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Tewksbury's Cheerleader Hat Kicking In

Jul 27, 2012  - Karin Helmstaedt

Canada’s Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury spoke to Canadian press this morning at Canada House on Trafalgar Square - just metres away from the Olympic clock that was counting down the hours until the games open.

And if his skills as a motivational speaker are unquestioned, the Olympic gold medalist is now being tested almost hourly on political speak.

“Our goal is top 12 - it has been for the past couple of years. Nobody really has a crystal ball - we’ll just see how the competition unfolds," he told reporters who pushed for a prediction for Canada in the medal tables.

"Sport is sport, every Games is unique, the program changes a little bit from Games to Games so it’s really difficult to predict - we’ll see how the team will do - they’re going to give their everything,  they’re really ready to go and we’re excited to finally get down to the sport part of the Olympics."

And as for whether expectations had to be toned down at home for a summer games as opposed to winter after the huge success of Vancouver 2010, he said, "I think already that understanding that owning the podium in London is a top 12 as opposed to a top 3 - is trying to manage those expectations. Helping people to understand: 204 national Olympic committees, 26 sports with 39 disciplines...it's just a totally different kind of Olympic Games the summer vs. winter. It’s apples vs. oranges."

He also dodged - with a grin - the ticklish question as to whether he was concerned Canada may not have domestic broadcasting rights next time around in Rio in 2016. Not a comfortable plank to walk, admittedly, when your job is to be all about the good stuff.

So what does the job of Chef de Mission entail?

"Part leadership, part ambassador to promote sport to the public, part mentor, because the athletes have come to me to find out what I did, and what was the experience like, and part cheerleader. And right now the cheerleader hat, and the leader hat are probably the big two that kick in."

"I chose to come back to the Olympic movement at the team level. That's what really interests me. I've never lost that connection to the athletes and the coaches, to that piece of the sport system, so it's really appropriate that that's where I am."

And how does this experience compare to that of being an athlete?

"You know, I thought being an athlete, being a gold medalist, would be the best Olympic experience ever. But I love, love, LOVE being Chef de Mission! It is so amazing - it’s like every day is the Olympics for me this time - it’s not that intense, one moment to perform. Instead it’s like, wow, I get to soak up every moment - and make every athlete feel welcome. It's brought me back to what the Olympics are about which is the athletes and the team, and it's so great to be at the front of that."

Have the athletes been looking to him as a mentor?

"My biggest pride of being chef de Mission has been the accessibility, and I think credibility that I’ve given to the athletes. Just last night I spent an hour in the athletes lounge. Typically coaches and mission staff aren’t always allowed in that space, but they said come on, bring in Mark, he’s one of us - and I just hung out - there were some fencers and women basketball players - just relaxing and enjoying getting to know each other. My goal as chef - of course there’s a performance goal, and that’s what everyone is focusing on - but my focus right now is how can I make sure that these Olympians - some of whom are first-time Olympians - have the best experience that they’re going to take for the rest of their lives."

And how many sports will he take in?

"I’m really sport priority. There are so many thing that go on at an Olympic Games I could probably spend the next 17 days just going to receptions but I really wanted a sport priority. So I’m out of the gate - I think I’m going to women’s soccer tomorrow - that’s where I’ll start the Olympic Games. But yes, I have a three- or four-sport-a-day program for the next 16 days."

A busy schedule indeed, one that will include the finals of the women's 100 backstroke and also his own 20th Olympic anniversary - which he says he'll be celebrating privately in London.

And with 26 sports on his plate, any message to the Canadian swimmers?

"I don't have a particular message to them, but it's great to see - 2004 we had a difficult Games as a swimming team - but in 2008 it turned the corner with Ryan Cochrane winning a bronze medal. I let the actions of Ryan and Brent Hayden speak for themselves, and I can see that when you've seen someone of your generation - as we knew in Canada back in the 80s watching Alex (Baumann) and Victor (Davis) - win medals - it demystifies it. It helps you see that, hey, I can do that. So I think it's great that Ryan is here and in his own quiet way providing some great leadership."