Road To The Olympic Games

'Diamonds in the rough' recruited for Olympic sport via Training Ground

RBC Training Ground is a hub for breeding elite athletes into amateur sport. Pierce LePage and Gavin Broadhead are perfect examples.

1st-year winner Pierce LePage won silver at the Commonwealth Games in the decathlon

Canadian Gavin Broadhead is another athlete to come out of RBC Training Ground with Olympic aspirations. (CBC Sports)

Gavin Broadhead was training hard, but he didn't know what for.

The former centre with the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers turned to crossfit and weightlifting after hockey before joining the University of Lethbridge track team. He learned about RBC Training Ground from Pronghorn teammate Sarah Orban, whose success in the program got the attention of Canada's cycling federation.

Broadhead, from Hay River, N.W.T., was put through speed, power, strength and endurance tests in a Training Ground qualifier in Medicine Hat. The 23-year-old's scores advanced him to a regional final April 21 in Calgary.

Broadhead's scores in another round of tests put him on Speed Skating Canada's radar. He'll attend a speedskating camp at the Olympic Oval in July when he'll don the long blades for the first time.

"After being done hockey, I didn't really know what to do. I'm an athlete. I need something to train for," Broadhead said.

"I've been training really hard for a number of years without really a clear direction. Just hoping to find a sport that I can be guided through, have some good quality coaching and see what's possible. I just need to find the right surrounding environment that's going to facilitate success."

Gavin Broadhead won the RBC Training Ground Alberta regional final 2:31

In its third year, Training Ground is the brainchild of the Canadian Olympic Committee, the Canadian Olympic Foundation, CBC Sports, the national sport institutes and sponsor RBC.

The program's goal is to widen and deepen the pool of high-performance athletes by testing and recruiting athletes from all levels of different sports.

"The idea was how do we find those athletes that are off the high-performance grid?" COC chief marketing officer Derek Kent explained

"They are the diamonds in the rough. We need to identify them through some type of mechanism."

From 32 qualifiers across the country from Victoria to Halifax, those who score well in sprints, jumps and bike tests advance to six regional finals for more testing in a competitive environment in which winners are declared.

Sport federations scouting talent

Fourteen Canadian summer and winter sport federations now scout those regional finals. The top 30-odd athletes at regional finals receive funding to pursue their Olympic dreams.

Speed Skating Canada got involved in the program for the first time this year, so Broadhead is somewhat of an experiment.

Athletes have gone to speedskating from other sports before and won Olympic medals, including Clara Hughes (cycling) and Cindy Klassen (ice hockey).

"We wanted a well-rounded athlete who knew how to skate," Canadian speedskating coach Mark Wild said.

"We know speedskating is a difficult sport to grasp because of the complexity of the technique, but at the same time we've seen other athletes historically that have been able to make that crossover from different sports."

Training Ground is open to Canadian athletes between the ages of 14 and 25. The COC says 2,600 athletes have been tested so far in 2018 with seven qualifiers remaining.

Pierce LePage, who won decathlon silver at last month's Commonwealth Games, was the RBC Training Ground Toronto regional winner in the program's first year. (CBC Sports)

The poster child for Training Ground is Pierce LePage. The decathlete from Whitby, Ont., won a silver medal in last month's Commonwealth Games just two years after winning a regional final in Toronto.

Training Ground has provided $675,000 in funding to athletes since 2016.

"I'm sure there are a lot of athletes out there that have no idea how good they could be at something," Broadhead said.

"Having a combine like this in front of all these sporting organizations, I think it's possible they could find some people who could be world-class athletes."

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