Four new athletes can focus more sharply on training and competing this year thanks to the HBC Athlete Bursary program.

Retirements and eligibility changes after Rio 2016 made room for race walker Evan Dunfee, snowboarder Max Parrot, sport climber Sean McColl and ski cross racer/track cyclist Georgia Simmerling to become recipients.

RELATED: Sean McColl to lead Canada into sport climbing World Cup season

Launched in 2016, the HBC Athlete Bursary program awards 50 athletes with a personal grant of $10,000 annually. The $2.5 million investment will provide bursary recipients with sustainable funding through the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

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For Simmerling, the funding is a total game-changer. The 28-year-old Vancouver native made history at Rio 2016 by becoming the first Canadian athlete to compete in a different sport at three separate Olympic Games. Her efforts resulted in a bronze medal in track cycling’s team pursuit event, but she was back on her skis by September 2016 to start training for the next Winter Games.

“Transitioning between sports is challenging – physically, mentally, and financially,” said Simmerling. “Having the HBC Foundation behind me makes a huge difference. Knowing that I have the support of a great Canadian Olympic partner means the world to me.”

The grant will help her buy supplements, food, training attire and equipment.

“Athletes need to take what they put into their bodies very seriously. Eating healthy and taking the right supplements is expensive. I just bought a mountain bike for cross training which I wouldn’t have been able to purchase if not for the HBC bursary.”

Dunfee finished fourth in the 50km race walk in Rio, setting a Canadian record and earning the respect of many with his great show of sportsmanship.

RELATED: Update: Dunfee’s bronze medal rescinded, he finishes fourth in Rio

Since Rio, Dunfee has experienced a series of public ups and downs. He was dropped from his shoe sponsor in January and more recently saw his athletic career in jeopardy as the IAAF threatened to remove the 50km race walk from the Olympic program. Meanwhile in January, he won his first World Cup race. With a new shoe sponsor, his event locked in for Tokyo, and now receiving the HBC bursary, Dunfee can finally breathe a sigh of relief.

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“Consistency is so important and knowing that I’ll have the HBC bursary year-over-year is so important,” said Dunfee. “Funding is so performance based, and while to a certain extent it should be, I only have one or two shots a year to race and cement myself as worthy of financial support. The HBC bursary allows me to think more long term and make a four-year plan.”

“The biggest thing for me is access to recovery resources. Walking is low cost, all I need to train is a tub of Vaseline and some shoes, but doing the right things in between sessions makes a huge difference. I’m going to consider buying recovery boots.”

The Hudson’s Bay Company has raised more than $30 million since 2005 through the sale of the famed Red Mittens. The bursary is a joint project between the HBC Foundation and the Canadian Olympic Foundation.

The 50 HBC Athlete Bursary recipients for 2017 are: