Road To The Olympic Games

Ken Read steps down as Own the Podium director of winter sports

Former Canadian Olympic skier and member of the country's famed 'Crazy Canucks,' Ken Read announced on Monday that he would be leaving his post as director of winter sport for the Own the Podium group.

'Crazy Canuck' helped found the group in 2004, held director role since 2010

Ken Read, shown in this 2005 file photo, announced on Monday that he was stepping down from his role as director of winter sport for Own the Podium. (File/Canadian Press)

Ken Read is resigning from one of the most powerful positions in Canadian sport.

The former Crazy Canuck on the Canadian men's alpine ski team is stepping down as director of winter sport for Own The Podium less than a year out from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.

The 57-year-old from Calgary says "it was time to step away and move on."

"I've been with OTP in one form or another for a decade," Read told The Canadian Press on Monday. "That's a long time.

"I'm absolutely 100 per cent dedicated to what OTP and the concept of what it does for sport in Canada, but I also believe that you're multi-tasking, dealing with a lot of sports. There's a time where you can be doing that and then you step aside and give other people opportunities."

Canada's goal at the 2014 Olympics is to win more medals than any other country and to finish in the top three in gold medals won at the Paralympics.

Read took the position of winter sport director in 2010 after the Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., to oversee all 13 winter-sport federations heading into Sochi.

OTP's winter and summer sport directors answer to chief executive officer Anne Merklinger. Read's contract was due to expire in 2014.

The program's long-term planning for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, starts next month. Read says he informed Merklinger two weeks ago that he didn't intend to remain winter sport director into the next quadrennial.

They felt the time to look for a replacement candidate is now and Read will leave OTP on March 28.

"There's never a good time for Own The Podium to lose a key member of our leadership team," Merklinger said. "I think it's fair to say that Ken will be a part of every medal that's won in Sochi, for both the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

"Ken's been a tremendous leader for the winter sport group and has continued to push the bar for all the winter sport federations in focusing on preparations for Sochi.

"The positive is he's established a really solid foundation with the winter sport advisers that he's led. Together, the winter sport advisors and the rest of the organization will really remain focused on all the necessary support required for athletes and coaches heading into Sochi fully prepared."

It's the second Olympics in a row in which OTP has lost a leader close to the Games. Alex Baumann resigned as CEO less than a year out from the 2012 Summer Games in London.

'World-wide search'

Merklinger, Baumann's successor, says she'll handle Read's duties until a new winter sport director is appointed in May.

"We'll have a very good search," she said. "A world-wide search, but we have great winter-sport leaders in Canada. We need to make sure there's no disruption or distraction between now and Sochi, so that will obviously be part of the search process."

Read skied for Canada from 1973 to 1983 and in two Winter Olympics. When Read was head of Alpine Canada, he was among the sport leaders that founded OTP in 2004 and he also served on its steering committee leading up to the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

OTP was established to get as many athletes on the podium as possible when Canada hosted the 2010 Olympics. The organization has continued after winning the gold-medal count in Vancouver with a 14.

Read says he'll continue to serve on the executive board of FIS, the world's governing body of skiing, and on its subcommittees. He also sits on the boards of Norquay ski resort near Banff and Score Media.

The chief executive officer of WinSport, which oversees the legacy from the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, recently stepped down and the organization is operating under an interim. But when asked, Read said he will not be the next CEO of WinSport.

"My heart is always in alpine skiing and to some degree I'll always be involved in alpine skiing in one form or another," Read said. "I've got plenty of irons in the fire.

"To me, I look at it at as an opportunity for OTP, of bringing in fresh thinking and new energy, as we take a country who is really in a position to contend for No. 1 and how do we try to ensure that continues? That's in all the different sports and not just the one I'm familiar with.

"That's a wide net and it's a lot of energy and requires a lot of creative thinking working with the sports centres and with the sports' technical leadership."

So Read leaves OTP confident Canada will have an excellent performance in Sochi.

"Saying we're contending for number one is a pretty profound statement in itself," he said. "It also doesn't turn around and say to all the athletes who will be on the Olympic and Paralympic teams that we are demanding you step up deliver.

"It says 'we're giving you the resources. The bottom line though is you've got to stand in the start gate, go out on the sheet or into the game and we just don't want you to have any doubts. All you have to do is do what you love to do."'

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