By Steve Keating
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canada's goal is to "Own the Podium" at the Vancouver Winter Games, but $180,000 is not expected to buy the Olympic hosts much on the ski jumping hill.
"I'm not going to say you get what you pay for because our young guys have worked as hard as every other athlete on Team Canada," explained Ski Jumping Canada team leader and chairman Brent Morris Sunday.
"But it's very difficult because we compete against countries that have annual budgets of $1.5 to $2 million a year for their ski jumping team.
"Our total budget is about $180,000."
When Vancouver won the right to host the 2010 Winter Games, the Canadian government and corporate sponsors poured $110 million into "Own the Podium" (OTP), an ambitious program with the objective of putting Canada top of the Vancouver medal table.
But with ski jumpers not expected to contribute to that haul, Ski Jumping Canada received only $80,000 from Own the Podium and has depended on the generosity of individuals, including $70,000 from food entrepreneur Lesley Stowe, to survive.
Despite the modest budget Ski Jumping Canada qualified a complete four-man team and will compete in every event at Whistler.
Stefan Read, the 22-year-old nephew of former-Crazy Canuck Ken Read, is the old man on a young squad that includes 18-year-olds Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes and Trevor Morrice and the youngest member of Canada's entire Olympic team 17-year-old Eric Mitchell.
"There's not a lot of stress on these guys so they can relax, have fun, get out there and do the best they can," said Morris. "It's very difficult to keep these guys when you don't get carding (funding).
"When you're 18 or 19 and you don't get paid to do something you have to go do something where you do get paid.
"It's very difficult to continue to develop world class athletes when the athletes they are competing against are millionaires.
"Our objective for the group is to jump to their potential and that should be good enough to place a couple of those guys in the top 30."
Ski jumping was not always an after-thought in Canada.
Horst Bulau, a four-time Olympian was 13-time winner on the World Cup while Steve Collins at 15-years-old became the youngest person ever to win a World Cup event in 1980.
But in 1996 Sport Canada dropped funding for ski jumping due to a lack of international results and shortly afterward Big Thunder, a top training facility in Thunder Bay, Ontario was shut down and abandoned as the sport all but disappeared from the Great White North.
Only three members of the massive media contingent descending on Vancouver for the Winter Games attended the team's kickoff press conference Sunday.
(Editing by Miles Evans)