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Interview with Own the Podium CEO Anne Merklinger

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On Sunday according to TSN, the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials started in Winnipeg. Among the curlers participating is Lee Merklinger, the second for Sherry Middaugh's rink. Lee Merklinger's sister Anne, is one of the most powerful people in Canadian sport today. She is the chief executive officer for Own the Podium, the orgaization in Canada that is in charge of assisting high performance Canadian athletes prepare for the Olympic Games.

The following is interview I conducted with Anne at the World Cup bobsled competition at Calgary's Canada Olympic Park on the weekend. Merklinger has significant curling genes herself as she was a two-time Scott Tournament of Hearts finalist.

The 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi are less than three months away. Is there a lot of work to be done between now and then?

"Certainly the Canadian Olympic Committee is really focused on preparing the logistics for the Games and they will do a tremendous job. We are in the final stages of assisting national sports organizations prepare athletes and coaches. It's almost four years of work. Our work starts immediately after the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games are finished. It's a long period of preparation. I'm really looking forward to seeing the athletes compete. It should be a great Games for Canada."

Has it been a challenging transition for you to be CEO?

"No. I have really enjoyed it. We have a great team. I really enjoyed my role as the director of summer sport. I think what has been really interesting for me is to get to know winter sport better. I have certainly focused a lot on that since I became CEO. We have a tremendous staff team within the organization. It is a real privilege to work there."

Discuss the strong relationship that currently exists between corporate Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the federal government. How has that relationship assisted Own the Podium?

"We are blessed with tremendous partners. The government of Canada is the most significant investor for high performance sport in Canada. About 85% of our overall budget comes from the government of Canada. That just shows their commitment to high performace sport for our nation. The Canadian Olympic Committee itself is a significant investor and they have invested more in Own the Podium in this upcoming four years than they did previously. That is a tremendous advantage for us. And obviously, the Canadian Paralympic Committee is another strong investor. Each of the national sports organizations have private sector partners and obviously the Canadian Olympic Committee is very well supported through their corporate partners as well."

How excited are you that women's ski jumping will be making its Olympic debut?

"It will be great for women's ski jumping. There are a number of passionate people that are working hard with the program to get it to the point that it is a medal threat for Canada longer term."

What about luge? There is a serious chance Canada will win their first Olympic medal ever in the sport of luge.

"Yes. All three sliding sports (bobsled, skeleton, luge) are very strong heading into Sochi. I think we have two great facilities here in Canada (Canada Olympic Park in Calgary and the Whistler Sliding Centre). It is because of those facilities we have been able to create a great daily training environment. I think we will see those opportunities pay off in Sochi."

You are very close to the Canadian curling scene. You have any predictions for the Canadian Olympic Curling Trials this week in Winnipeg?

"I won't comment on that. We have a really strong field at the trials. We have 16 great teams, eight men's teams and eight women's teams, and it will be a tremendous competition."

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