Thursday Oct. 31, 2013 10:30 ET

Canada’s top winter Olympians meet in private B2ten retreat

Patrick Chan, Christine Nesbitt among elite group of 16

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    Three-time Olympic medallist Charles Hamelin is the reigning king of Canadian short track speed skating. He is ranked first in the world in the men's 500 metres, and second overall. (Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Kaya Turski is a three-time X Games gold medallist in ski slopestyle. Slopestyle will make its debut at the 2014 Winter Games. (Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Alex Bilodeau was the first Canadian to win gold on home soil when he won the aerials event at Vancouver in 2010. (Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)

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    Speed skater Chistine Nesbitt holds the world record in the women's 1000m. She won gold in Vancouver and silver in the team pursuit at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. (John McDougall/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Erik Guay is the best Canadian skier of his generation, with 19 World Cup podium finishes, and was the world champion in downhill in 2012. (Samuel Kubani/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Short track speed skater Marianne St.Gelais won silver medals in the women's 500m and 3,000m relay in Vancouver. She is ranked fourth in the world in the women's 500m; Canada is ranked second in the 3,000m relay. (Robert Michael/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Patrick Chan, three-time world champion, hopes to be the first Canadian male figure skater to win gold at the Olympics. (Dave Sandford/Getty Images)

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    Devon Kershaw, left, and Alex Harvey lead one of the strongest men's cross-country ski teams in Canadian history. (Christof Koepsel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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    Jean-Philippe Le Guellec is Canada's top biathlete. He finished sixth at the 2010 Olympics and had his first World Cup victory in December 2012. (Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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    Cross-country skier Len Valjas has 10 top-10 finishes on the World Cup circuit. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Spencer O'Brien, a four-time X Games medallist in snowboard slopestyle, won gold at the 2013 world championships. (Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

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    Dominique Maltais was the 2013 world silver medallist in snowboard cross and the 2012 X Games champion. She also won bronze in Turin in 2006 and hopes to move up the podium in Sochi. (Alexander Klein/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Mikael Kingsbury, 21, world champion in singles moguls, was approached by B2ten when he was just 17. (Hakon Mosvold Larsen/AFP/Getty Images)

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    Cross-country skier Daria Gaiazova is the national champion in the women's 10km and sprint. She also won bronze in the World Cup team sprint in Sochi in 2013. (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

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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.” 

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