Road To The Olympic Games


Training Ground could be blueprint for success

Canada's sport system needs to keep churning out top-level athletes, and the new Training Ground program could be a major boost. This kind of initiative can identify athletes with natural talent and a drive to succeed but without a sport to excel in.

Identify athletic talent first without being restricted by sport

Jesse Lumsden is an example of a football player who became a world-class bobsleigh athlete. It's this kind of approach that Canada needs to use in other areas too, says Deidra Dionne. (The Canadian Press)

An Olympic combine to find Canada's next greatest athletic stars is underway, thanks to a program headed by RBC and CBC Sports, in conjunction with the Canadian Olympic Committee. 

The goal is to hit the road and find the best undiscovered athletes (aged 14 to 25) in Canada. The combine gives athletes from across Canada a chance to showcase their athletic skills with the hope of being discovered by sport officials. 

If selected, they'll receive financial support and mentorship towards an Olympic journey and a trip to Rio 2016.  

I love the creativity. Sponsorships are at their best when they collectively achieve value for partners. 

Here's why this works. The initiative perfectly caters to RBC's, "What's your #someday?" campaign. Olympic supporters can organically capture content and become part of RBC's Olympic partnership. The content of kids aspiring to be Olympians could potentially reveal a future gold medallist. 

For the CBC, it's Olympic content. And, it's a unique way to tell the story of an athlete's journey from the playground to the podium. For the Olympic Foundation, it's a platform to generate donor attention. For the COC, it's an opportunity to generate direct brand affiliation with athletes and buzz for the Olympic movement outside the Olympic Games. 

But the true value is for the sports themselves. Canada's sport system needs to keep churning out top-level athletes. This kind of initiative can identify athletes with natural talent and a drive to succeed but without a sport to excel in. 

Blueprint for success

As I previously wrote, our current funding system has our rich sports getting richer and the rest of our Olympic sports without adequate funding to develop talent into high performance champions. RBC, the COC, CBC and the COF are creatively coming to the table and giving Olympic sports what they need most: great athletes.

In the past, the Canadian sport system has been inept at identifying, training and placing gifted athletes in sports where they'll excel. Australia and the U.K. use this strategy quite a bit. Canada has started using it intermittently out of necessity for sports like rowing, bobsled and skeleton, taking track and field athletes or football players and converting their talents into skills on a different playing field.

But Australia is going even further. Their sport funding system recognizes the long and complex journey to the podium. In acrobatic sports (diving, gymnastics, aerial skiing, halfpipe, etc.), they've identified that an athlete trained in gymnastics has the blueprint for success in most similar disciplines.

Instead of hoarding second-tier gymnasts to create an illusion of depth, the system provides those athletes with a roadmap to transfer to a less accessible sport, like aerial skiing. Labelled "Spin to Win", the initiative funds both the transferred sport along with the original sport to ensure the long term success of all programs.

The Olympic combine of Training Ground is a perfect start. My hope is that it continues to grow and the sports can internally generate a talent transferring program that is as mutually beneficial as the combine is for its partners. Our sport system needs some freshly implemented ingenuity. Imagine our potential as a sporting nation if we get this right.


  • A previous version of this story indicated that the Canadian Olympic Committee was holding the combine. It is in fact a partnership led by RBC and CBC Sports, with the cooperation of the COC.
    Feb 29, 2016 9:07 AM ET

About the Author

Deidra Dionne

Deidra Dionne is Senior Director, Strategic Development and a Legal Associate at Cimoroni & Company, a sport and entertainment strategic sales group. Her unique outlook on the business of sport stems from her experience as a two-time Olympian and Olympic medallist in freestyle skiing aerials and from her education and experience as a lawyer.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.