Skip to main content

RBC Training Ground marks eighth year of finding and funding future Olympians

Lauren Fridman, 26, signed up for the RBC Training Ground regional qualifier in Calgary. Photo: House of Common studio / James Park Lauren Fridman, 26, signed up for the RBC Training Ground regional qualifier in Calgary. Photo: House of Common studio / James Park
Share

When RBC Training Ground began in 2016, the national talent identification and athlete funding program hoped to find up-and-coming athletes with Olympic potential from across the country. Now in its eighth year, the program’s mission has been successfully realized with 13 RBC Training Ground athletes having competed in the Tokyo and Beijing Olympic Games, seven of whom brought home medals for Canada.

RBC Training Ground hosts regional testing events from coast to coast – 17 this year to be exact – that are free for athletes aged 14 to 25 who are interested in seeing if they are suited for an Olympic sport. From there, 100 athletes are chosen to attend the RBC Training Ground National Final, where the top 30 are named RBC Future Olympians.  Athletes who are selected through the program receive funding and are connected with a coach to further their training.

“RBC Training Ground has had a really big impact on high-performance sport since the program started in 2016,” said Evan MacInnis, director of performance pathways at the Canadian Sport Institute and Technical Director for RBC Training Ground. “We’re looking for athletes who are either excelling in a current sport or who want to apply their athleticism to a new one.”

Lauren Fridman, 26, was the latter. Currently a full-time biomechanist for a wearable tech company, she found herself longing to be an athlete again. During her time at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, Fridman competed in volleyball and javelin. In 2022, on a last-minute whim and with the encouragement of her brother-in-law and sister, she signed up for the RBC Training Ground regional qualifier in Calgary. “It was a month before my 26th birthday, so it was literally my last opportunity,” Fridman said.

Wary of being one of the oldest athletes at the qualifier, she was surprised to find a supportive atmosphere where all of the athletes cheered one another on. Fridman gave it her all and was nominated by Cycling Canada to compete at the RBC Training Ground National Final. “I was so surprised. My first words when I got the call were, ‘Really? Are you sure?’” she recalled.

Fridman describes the 2022 National Final in Ottawa as “a crazy cool experience on a number of levels." From the electric atmosphere of the venue pumped up by music and lights, to the Olympic medallists, including Penny Oleksiak and RBC Training Ground alum Kelsey Mitchell, offering encouraging words and advice to the athletes. It was a dream come true. “I got to meet Kelsey Mitchell and she smiled at me and began talking to me. It makes [going to the Olympics] seem more possible, like we’re all a little bit the same,” said Fridman.

Program alumni Mitchell and Marion Thénault are two Olympic medallists who got their start at RBC Training Ground with no prior experience in their respective sports of track cycling and freestyle skiing. Being selected as RBC Future Olympians in 2017 changed everything. With funding and coaching to help them pursue their Olympic dreams in brand new sports, they both reached the podium in their Olympic debuts just a few years later – Mitchell with a Gold medal in track cycling at the Tokyo Olympics and Thénault with a Bronze medal in freestyle skiing at the Beijing Olympics.

This year, four new National Sport Organizations (NSOs) have joined RBC Training Ground in search of next generation athletes: Boxing Canada, Climbing Canada, Triathlon Canada and Wrestling Canada. They join current NSO program partners Canoe Kayak Canada, Cycling Canada, Freestyle Canada, Luge Canada, Rowing Canada, Rugby Canada, Speed Skating Canada and Volleyball Canada. Representatives from each will attend RBC Training Ground regional qualifying events and the National Final as they search for athletic potential.

MacInnis noted that the approach of the program is what makes it unique. “We combine the NSOs, as well as the Canadian Sport Institute and the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), so it’s really a full, systematic approach. We identify that raw athletic ability. There’s a lot to be said for the coaches in those programs, because they’re often taking someone who’s very athletic and then turning them into a boxer or a rugby player, etc. Here, we bring the sport experience to the athlete,” said MacInnis.

Tanya Dubnicoff, a Canadian Olympian in track cycling, is now the advancement camp coach with Cycling Canada. Transforming a new athlete into an Olympic contender is something she has first-hand experience with. “I saw the RBC Training Ground Final when Sarah Orban won as top female and they said, ‘You’re going to coach this athlete and get her to the Olympics.’ I thought, there’s no way a local university soccer player with no history in cycling would make it. But I said, ‘Let’s give it a try,’ and here we are in 2023 and she’s on the national team heading towards the Paris Olympics. These athletes are talented, they have their 8,000 hours in another sport, they just need the training environment to learn,” Dubnicoff explained.

Dubnicoff noted that a major aspect NSOs are looking for in athletes is their ability to handle the environment of a high-pressure event – to compete to the best of their capabilities, to cheer on other individuals, to be part of a team. This is where Fridman really stood out to Cycling Canada. “I heard her story and said, ‘Let’s get her to the track in Burnaby.’ She made a connection, she was curious. I put her in touch with a coach in Burnaby and she tried the track. She came to our camp in August and at the RBC Training Ground National Final, she performed top-five out of the cyclists,” said Dubnicoff.

Fridman said the experience has been lifechanging: “Regardless of where the outcome takes me, it’s given me the opportunity to find a new sport and a new community in cycling. I’m super thankful for that.”

Athletes aged 14 to 25 are invited to participate in this season of RBC Training Ground with free events taking place across Canada from January to April. To register for an event near you or to find out where qualifiers are taking place, visit RBCTrainingGround.ca.

RBC Training Ground also believes in the importance of diverse representation in sport and is aiming to help remove the many barriers to sport that underrepresented communities face. Read more here.

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

Secret $70M Lotto Max winners break their silence

During a special winner celebration near their hometown, Doug and Enid shared the story of how they discovered they were holding a Lotto Max ticket worth $70 million and how they kept this huge secret for so long.

Local Spotlight