Cana­dian ath­letes poised to climb medals leader­board at Olympics

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY ROBIN SHORT

VAN­COU­VER — This is Canada and let’s be hon­est, lit­tle else re­ally mat­ters.

For the next two weeks, a few speed skaters, lugers, cross-coun­try and freestyle skiers will emerge from anonymity to cap­ture a coun­try’s fancy in Van­cou­ver. Some, like Cindy Klassen and her bril­liant fivemedal Olympic per­for­mance in Torino four years ago, will achieve rock star sta­tus.

This year, it might be the speed skat­ing Chrissies, Chris­tine Nes­bitt and Kristina Groves.

But most ath­letes will slip back into a world of work or school, and train­ing jug­gled with week­end trips to the gro­cery store, laun­dry and shov­el­ling the walk­way. Back to, in other words, re­al­ity. Every­one ex­cept the men’s hockey team.

A perk that comes with a pro ca­reer and seven-fig­ure salary.

The 2010 Van­cou­ver Olympics will be Canada’s Games in more ways than one. Or so they tell us.

With a highly-funded — unique from a Cana­dian per­spec­tive — and highly-trained group of Cana­dian ath­letes poised to top the medals leader­board for the first time, we are ex­pected to make big noise at th­ese Olympics.

But, as we said, this is Canada, and if the Syd­ney Crosby-led hockey team fails to win gold, we won­der if th­ese Games will re­ally be deemed a suc­cess.

If Pierre Leud­ers runs over a pot­hole or some­thing on the bob­sleigh track and fin­ishes out of the medals, or Kevin Martin shanks his last shot again — re­mem­ber Salt Lake City in 2002? — to fin­ish sec­ond or third in curl­ing, there will be a col­lec­tive groan of dis­con­tent echoed across the land. “ Too bad,” we’ll mut­ter. But should Crosby et al fin­ish sec­ond, third or — gasp! — out of the hockey medals again, well, let’s just say all those red Cana­dian hockey jer­seys ped­alled in Van­cou­ver 2010 will be adorned with black arm­bands. Yup, that’s pres­sure. It’s no co­in­ci­dence the men’s gold-medal hockey game is the fi­nal event on the 2010 Olympic sport­ing cal­en­dar.

With all due re­spect to women’s hockey and the fig­ure skaters, men’s hockey is the Cadil­lac event of the Olympic Games.

Per­haps it’s be­cause the Games are on Cana­dian soil, or the fact Canada is com­ing off a dis­as­trous — shut out in three of its fi­nal four games — sev­en­th­place fin­ish in Turin, but this Olympic tour­na­ment brings with it a sense of hockey hype like we’ve never seen be­fore.

A where-will-you-be mo­ment.

Cer­tainly not like what we saw in ’72, when we were sup­posed to win by barely break­ing a sweat. Not in ’ 76, when Canada iced what was prob­a­bly the best team ever as­sem­bled for the first Canada Cup. And not in 2002, when the Olympics were staged on Amer­i­can soil.

First place? Ex­pected. Sec­ond? Dis­ap­point­ing. Third? A calamity. Out of the medals? Well, let’s just say an­other Sum­mit will be com­mis­sioned to eval­u­ate our global stand­ing within the game.

If we’ve learned any­thing since ’72, we know it won’t be easy. In Moscow, we needed Paul Hen­der­son’s last-minute hero­ics. Ditto for ’76 with Dar­ryl Sit­tler against the Czechs. In 1985 — four years af­ter the Sovi­ets smoked Canada 8-1 in the ’81 Canada Cup in Montreal — Mike Bossy was the hero. There was Gret­zky-to-Lemieux in Hamil­ton in ’87 and at the 2002 Olympics, the U.S. kept Canada close through two pe­ri­ods un­til Mario Lemieux and com­pany went to work in the third.

Van­cou­ver won’t be any dif­fer­ent.

Com­ing off a pair of world cham­pi­onships, the Rus­sians have served no­tice the Bear has emerged from hi­ber­na­tion. Weak per­haps on de­fence, any team that can throw Alex Ovechkin, Ev­geni Malkin, Ilya Ko­valchuk and Pavel Dat­syuk over the boards is a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent.

Never to be over­looked are the Czechs and Swedes and with Ryan Miller in goal, the Amer­i­cans em­ploy a goalie who can carry a team in a short tour­na­ment.

Valid points all, but as we said, this is Canada.

Around here, they’re called mere hur­dles.

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