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Funds from cancelled Training Ground directed towards Canada's future Olympians

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to 2021 has the potential to squeeze Canadian athletes preparing for 2024.

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games to 2021 has the potential to squeeze Canadian athletes preparing for 2024.

Next year would have been Year 1 of the quadrennial for the Summer Games in Paris, had the COVID-19 pandemic not delayed the Tokyo Games.

Among the myriad of challenges the virus has posed to Canadian amateur sport, one is maintaining the next-generation talent pipeline, and not letting future Olympians get lost in the shuffle of the Tokyo extension.

Help for some sports has emerged from yet another COVID-19 cancellation.

With recruitment of "diamonds in the rough" for Olympic sport halted because of the pandemic, money that would have been spent there is now going to the next generation of Canadian athletes.

RBC Training Ground tests athletes from age 14 to 25 across Canada in hopes of pairing them with an Olympic sport.

The five-year-old program has produced track cyclist Kelsey Mitchell, a former university soccer player from Sherwood Park, Alta., who won Pan American Games gold last year, as well as international decathlete Pierce LePage from Whitby, Ont.

Qualifying events, in which athletes are put through a series of speed, power, strength and endurance tests, halted in March because of the pandemic.

The remaining six qualifiers and the May 30 finale in Winnipeg were ultimately cancelled.

RBC is funnelling $230,000 to the nine participating Training Ground sport federations for athletes whose peak performances are four to eight years away. Those athletes are known as NextGen.

Canoe Kayak Canada, for example, will use its grant of $30,000 to invest in provincial and club coaches.

They'll be invited to national camps early next year to coach athletes as well as receive mentorship from national-team coaches.

"It helps us to maintain the momentum of the 2024 group. It could have been a potential gap year," national paddling team manager Emily MacKeigan pointed out.  "It's no longer a quad. It's going to be a three-year cycle.

"This funding allows us a balance between supporting the Olympic team leading into the games, but also making sure our NextGen is getting the support they need as they're heading towards Paris."

Grants between $10,000 and $30,000 will go towards such items as online instruction for Cycling Canada and strength-training innovation for Rowing Canada.

Winter sport is also included. Ski Jump Canada's grant is for suits, bindings and skis. Speed Skating Canada's funds will go towards a development camp in Calgary.

"We obviously couldn't operate RBC Training Ground virtually," RBC executive vice-president and chief marketing officer Mary DePaoli said. "There's an element of making sure participants can perform speed, strength and endurance. There's benchmark testing in front of NSOs.

"We determined the next best thing was to support the NSOs, who will in turn support the athletes. It's all about making sure we can equip young, emerging talent, that NextGen talent, to get the resources they need to get to the next level."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 24, 2020.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press