Quebec's dominance in freestyle skiing spans decades
Sport’s success in province a unique combination of interdependent ingredients
Winning may contribute to a sport's long-term podium success but athletic achievement alone doesn't directly equal generations of dominance in a sport. Sustained success requires more than merely an individual standing atop the Olympic podium.
Think of it like an old family recipe, passed down from generation to generation. By no means is it perfect science and it's tough to quantity the importance of each ingredient making it exceptional. But year after year, it reliably pleases.
For freestylers in Quebec, the recipe is working. The province has produced 11 of the 15 Olympic medals won by Canadian freestyle athletes since the sport's inception into the Olympic Games (starting in 1992 with moguls, aerials in 1994 and halfpipe and slopestyle in 2014).
In an effort to pinpoint their recipe for success, I reached out Peter Judge, Own the Podium's director of winter sport, David Mirota the vice president of sport with Freestyle Canada, and Marie-Annick Bedard, the general manager for Quebec's Freestyle Ski Federation. They each agreed – the medals can't be traced to one specific ingredient.
Instead, the sport's success in the province is a unique combination of the following interdependent ingredients:
History of freestyle in Quebec
Quebec's successful history in the sport of freestyle skiing includes the pioneers of the sport itself. Names like John Eaves, Alain LaRoche, Jean-Luc Brassard, Nicolas Fontaine, Jean-Philippe Auclair, JF Cusson and Vincent Dorion all influenced the sport in remarkable ways. Some of them pushed the boundaries of the sport in new directions, whereas others found success in more traditional ways. One common thing they shared? They individually contributed to creating history, making headlines and heightening culture of love for a sport that, realistically, is niche outside of La Belle Province.
Culture of winning
Brassard attributes Quebec's success to the ski crazy culture and accessibility of its champions. No doubt, Olympic medallists Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, two-time Olympic gold medallist Alexandre Bilodeau, and Olympic silver medallist (and the most winningest mogul skier ever) Mikael Kingsbury continue to inspire the next generation of Quebec athletes with their success.
But ask Judge, who was also the former CEO of Freestyle Canada, and he'll tell you it's Jean-Luc himself who captured the hearts of our country and turned the tides for generations of freestyle athletes.
"Ask almost any freestyle athlete and they have a 'Jean-Luc Brassard' story," Judge said. "Three generations after winning Olympic gold in Lillehammer, Norway, his win continues to be pivotal to the culture of freestyle in Quebec."
Brassard set the example for every freestyle champion to follow. You commit to giving back to the sport in every capacity, from playground to podium.
Sometimes it isn't just the amount of money but also the timing. Unlike many provincial sport organizations, Quebec's funding is allocated in quadrennials. The consistency and reliability in funding dollars allows Bedard to develop both long-term and short-term provincial program goals. To say consistency of funding is important is an understatement. While her peers are spending countless hours and resources chasing money, Bedard is developing and investing in programs and facilities for up-and-coming athletes.
Quebec actively invests in creating and upkeeping sport infrastructure. Tucked away in the small village of Lac Beauport, just west of Quebec City, is a world-class water ramp. It's home to Canada's aerial team and serves as a summer acrobatic training facility for club, provincial and national team members. On any given day you can stop in and see Olympic medallists training alongside 10-year-olds dreaming of accomplishing the same.
But the provincial facility funding doesn't stop there. Val St. Come, a small ski hill north west of Montreal with a growing freestyle reputation, is proudly hosting its annual World Cup mogul competition this upcoming weekend. The event not only gives Canadian athletes a chance to compete on home soil but serves to showcase Quebec's homegrown talent.
The funding to upgrade facilities and host home events feeds the inspiration of next generation freestyle athletes and further cements the sport in Quebec's ski culture. Facilities, funding and culture perfectly intertwined to maintain a framework for success.
Athlete and coach funding
It would be negligent to discuss Quebec's sporting success and not mention the additional athlete and coaching incentives. Quebec, like some Canadian provinces, gives Sport Canada funded athletes a monthly provincial top up to their Athlete Assistant funding. They also have a strong history and culture for sponsorship and local support.
Further differentiating Quebec from its provincial counterparts is the additional funding Quebec gives its coaches. Any coach residing in Quebec that is the primary coach of at least one Quebec athlete is eligible for a $20,000 bursary.
So whether it's the additional funds keeping athletes in the sport longer or simply a better culture of respect for coaching, Quebec has successfully placed athletes, coaches and sport leaders throughout the ranks in freestyle skiing.