Canadian athletes poised to climb medals leaderboard at Olympics
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.