Best team ever, says Aubut
VANCOUVER – Tired of getting snow kicked in its face, Canada’s hit the weights and will flex some muscle in Vancouver.
Oh yeah. We’re big, we’re bad and we’re at home.
“ The Games are ours, and we are going to own the podium,” promised Marcel Aubut Thursday, the president-in-waiting of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
“ We are going to introduce here the best team ever.”
Much has been made of Canada’s expectations at these 2010 Winter Olympics. Following a 24-medal, third-place performance at the last Games in Torino, the Canadians have let it be known they’re gunning for top spot in Vancouver. And they’ve put their money where their mouth is, with a $117 million injection through the Own the Podium program.
Canada’s always been the nice guy on the international sporting stage. Here in Vancouver, the Canucks promise to show up with a scowl.
“Oh, we’re still going to be nice,” promised COC president Michael Chambers, “ but we’re going to be nice winning.”
Chambers opened Thursday’s COC news conference vowing there are, “great days to come, I assure you, great days to come.”
For some athletes, those are words which make one squirm. Except no one sitting at the head table was shuddering. Rather each person greeted Chambers’ projection with a nod of approval.
Heady stuff for a nation that until 1994 had never won any more than seven winter medals. Upside is, however, Canada has won 13, 15, 17 and 24 medals since then.
“All we know is this is a very ambitious goal, but if you don’t reach for something, you don’t grasp something,” Chambers said.
The Canadian delegation is led by chef de mission Nathalie Lambert, a three-time Olympic short track speed skater who won a gold and two silver medals.
Lambert acknowledged there might have been a ‘ happy-to-bethere’ mentality among some Canadian athletes when it came to the Olympic Games.
That, she said, is changing and the transformation will be evident in Vancouver.
“It’s now come to a point where we want to finish No. 1,” she said. “Athletes are saying they are better prepared now, they have a happy smile ... they cannot wait to start.”
Certainly with the expectations comes a certain amount of pressure. But for the Canadian medal contenders in Vancouver, pressure is par for the course. The hockey players know all about it. Same with the curlers. The figure skaters, skiers and speed skaters know what it’s like to lay it all on the line when it matters.
“Competing at home certainly brings things to different level,” Lambert said. “But you look at it as an opportunity. Like the seventh man in a hockey game. It’s a cliché, but it’s true.
“ We are prepared. There’s an air of confidence like I’ve never seen before.”
Asked by a reporter if Canada was desperate to win a gold medal on home soil — it failed to win gold in the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and 1988 winter event in Calgary — Lambert supplied a hint of that confidence she was talking about.
“No, we are not desperate. We know we’re getting gold medals. It’s just a matter of when.”