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February 25, 2010
By Kathryn Blaze Carlson, National Post

Canadian women handling Olympic pressure better than men

After all the early hand-wringing about Canadian performance in Vancouver's Winter Games, the latest pattern of results has produced a separate storyline of success -- one that stars the nation's female competitors.

After all the early hand-wringing about Canadian performance in Vancouver's Winter Games, the latest pattern of results has produced a separate storyline of success -- one that stars the nation's female competitors.

On Wednesday alone, Canada's women earned four medals -- a day spectators in Vancouver dubbed Wild Women's Wednesday -- and elevated their medal count to 11. At that time, the men had claimed just three.

Women have long fought for equity at the Olympics, from participation to media coverage. But at these Winter Games and the last, Canada's female athletes are by far the more decorated gender.

Of the 24 medals this country earned at the Turin 2006 Winter Olympics, women won 16 and men won eight.

"There is an ebb and flow to the source of excellence in the Olympics, and this is the time for the women of Canada," said Janice Forsyth, director of the International Centre for Olympics Studies at the University of Western Ontario.

Indeed, a look back at medal tallies over the past 50 years reveals that this has not always been the case. And so, on the heels of Wild Women's Wednesday, and with women gaining victory in hockey last night and being guaranteed a medal in curling today, onlookers are speculating why, exactly, Canada's women have done so well in this century's Winter Games.

What is it, they ask, that equips this nation's female Olympians to so unabashedly outdo the men? Theories range from funding and investment to the nature of the very events that comprise the Winter Games. For Karin Lofstrom, executive director of the Canadian Association for the Advance of Women in Sport, the answer lies mostly in dollars.

"Money that has been spent on developing female athletes is paying off like crazy," Lofstrom said in a telephone interview from Vancouver. "People here are noticing that it's the women who are bringing the medals home."

Forsyth likewise credits athlete investment and points to Canada's Own the Podium program, a $117-million initiative launched in 2004 to support and develop the country's elite and most promising athletes.

"Own the Podium funding seems to have done exceptional things for women -- we've never seen this level of funding before, and we've never seen women do so well," Forsyth said. "A surge in funding might also be felt more by women than by men, because that sort of systematic funding in certain sports is new to women."

The women's hockey team, for example, raked in $4,849,000 in Own the Podium funding over the past four years as compared with the men's team, which saw $1,405,100. And while there were more male than female athletes who received targeted funding in sports such as alpine skiing and speed skating, the numbers were comparable.

"We invest based on medal potential, and if there's a female that is performing at that international level, then we've made sure to support that individual or that team," said Claire Buffone Blair, a spokeswoman for Own the Podium.

Canadian women, it seems, are seeing more dollars in more sports than ever before. And they are garnering more attention, too. Months before the 2010 Opening Ceremonies, Ottawa declared the theme of last fall's Women's History Month: In a bizarre foreshadow or perhaps with Turin in mind, the theme was "Women in the Lead: Winter Sports." But it is not simply decisions made within Canada's borders that have catapulted female athletes to such acclaim, the actions -- and inaction -- of competitor countries also play into gender inequity at the podium.

"Canada is advancing more than other countries in terms of focusing on women in sports," Forsyth said. "In some ways, the field in women's sports is not as deep as it is in men's." In fact, she said the discussion around Canada's gendered performance was prompted more by men than by women. "I think people are actually worried about the men not doing so well," Forsyth said. "I think it's coming from that angle."

Regardless of what brought this issue to the fore, strategists at Own the Podium are keeping a watchful eye on the women's medal count -- and, more specifically, on the events in which women are more likely to contend. "Women seem to perform really well in new sports," Buffone Blair said. "I don't know what the theory is, but we will be looking at that as part of our strategy going forward."

Forsyth, for her part, does have a theory on why women medal in new sports. She explains that the Summer Games, with its longer history and fewer new events, are more institutionalized than the Winter Games. The Winter Games, she said, offer a "cultural space for women to excel."

"It's a far more liberating space, one that allows women to participate and thrive."

Why Canadian women rock at the Olympics - February 25, 2010 The Star - Debra Black
One theory: Women don’t have the same opportunities the men do, outside the Olympic Games

Canadian women power the podium - February 26, 2010 The Globe and Mail By Paul Waldie
If Canadian Olympic officials really wanted to own the podium at the Vancouver 2010 Games, they should have picked an all-female team.

Female Olympians own podium for Canada - February 26, 2010 The Montreal Gazette By DAN BARNES
It's easy to see who wears the snow pants in this Olympic family.

Fans proud of athletes who 'play like girls' - February 26, 2010 By Lori Culbert, Vancouver Sun
Canada's women have dominated the medal count and many hope this will encourage more girls to get involved in sports

Where would we be without our women? - February 26, 2010 The Star By Randy Starkman
Call it The Sisterhood of the Travelling Track Pants.

Winning women deserve better- February 26, 2010 The Star

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