Stars on Ice

Buttle getting help from Browning

Source: Canadian Press
Date: November 10, 2005
Author: Neil Stevens

TORONTO (CP) - A mentorship program for Olympic-bound athletes is paying figure skater Jeff Buttle immediate dividends.

Buttle now has a place to bunk for free when he motors in from his Barrie training base. "My place is your place," Kurt Browning told Buttle on Thursday. In exactly three months, Buttle will glide onto the ice in Turin, Italy, to perform his short program.

"I'm scared, obviously, about the Olympics," said the 2005 world silver medallist. "I've never been and I don't know what to expect.

"Kurt let me know that he was scared, too. It's good to know that he had the same fears as I'm having. It's comforting."

In the next three months, he'll talk to his mentor whenever he needs advice.

"He has a lot to offer," Buttle said of the four-time world champion. "He went to three Olympic Games and I haven't even been to one yet. I'll have a lot of questions and I'm pretty sure he'll be full of answers."

Browning, short-track speed skater Nathalie Lambert and Ian Balfour of the Canadian Disabled Alpine Ski Team are the mentors for the 2006 Olympic hopefuls in the program sponsored by Visa.

The company has selected Buttle, alpine skier Emily Brydon, speed skater Clara Hughes, luge racer Jeff Christie, freestyle skier Deidra Dionne, hockey player Danielle Goyette and Nordic skiing Paralympians Colette Bourgonje and Brian McKeever to become part of Team Visa.

Some aren't guaranteed a spot on Canada's Winter Games team yet, of course, since their federations are yet to announce selections.

They join swimmer Brent Hayden, high jumper Nicole Forrester and diver Myriam Boileau, who were selected leading up to the 2004 Summer Games and who remain in the program through Beijing 2008.

Visa also is supplying financial assistance to the athletes on a confidential basis.

Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee, calls the mentorship program "exceptionally timely and well-targeted."

"We have failed our athletes in the past in preparing them move from potential to success," he said during a Visa news conference. "Our conversion rate in this country is terrible compared to other countries, and it's not the athletes' fault.

"It's our fault. We didn't recognize the importance of mentors" who might help Canadians finish on the podium instead of fifth or sixth.

Dionne, in particular, is grateful to have mentors in whom to confide.

The 23-year-old resident of Red Deer, Alta., broke her neck in a practice in Australia before a World Cup competition in early September. She intends to be back on skis by mid-December, and in Turin for Olympic aerials qualifying jumps Feb. 19. Time spent Wednesday and Thursday with Browning, Lambert and Balfour eased her mind.

"Kurt talked about being injured so badly (going into the 1992 Winter Games) he could barely lift his legs," said Dionne. "Ian has dealt with serious knee injuries, and there have been other athletes, too, going into the Olympics not perfectly ready.

"(The mentors) remind me that it's whoever is best at the amount that gets the medals. It doesn't matter what you're lead-up is. That's something I'll take from this week - that everybody deals with injuries, it's not just you."

Lambert won short-track relay gold in 1992 and two silver medals in 1994. She's experienced the anxiety that grows with high expectations of the public and of the media.

"All you're talking about every day all the time is the Olympics and it can be too much," she said. "I hope that, when it becomes a little too much, they'll call us or e-mail us when they want to know what they can do to tone it down.

"We're here to say: stick to your plan and to what you can control, and that's your performance."

In the weeks leading to her 1994 Olympic competitions she became more and more nervous, she said.

"We can get outside our control zone where we do our best performances," she said. "The difference between being in that zone and out of that zone is a thin line."

She says she'll remind the athletes she's mentoring that, whatever the outcome in Turin, it won't be the end of the world. Browning will do the same.

"I asked Jeff: 'Do you consider me a failure? I was at two Olympics as world champion and neither time - once because of injury and once because I just screwed up - I didn't do it. I didn't even get a bronze. Am I a failure to you?'

"He said, 'No, no, no.'

"I said, 'Neither will you be. How you represent yourself, your family and your country is more important than what medal you win. You can win and still be a loser.'

"Scott Hamilton said, 'The Olympics will make you a better person no matter what happens at the Olympics."'