Faster, Higher, Sneakier

Does Canada’s “Top Secret” sports technology program undermine the Olympic spirit?
Illustration by Joel Castillo

The Cold War was over, they’d told him. Soviet equipment factories converted to Benz dealerships. East German labs switching from steroids to solar panels. But a new world meant new threats.

He paused to button his collar to the top, then wound a scarf carefully around his neck, covering most of his face. Out the back door he went, into the biting wind. Twenty-one, maybe twenty-two kilometres per hour, minus 26, for a wind chill of minus 38.5... no, 38.6.

No time! he muttered to himself, quickening his pace through the night.

The Olympics were coming, and Ottawa had sent word to every scientist in the land: Canada would be bullied no more. Montreal in ‘76. Calgary in ‘88. Not a single gold medal. The only nation ever shut out at its own Olympics, and we’d done it twice. It was time to start fighting back. Against the Americans and their speed suits. The Dutch and their clap skates. And the Aussies. How he loathed the Aussies.

He strode toward the pay phone at the end of the block, slipped the receiver off the hook, and dialed the number he’d memorized when he enlisted in the Program four years earlier.

“Gaëtan?” the familiar voice said.

“Boucher,” he responded.

“Barbara Ann?”

“Scott.”

“Excellent, you’re clear. What have you got for me, Cranston?

“It’s the new bobsled cowl, sir,” he said. Then paused, shifting his gaze warily. The man walking down the other side of the street seemed to be lingering, and he looked vaguely Swiss. Cranston waited until the man passed, then resumed speaking.

“We’ve got the drag down by nearly 2 percent. Another day in the wind tunnel, and it should be ready for field testing.”

“Excellent.” The voice was smooth and reassuring. “You’ve done well. Very well. Your country is proud of you.”

The line went dead. Cranston hurried along the frozen street back to the lab. Two months left until the opening ceremonies. There would be no shutout this time. Top Secret had come too far.

On July 2, 2003, the natural cycle of debate about Canada’s Olympic ineptitude — a month of anguish followed by two years of indifference — was disrupted. By a vote of fifty-six to fifty-three, the 2010 Winter Games were awarded to Vancouver and Whistler over Pyeongchang, South Korea. With that, taking part and fighting well were no longer enough. We wanted to win, we decided, and launched the Own the Podium program to that end a year and a half later. The initiative has since disbursed $117 million, with the aim of propelling Canada to the top of the medals table in 2010. For our elite athletes, the money has translated into better coaching, more training camps, extra massages, and, just as crucial, access to a shadowy cadre of scientists.

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4 comment(s)

Francesco SinibaldiJanuary 11, 2010 08:46 EST

La neige rappelle l'éternité.

Dans les
souffles du
nouveau matin,
la neige rappelle
l'éternité; les
ruisseaux de l'amour
décrivent le soleil
qui paraît
solitaire comme
le chant de la
vie dans les
rêves perpétuels,
et une voix
disparaît....

Francesco Sinibaldi

Francesco SinibaldiJanuary 18, 2010 09:29 EST

Like a voice in the morning.

The silent
and beautiful
signal hidden
alone in the
youth of a
morning calls
me, near the
eternity: it's
the delicate leaf
of a loving
profile.

Francesco Sinibaldi

HTC SoftwareJanuary 31, 2010 19:30 EST

That was a wonderful story, sadly Indians hardly ever win any medals in the olympics.

June 15, 2010 10:26 EST

I don't believe it does, the more a nation invests in sport the better athletes it can develop. In the UK not enough money is invested in sports, in particuar the development of world class atheletes, hence the reason we struggle in the olympics to win many medals. I would like to see a similar commitment in the uk.

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