Nordiq Canada s’enfonce

Katherine Stewart-Jones (photo: Benoît Théroux)

Katherine Stewart-Jones (photo: Benoît Théroux)

La venue d’un directeur général par intérim à la tête de Nordiq Canada n’a pas amélioré le respect de la fédération envers ses athlètes.

par pierre shanks

Après Katherine Stewart-Jones, une deuxième athlète laissée pour compte, en l’occurence Cendrine Browne, fait appel de la décision de la fédération d’écarter de l’équipe nationale sénior trois de ses quatre meilleures skieuses au pays.

Nous y reviendrons sous peu. Stewart-Jones a gagné son appel, mais étant donné que celui de Cendrine Browne est en cours, nous allons attendre la fin de ce processus avant de dégainer.

En attendant, nous reproduisons les réactions de Patrick Stewart-Jones (en anglais) et de Louis Bouchard, entraîneur-chef du Centre national d’entraînement Pierre Harvey (CNEPH) et ancien entraîneur-chef de l’équipe nationale, à un vidéo publié vendredi sur la page Facebook de Nordiq Canada. Le directeur général par intérim, Stéphane Barrette, tente d’expliquer le processus de sélection de l’équipe nationale.

La réaction de Stewart-Jones, ancien membre de l’équipe nationale, est sobre et bien articulée.

Patrick Stewart Jones:

Although I appreciate the increase in communication from Nordiq Canada, I would like to note a few things.
First off, it is clear that the three athletes Stephane is referring to are Cendrine Browne, Katherine Stewart-Jones, and Maya MacIsaac-Jones. Katherine was recently added to the NST after her successful appeal. Stephane makes no mention of this, which seems like an unusual thing not to mention.

Second, to share some facts, much of what Stephane is saying is very misleading:
A) Developing selection criteria and making selections is not a “democratic process”. Members of the HPC do not get to vote. They provide input. Any votes are non-binding.

B) The HPC has regional representation, but severely lacks diversity. As an example, there were around 18 members of the HPC this spring. Of these members there were only two women, and only one who was involved in the NST selection process. I think most people would agree this is unacceptable and cannot count as diverse.

C) As Stephane states, the HPC compares skiers with the “development curve for their age” when making selections. However, it is unclear which data this is. When comparing the data points (both FIS and CPL), the three women being discussed were for the most part ahead of the current NST athletes when these women were the age of the current team. It should also be noted that Katherine (who had to appeal to get added to the NST) was one of only 3 female skiers in the country to meet her IPB this year and the only senior female to do so. As an additional aside, I challenge any stats nerds to look into how the IPB system was developed and what it is designed for and is currently being used for. I think they will find a few significant issues there.

D) Stephane states that Nordiq Canada wants to “continue to support these athletes and we are working with our partners to provide the support they need” (obviously Katherine was named to the NST on appeal, so this would likely no longer apply to her). It should be noted that as of now, no such support has been offered. It seems as though this is the public message, but it currently lacks any real substance. Words are not the same thing as actions.

E) Stephane points out that for selections the “bar is set quite high”. In my opinion, this can be a good thing as athletes should be expected to perform at a high level. However, I would argue that there was a massive and unnecessary jump in standards between athletes born in 1996 and 1995. As an example, an athlete born in 1996 could make the NST off of one WC top 30. Yet, even if they did not achieve this result, they could still qualify for the NST based on CPL points (as most athletes did). For athletes born in 1995, however, there was no opportunity to qualify for the NST based on CPL points, and the WC standards were increased to two top 20 WC performances, or 22 WC points, or one WC top 12. This is a massive jump and the criteria had no built-in flexibility.

Furthermore, the choice to have the cutoff at YOB 1995 (which is not a year where athletes graduate categories) seems completely arbitrary to the point where it appears to have been made specifically to target certain athletes. If an athlete born in 1996 makes the NST based on CPL points without a top 30 WC result they are being set up for failure the very next year. This is especially true if they are only given opportunities to race a small number of the total WC races as Canadian athletes currently are.

Third, I disagree with Stephane’s statement about the top skiers not being named to the NST. I think it is a very rare circumstance where not naming the top athletes in the country to the NST can be justified, and it definitely should not be the case when, as in this situation:
A) The top athletes in the country are showing consistent and significant improvement.
B) There is a significant gap between the top athletes in the country and younger skiers, as there is currently on the women’s side in Canada (please don’t take this as me saying the younger skiers should not be supported. I am just pointing out the very real gap that currently exists).
C) The top skiers in the country are the only athletes in Canada currently capable of consistently good WC results with a very real possibility of much better results if they continue on their current trajectory.
D) The top athletes in the country are Canada’s best shot at competitive (top 10) performances at the 2022 Olympics (yes, these are still happening and it would be nice if we had some results there). The top women also have a very real and good chance of contributing to Nordiq Canada’s ambitious 2026 targets of two Olympic medals and top 6 in Nations Cup points. It should be noted that in 2026, Maya and Katherine will be 30 while Cendrine will be 32. This is by no means too old to perform at their highest level and contribute to Canada’s medal tally. In fact, it is almost exactly the same age as Sarah and Beckie were at the 2006 Olympics when they won a silver medal in the sprint relay. It should also be noted that the senior women are the athletes responsible for earning the vast majority of Canada’s Nations Cup points at the moment, which in turn gives Canadian athletes more WC quota spots, which in turn helps skiing in Canada as a whole. Since many of Nordiq Canada’s decisions revolve around their 2026 targets, I think this point is particularly important.

On a final note, I would like to point out that Nordiq Canada has been on a consistent boom and bust cycle for the past 20 years. Creating a program with sustainable success requires a balanced approach to high performance that we have not seen. Nordiq Canada’s current approach has been to arbitrarily decide that athletes born before 1996 are no longer developing despite all evidence to the contrary. Until Nordiq Canada comes up with a consistent development pathway and balanced approach, they will continue to experience this boom and bust cycle that gives them a minimal chance of achieving their 2026 goals and of getting “more athletes on podiums”.

Louis Bouchard:

1. Flexibilité

2. Inclusif

3. S’adapter en fonction d’une réalité inattendue mais bien réelle.

4. Choisir les meilleurs hommes et femmes

5. Travailler avec nos meilleur(e)s pour former la relève

6. Lancer des messages positifs et d’espoir… (c’est possible, nos Canadiens l’ont prouvé dans le passé)

Juste des idées pour élaborer le prochain plan…

Aussi en passant, nous avons des athlètes pour les Jeux de 2022. Chaque Jeux comptent et nos athlètes travaillent fort pour maximiser leur niveau de performance.

Ce message se veut constructif.

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