Best team ever, says Aubut

Cape Breton Post - - Sports - BY ROBIN SHORT Robin Short is sports ed­i­tor at The Tele­gram in St. John’s, N.L., cur­rently on as­sign­ment at the Olympic Games.

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.”

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