By Steve Keating
(Reuters) - Calgary has yet to decide if it will submit a bid for the 2026 Winter Olympics but Canada is already gearing up for a medal push by launching the 5to8 programme on Thursday which will fund athletes who are between five to eight years from competing.
The programme was kick started by a 2.5 million Canadian dollars (£1.5 million) donation, the largest to Olympic sport in Canadian history, from businessman and philanthropist David Asper and his wife Ruth.
The contribution will be supplemented through the Government of Canada’s fund matching programme, doubling the value of the Asper donation.
"This is a game changing gift for sport philanthropy in Canada," said Canadian Olympic Foundation CEO Paul McIntyre Royston in a statement.
"Not only has the David and Ruth Asper family given an unprecedented donation to sport in Canada, they have helped to launch an initiative that will continue to help Canadian athletes become the best in the world for years to come."
The five-to-eight-year window set out in the programme would lineup directly with a Calgary 2026 Winter Olympics should the city decide to go forward with a bid.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) on Tuesday gave Calgary, Stockholm and an Italian bid involving Cortina D’Ampezzo and Milan the green light to bid for 2026 Winter Games.
But before moving forward and submitting an official bid, Calgary, host for the 1988 Winter Games, will await the results of a Nov. 13 plebiscite on whether the city supports hosting the Olympics.
The IOC will select the winning bid in June 2019 at its session in Lausanne.
Win or lose, the Canada Olympic Foundation underlined the country's plans to support and develop the next generation of Canadian Olympians.
The country saw what a commitment to Olympic athletes can produce at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games where Canada topped the medal table with 14 golds while collecting a total of 26 medals.
Canada finished third at both the 2014 Sochi and 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Results have not been as impressive at the Summer Olympics, with Canada winning just two golds at the 2012 London Games and four golds in Rio in 2016.
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)