We Believe – Nordiq Canada Rolls Out its Road Map for the Future
Strike, it’s often said, while the iron is hot.
Even if that iron happens to be outside, in frostbite-low temperatures along a vast, undulating trail of snow.
“Everyone realizes – and this wouldn’t have been the case a year or two ago – that we have a big opportunity, now,’’ says Nordiq Canada CEO Stéphane Barrette.
“Things are building up throughout our community of athletes, coach development, everywhere.
“The Para-Nordic program has been our flagship. We won 60 per cent of all the Paralympic medals for Canada, between cross-country skiing and biathlon athletes. We’re up there with the top nations in the world, so obviously they deserve a lot of credit.
“We’ve just never had such good depth all around. “Last year, for instance, we enjoyed our best results ever at the World Junior Championships and the U-23 championships.
“It speaks to the ability we have in our system.
“The time is right.”
That pilot-light ambition, a mounting sense of possibility on a grand, nation-wide scale, is reflected in the official slogan, and mantra, for Nordiq Canada’s new strategic plan just being rolled out.
In heightened ambition.
In the chance to be a part of something special; to launch a gilded era for cross-country skiing across Canada, from neighbourhood clubs all the way to international podiums.
The framework involves investing financial resources, sharing time, transparency and a willing ear to listen to its broad-based membership in order to elevate the sport at every level.
“Promoting cross-country skiing as a sport of choice for Canadians,’’ emphasizes Barrette, “from all perspectives of participation – whether you do it recreationally, to stay in shape, or because you enjoy the outdoors or because your dream is to become an Olympic or Paralympic champion.
“It’s our responsibility to promote our sport, to make it even bigger than it is now.”
The ambitious plan involves three basic pillars – excellence, sport leadership and sport profile.
Investments will be prioritized in short, medium and long-term cycles, over an eight-year span, through the next two Olympic/Paralympic cycles. In the early part of the plan, we will invest heavily in safe sport initiatives, revenue generation and high performance, believing this will create the foundation for our community to achieve its long-term goals outlined in the plan.
“There are a number of decisions we’re taking now that are aligned with an urgency to take advantage of having such talented athletes,’’ explains Barrette. “If we wait another two, three, four years, we’ll have missed the opportunity.”
That sense of opportunity he speaks of isn’t lost on the ready-for-prime-time skiers themselves.
“We’ve got a really talented group coming up through the ranks,’’ says junior phenomenon Xavier McKeever of Canmore, Alta., the most recent in a line of Canadian cross-country royalty and a centrepiece for this bold new era.
“Our team has been building and building over the last couple of years. We’ve developed really good camaraderie. The fact we have a small enough group that we get to spend a lot of time around each other is really good for being a team in the best sense of the word, even though this is largely an individual sport.
“When someone succeeds, we all get stoked. Which helps everyone push forward, helps to build the momentum.
“I think we all feel it.”
That sense of shared accomplishment spans the passing of the years, of course. Beckie Scott certainly felt it at Salt Lake’s Soldier Hollow ski complex in collecting her first of two Olympic medals back in 2002.
“That last corner before the finish line, our whole wax team and technicians had placed themselves strategically up the hill so they were all running tag-team, cheering the whole way,’’ Scott recalls of her historic first medal (originally a bronze, eventually upgraded to gold) in the 5 km pursuit, as part of a video released by Nordiq Canada announcing its plan.
“And I just felt … lifted by the energy and spirit of the support team and this whole powerful group that had moved from the Nagano (Games) to Salt Lake City together.
“I was thinking ‘It’s possible. I can do this.’ I knew what I had to do. And I did it.”
At just 21 years old, seven-time Paralympic medalist Natalie Wilkie, has already felt that sensation of communal achievement, but senses it growing ever stronger.
“At the beginning of a new quad, everyone’s just fresh and ready to go again,’’ she says. “But I’ve also noticed a shift in high performance – there’s this attitude change … it’s always been great, don’t get me wrong, but people seem even more eager now.
“Even looking at the attitudes of the staff the last couple of months, they’re just willing to do more for the athletes.”
Barrette says funding for the current season has been bumped up by $800,000 by drawing from the organizations’ strategic priorities fund, built over the last few years to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Now is that time and additional draws will be made throughout the quad, in order to give athletes the best opportunity to reach, or begin reaching, their potential.
“We’re trying to really reach out to the young, talented generation out there,’’ notes Barrette. “Our goal is to begin to integrate them into the national ski program, show them what it’s about, expand mentoring with their personal coaches.
“All this is a significant financial investment.”
In pushing towards an ever greater high-spotlight, international-scale success, though, he emphasizes the absolute necessity of developing a tighter-knit grassroots collaboration from coast-to-coast-to-coast. To continue building trust organizationally and provide welcoming environments for all ski communities and participants from all backgrounds across the country.
The lofty aims for high performance success on the World Cup circuit, World Juniors, Milano/Cortina in 2026 and on to 2030, will infuse and inspire younger athletes already hooked on cross-country and entice more people to embrace the sport and all it has to offer.
“We realize,’’ he says bluntly, “that we can’t achieve these goals by ourselves. Nordiq Canada needs everyone – by that, I mean, all our membership clubs in our provincial and territorial sport organizations – to feel involved in this plan. Everyone needs to buy in and feel a part of the journey.
“That constitutes the core of our strategy – supporting these athletes the best we can, increasing their chances of getting really, really strong international results. We will be able to leverage that in many, many ways. It will reflect on all of the other programs in our community: draw attention to our sport, ultimately attract sponsors, and get more kids excited to get involved in cross-country skiing – the kids who will enjoy the sport for life with their families, or potentially chase a dream of becoming the next Olympians and Paralympians for Canada.
“There’s a big need for reaching out and communicating, speaking with our partners so everyone can find their place; of working a lot more closely, more than ever, with our provincial and territorial partners and their needs, assess what we need to fix if we hope to deliver on this plan in a sustainable way, for the longer term.
“We need a change of culture, right? It starts with a dose of humility. Recognizing that we can make mistakes and need to lean on the voices and input from everyone in our community to help us get across the finish line.
“The important thing is to do the work in a trusting way, a respectful way, learn from our mistakes and move on. That favours a more productive dialogue in conversation with our partners.”
That pledge, enthuses Wilkie, “is definitely a great thing to hear. Especially with the junior development programs. It doesn’t seem like we’ve really had things like that before. I think it’s a really good way to streamline athletes into high performance.”
We Believe 2030.
And with good reason.
“In the past, we …. have athletes peak into the Top 30,’’ says Barrette. “Well, last year we had eight athletes out of 12 reach Top 20 in the individual races at the Junior World Championships, some got into the Top 10. Xavier McKeever, for one. Tom Stephen. And others. And we feel we have a competitive enough group to podium in the relay events, as well.
“That’s the kind of team we have right now.
“This is something we haven’t seen before, at this stage, even in the days of Alex Harvey or the other athletes who went on to win Olympic medals for Canada, whether it be Beckie, Sara (Renner) or Chandra (Crawford) or whoever you want to name.
“You look at our current generation of athletes, like Natalie Wilkie, who’s won multiple Paralympic medals and is still quite young. She could be active during the length of this strategic plan we’re embarking on together.
“That’s very exciting.”
“So, the potential is obviously here, now. Everyone sees that and is super excited about it.”
The time is right. The talent, the means and the opportunity are in place.
The iron, We Believe, has never been hotter.