private B2ten retreat
Patrick Chan, Christine Nesbitt among elite group of 16
Call it a private retreat for Canadian superheroes.
In May, 16 of Canada’s elite amateur athletes gathered for three days at a hotel in Mont Tremblant, Que. The biggest names of Canadian sport today were there, among them figure skater Patrick Chan, short track speed skater Charles Hamelin, freestyle skiers Kaya Turski and Alex Bilodeau, and alpine skier Erik Guay.
They were there as members of B2ten, a privately-funded organization that takes a business-minded approach to athletic success. B2ten provides money, support and advice to help world-class athletes reach their maximum potential.
With the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, just 100 days away, the drive to be the best is top of mind once again.
“They do everything they can so at the Olympics we do the best,” said Mikaël Kingsbury, 21, the reigning world champion in moguls skiing and a gold medal contender in Sochi. “For me, that’s the best run of my life.”
Part of B2ten’s approach is to remove any obstacles that might hinder an athlete’s path to success. The obstacles can be physical, such as a lingering injury; they can also be psychological, familial or financial.
“Any amount of pressure you can take off the athlete … will help them perform,” said Guay, who has struggled with injury but has said publicly he hopes to win a medal in Sochi. “If you take care of whatever the issues are – ahead of time – then you can just focus on what your job is at hand, how to be a better athlete and how to perform well.
“I count my lucky stars every day that I’m with this,” he said.
“If you want that extra edge – if you want to not only compete but to actually win on the world scene – that is when they can make a difference,” said cross-country skier Alex Harvey, who ranked sixth in the world in 2012. “They give you that extra per cent, that extra half a per cent, that can bring you from a fifth place to a second place.
“And that’s all the difference in the world.”
During the day, the athletes took part in sessions to learn about accounting and financial planning, Russian language and culture (how to make a toast, in Russian, with vodka, for example), and media training. There was also a mentoring session for first-time Olympians, at which experienced athletes such as bobsledder Helen Upperton shared their own experiences – good and bad – about competing at the Games.
“It’s a small group of friends within friends,” said Chan, who struggled personally after finishing fifth at the Vancouver Olympics despite being favoured to win. “It’s kind of hard to pinpoint your friends and those that you can go to if you feel alone at the Games.”
“It’s great to connect with athletes from different sports and hear their stories,” said Turski, a three-time X Games champion and a favourite to win gold in women’s ski slopestyle.
“Someone once said to me, when I was kind of having a hard time, ‘Kaya, you know, you see everybody’s high reel. This isn’t the raw footage,’” she said. “And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s so true.’
“We’re kind of getting to know each other’s raw footage.”
'There is no hook'
B2ten was founded in 2005 to help Jennifer Heil, the freestyle skier who missed the podium by 1/100th of a point at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Convinced she could do better, businessman and sports enthusiast J.D. Miller, along with then-coach Dominic Gauthier, rallied support around her. With help from corporations, sponsors and private donors, they raised enough money to provide specialty athletic training and sports psychology.
A year later, in Turin, she won Olympic gold.
Some, including the athletes themselves, have questioned what would motivate a wealthy donor to step in like a sort of fairy godmother for amateur sport.
But donor Andre Desmarais, the president and co-CEO of Power Corp., and scion of one of Canada’s wealthiest families, told CBC News, “There is no hook.”
“The real reason why it’s being done is because there are a number of us who share a passion about sport and about what these kids are trying to achieve,” said Desmarais. “We want them to be great and it’s great for Canada.”