Over 40 years ago, French architect Roger Taillibert made international history when he was chosen to design the primary venue for the 1976 Summer Olympic Games in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.
Today, the iconic facility is home to the Institut national du sport du Québec (INS Quebec) at Olympic Park and serves as a multisport training, scientific and medical facility for National Olympic and Paralympic high-performance athletes from across Canada.
INS Québec CEO Marc Gélinas began working with the organization in June 2008 and by September that year a working group was already making plans for its next steps. “We knew other countries were working on a sport institute concept so we researched how that could work for us,” he says.
“We ran work sessions and focus groups with coaches, athletes – for both Olympic and Paralympic focuses – scientists and medical staff. We wanted to know what they had seen around the world and asked what we could do to provide athletes with a world-class environment.”
To complement what they had heard from participants, the INS executive team visited Australia and England extensively as well as the USOC Training Centre in Colorado Springs.
“We’ve also had a lot of exchanges with Spain and locally, we went to several Canadian facilities as well as the Montreal Canadiens’ hockey team training centre in Brossard, Quebec.”
After all the research, construction for the INS Quebec began in January 2013 and by opening day in September 2014 the project was on track, on time and on budget.
During the construction of the Olympic Stadium in the mid-1970s, plans were already being drawn up for future use of the facility. “We found documents that talked about creating an Institute in the Olympic Stadium, even before the Games began. That shows that the architect always intended that a sport institute be built, and here we are now,” says Gélinas.
“To me it is important to return to the original focus of a high performance facility – this is why this place was built,” he says. “While that plan had less importance over the years, the Olympic Park people created several fantastic programs for the general population with activities for kids. But now we are allowing high performance sports to come back in and be far more present in the Olympic Park.”
Gélinas says with the mixed use of the facilities, athletes have become great role models for the younger population. “While the athletes have priority use, the kids can enjoy watching people like Olympic diving medalist Alexandre Despatie. It’s a great way to influence youth to do sports and to love sport.”
So who will be the main participants in the state-of-the-art INS Quebec sports institute? “We will have approximately 475 high performance athletes supported by Sport Canada or the Équipe Québec Program, and 2,000 next generation athletes aspiring to a career in high performance sports,” says Gélinas.
“An additional 20,000 younger athletes and those who are part of a sport-study network will also be in the building.”
The age range of athletes span from 18 to 25 for the national team, and the junior team ranges from age 16 to 18.
As its capacity grows, INS Québec aims to play a central role in the delivery of services to forty-four distinctive sport disciplines throughout the province of Quebec. In addition, the Institute has eight resident sports. “Four aquatic sports started here in a concentrated effort in 2007 – swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming,” says Gélinas.
“They were a pilot phase of the Institute concept. Then we added judo, fencing and gymnastics. We also have facilities for short track speed skating at the Olympic Park in the Maurice Richard arena. We consider these skaters a resident sport because they come in and train every day and they get their medical and scientific services here as well.”
Half of the facilities at INS Quebec are within the Olympic Stadium, in deep right-centre field behind the scoreboard, and the other half are right next to the Olympic pool. “We’ve built the facility right into the stadium, and are creating a world-class environment to provide integrated support to high performance athletes.”
The INS Quebec has over 150,000 square feet of floor space, with 92 percent of the space being to practice sport or other purposes, such as sport medicine clinic, scientific laboratories, locker rooms and other facilities. The INS Quebec also leads a network of seven regional multisport training facilities that operates for the benefit of next generation athletes, with more due to open soon. INS Quebec also provides support to 17 single sport training centres servicing high performance and next generation athletes.***
From state-of-the-art equipment to the cushioning effect of Mondo rubber flooring, the athletes are being given optimal training conditions. “For judo, fencing and gymnastics, they have one of the best facilities in the world,” says Gélinas. “These sports are starting to get requests from other countries to come work out with athletes here. That is fantastic because now they are getting fighting partners in combat sports, which is critical.”
At INS Quebec, sports science and sports medicine support are combined to further create a high-tech environment. The research team looked at some of the most successful athletic countries in the world to see what they are doing. In Barcelona, a sport Institute allows the coaches to collect data and measurements on their athletes. This approach will provide coaches with richer sets of information enabling them to fine tune their athletes’ training.
“Every sport works with video data these days so our IT environment allows for collection of video footage. Our staff can also provide scientific analyses of video or force plate data, for example, for their subsequent use with their athletes,” Gélinas notes.
One unique factor offered by INS Quebec is the ability to have an integrated system for sports medicine all in one place. “We really want to play a major role in the prevention aspect for athletes, says Dr. Suzanne Leclerc, medical director.
“We’re trying to better understand what the risks for chronic injuries are for the sports and how we can help reduce the incidence of these types of injuries. For example, with swimmers there are a lot of shoulder injuries so we try to develop more functional evaluations and tests to simulate what they are doing in the water. This assists us in creating a program that will prevent future occurrences.”
In order to have a full medical program in place for athletes, INS Quebec has multiple medical practitioners in one place. “We have sport medicine medical doctors, sport physiotherapists, massage therapists, sport nutritionists, neuropsychologists for concussion issues, and eye specialists for sport vision, which also addresses issues for people with concussions,” says Leclerc.
“This particular area is very important to us as we want to enable prevention, detection and rehabilitation after a concussion incident has occurred.” A cardiac screening program based on the international recommendation for elite athletes, done in collaboration with sport cardiologists, is also available at the INS Quebec.
“Being able to interact with the coaches daily, it’s easier to talk to them right after the practice and discuss how to help the athletes better succeed in the future.”