Canadian Olympic hopefuls get a ‘game-changing gift’ in $2.5M donation

Pierce LePage has lived through that athlete in-between stage, where the medal podium is so close, but there’s little financial support to get there.

So the 22-year-old decathlete from Whitby, Ont., knows how a program such as the Canadian Olympic Foundation’s 5to8, launched Thursday, can provide that financial leg up.

The David and Ruth Asper family donated $2.5 million to the 5to8 campaign, representing the largest donation to Olympic sport in Canadian history by a factor of 10. The 5to8 campaign was created to help the generation of Canadian athletes who are believed to be five to eight years from the podium.

LePage is the Canadian junior record-holder in the decathlon, and his big breakthrough came when he won silver at the Commonwealth Games last spring. But he’s seen numerous athletes who weren’t so lucky.

“A lot of athletes drop out after their school career, because it’s hard to find funding,” LePage said. “I know athletes who have had to quit sport because they necessarily couldn’t see the funding.

“For me travelling was a huge problem. If I wanted to travel to France or anywhere those big decathlon meets are, it costs a lot of money. On top of that, there’s such a problem travelling on planes with those poles [for pole vault], it can cost $1,000 one way, then the pole is also $1,000 itself.”

LePage stars alongside two-time Olympic freestyle champion Alexandre Bilodeau, three-time Olympic short-track speedskating medallist Kim Boutin, and Olympic wrestling champion Carol Huynh in a 5to8 promotional video released Thursday.

The Aspers’ donation inspired a fund-matching program. Every donation will be matched by the federal government on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Paul McIntyre Royston, the CEO of the Canadian Olympic Foundation, called the donation a “game-changing gift for sport philanthropy in Canada.”

“The 5to8 campaign is a way for our family and yours to come together and cheer for Canada,” Ruth Asper said in a release. “[The athletes] have got the fire. Our collective support can help keep it burning.”

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