What if finding the right sport for you could make the difference between a collegiate career and an Olympic dream? Enter the RBC Training Ground, a Canadian talent discovery program for athletes aged 14-25. Created two years ago in partnership with CBC Sports and the Canadian Olympic Committee, this program assesses athletes on several key performance factors including endurance, explosive speed and strength. It’s an opportunity to push your limits, cheered on by Olympians. The athlete considered by the judges to have the greatest potential is supported to train as an elite and given a chance to try a number of sports most suited to their performance. Many more athletes at the tryouts are immediately scouted by 14 different Olympic sport organizations, from track to rowing to cycling to wrestling to snowboarding to bobsleigh.
Olympic speed skating medallist Susan Auch, who is now the CEO of Speed Skating Canada, says, “The impact this program is having on the sport system is amazing. In a country as large and diverse as Canada, raising awareness and filling the talent pipeline can be challenging for many Olympic sports.”
In 2016, the hurdler Tania Bambi saw her track and field dreams reignited. Unable to afford the travel to be a high-level athlete, she had dropped out for two years. But when she won the Quebec tryouts, she secured the support to continue. She travelled to Rio to watch the Olympics and has her eye on Tokyo 2020. “I want to finish my career knowing that I left it all on the track,” she says, “that there was nothing else left in me.”
That same year, 16-year-old hockey player Kieanna Stephens of Surrey, British Columbia won her tryouts, took up rowing for the first time and went on to place third in pairs in the World Rowing Junior Championships last year. The sister of an NHL player, she says, “I finally feel like I have my place, like I’m on the same level.” Olympic snowboarder Caroline Calvé says, “You need heart, you need determination, you need talent, and she has all that. I see Kieanna going all the way, going to the Olympics for sure.”
From last year’s tryouts, the Alberta winner Sarah Orban went from playing soccer on her university team to secure her place in high-performance training camps for track cycling and skeleton, both of whose coaches see potential in her. “I probably would have never even thought that there could be a possibility,” she says. “I’m just really excited to see where this can take me.”
Dennis Cook of Toronto won his tryouts last year at 25, just as he was nearing the end of a world-class career in lifesaving sport. His sprinting ability caught the attention of Athletics Canada and Bobsleigh Skeleton Canada. Having gotten to watch skeleton close up at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, he now has the chance to pursue his Olympic dream in this discipline. “RBC Training Ground has given me a chance to continue sport,” he says. “I was going to retire next year, but that’s no longer the case. I have new motivation, new goals.”
Jacqueline Simoneau, Pan Am Games gold medallist in synchronized swimming, remarks, “Taking part in RBC Training Ground would have perhaps changed my mind on what sport I picked when I was younger. I am currently an Olympic synchronized swimmer, but I am not naturally built to be one. Many strengths that a synchronized swimmer needs to have, I do not have. Nonetheless, I am able to compensate in other areas which has still allowed me to reach the Olympic level. However, there is still a small thought in the back of mind wondering what would have happened if my strengths were identified and matched with a sport.”
Training Ground tryouts are happening now through September all across Canada. For more information, visit rbctrainingground.ca.