Hop­ing to break the jinx

Canada looking for first gold medal on home turf

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY ROBIN SHORT

VAN­COU­VER – “ What would you do,” the voice in the lot­tery com­mer­cial asks TV watch­ers, “with a mil­lion dol­lars?”

A Cadil­lac? Ve­gas? Time share on the May­ern Riviera? Oh well. We dare to dream, kind of like the Cana­dian ath­letes car­ry­ing the red and white flag on home turf at the 2010 edi­tion of the Win­ter Olympic Games open­ing to­day.

If you’re the Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee, a mil­lion bucks — times 100 — hope­fully con­verts into gold, and the great big mon­key fi­nally flung off a na­tion’s ath­letic back.

Twice Canada has staged the Olympic Games in the True North Strong and Free — Montreal in 1976 and Cal­gary in ’ 88 — and twice we’ve whiffed at gold.

No other coun­try, in fact, holds the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing shut out of gold at home.

The good news is that will change this time around, as Canada fields — er, ices — it’s most pre­pared, best-funded and best-equipped team ever sent to an Olympic Games.

One hun­dred and seven­teen mil­lion dol­lars tends to do that.

The Own the Podium pro­gram has meant un­par­al­leled cash for train­ing and equip­ment for Cana­dian ath­letes to have a gen­uine, hon­est-to-good­ness shot at sur­pass­ing this coun­try’s record show­ing at the last Win­ter Olympics four years ago in Turin, Italy with seven gold medals, 10 sil­vers and seven bronze.

Shortly af­ter Van­cou­ver was awarded the Olympics in 2003, the COC, fed­eral gov­ern­ment, Van­cou­ver or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee and oth­ers agreed to col­lab­o­rate on a sin­gle goal: un­prece­dented Cana­dian suc­cess in 2010. Own the Podium was born. Only Ger­many, with 29 medals, and the U.S., with 25, topped Canada on the leader­board.

At the 1994 Lille­ham­mer Olympics, both the U.S. and Canada tied with 13 medals apiece. Four years later, in Nagano, Ja­pan, Canada bested the States by two medals, gar­ner­ing 15.

Then the Amer­i­cans in­sti­tuted their own pro­gram, de­signed to pay div­i­dends for the 2002 Games to be staged in Sale Lake City, Utah.

It worked. They fin­ished with 34 medals to Canada’s 17, plac­ing be­hind only Ger­many on the over­all leader­board.

“Canada learned from that,” said Roger Jack­son, the for­mer Cana­dian row­ing gold medal­list who now heads up Own the Podium.

In 2006, Canada stopped be­ing av­er­age. Here in Van­cou­ver, the aim is to be down­right su­perb and if 2009 is any in­di­ca­tion, Canada is on the right track.

In all the win­ter sports world cham­pi­onships last year, Canada won 29 medals, more than the U.S., more than Ger­many.

“ We’ve seen dra­matic im­prove­ment,” Jack­son said. “ We do things bet­ter now rather than show­ing up.”

This year’s Cana­dian con­tin­gent in­cludes 32 medal­lists from Torino and six world champs from 2009.

Lead­ing Canada’s hopes, of course, are the men’s and women’s hockey teams. The curlers, both male and fe­male, are au­to­matic medal hope­fuls the mo­ment they step on the ice.

And speak­ing of ice, there’s the speed skaters. In a sport once dom­i­nated by the Euro­peans, Canada has bro­ken through the bar­rier, wit­ness Cindy Klassen’s five-medal per­for­mance in Torino.

Klassen’s com­ing off surgery on both knees, but there’s a sup­port­ing cast ready to pick up the slack. Kristina Groves will skate in five events and is a con­tender in all of them, and Chris­tine Nes­bitt won the 1,000 me­tre ti­tle at the world cham­pi­onships last March. Clara Hughes, the flag bearer for tonight’s open­ing cer­e­monies, won sil­ver in the 5,000 me­tres in the past two world cham­pi­onships.

In bob­sleigh, Kail­lie Humphries and Summerside, P.E.I.’s Heather Moyse are ex­pected to con­tend af­ter reach­ing the podium in a World Cup event this sea­son. Age­less Pierre Leud­ers, in his fifth Olympics, will fig­ure in men’s four-man bob.

Fig­ure skat­ing, one of the bigticket events of the Win­ter Olympics, fea­tures Pa­trick Chan and Joan­nie Ro­chette in men’s and women’s. Both are world sil­ver medal­lists.

Given the pres­sure fac­ing the Cana­di­ans this time around, it might be wise for one of them to medal early in Van­cou­ver, if for noth­ing else to ease a bit of pres­sure.

But, said Jack­son, an anal­y­sis of the top six com­peti­tors in each Olympic event shows the Ger­mans and Amer­i­cans ex­pected to lead the medal count through days one through 13.

Canada’s strength, he said, will be in the events in the fi­nal four or five days of the Games when this coun­try could grab as many as 15 medals.

“ There’s the men’s and women’s hockey and curl­ing, women’s fig­ure skat­ing, speed skat­ing team pur­suit, freestyle ski­ing and snow­board,” he said. “ We have to be pa­tient.”

With $117 mil­lion sunk into a pro­gram, that’s a lot eas­ier said than done.

Robin Short is sports ed­i­tor at The Tele­gram in St. John’s, N.L., cur­rently on

as­sign­ment at the Olympic Games.

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