One year to go

Cana­dian ath­letes gear­ing up for 2018 Win­ter Olympics

The Hamilton Spectator - - SPORTS - DONNA SPENCER

Ath­letes hop­ing to wear the Maple Leaf at the 2018 Win­ter Olympics have one year to se­cure a spot on the Cana­dian team and hone their per­for­mance for a shot at a medal.

“It’s def­i­nitely on my mind pretty much daily, try­ing to fig­ure out where you want to be come that day,” snow­boarder Spencer O’Brien said. “It’s pretty crazy to put four years into some­thing and rel­a­tively for us, it’s four years for 30 sec­onds.”

The 23rd Win­ter Olympics open Feb. 9, 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and close 16 days later.

Those who run Cana­dian sport haven’t yet stated a goal for 2018 af­ter mak­ing No. 1 in the over­all medal count the tar­get in 2010 and 2014.

Own The Podium chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Anne Merklinger said Cana­dian per­for­mances at world cham­pi­onships over the next sev­eral weeks must be taken into account be­fore that dec­la­ra­tion.

“We re­ally need to wait for those to con­clude, so we know where we stand rel­a­tive to the rest of the world,” she said. “Win­ning more medals than we won in Sochi will cer­tainly be a pri­mary goal.”

The host team won the most gold with 14, but fin­ished third in the over­all with 26 medals at the 2010 Van­cou­ver Games.

Four years later in Sochi, Canada’s 25 medals ranked fourth over­all and third in gold with 10.

Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee pres­i­dent Tricia Smith es­ti­mates it will take more medals than that to top the over­all table in Pyeongchang.

“We want to have a top per­for­mance and be con­tend­ing for No. 1,” Smith said. “The num­ber of medals in what it takes to be No. 1 changes de­pend­ing on what all the other na­tions are do­ing, so you’re up there in the high 20s or early 30s, but we don’t have a spe­cific tar­get.”

De­spite fall­ing short of its am­bi­tion in 2010 and 2014, Canada has ce­mented its po­si­tion as a world power in win­ter sport.

In World Cup medals won this sea­son, Canada ranked third (116) be­hind Ger­many (163) and the United States (126) as of Mon­day. Rus­sia was fourth at 109.

The Ger­mans led in gold medals won (64) ahead of the U.S. (45), Canada (41) and France (33).

Freestyle skiers, snow­board­ers and speed­skaters are lead­ing Canada’s charge to Pyeongchang.

For Cana­dian hockey fans, the burn­ing ques­tion is whether NHL play­ers will play in Pyeongchang next year. While many stars say they’re will­ing, team own­ers don’t see the ben­e­fits.

New Olympic events will con­tinue to be cru­cial to Canada’s bot­tom line in 2018

Cana­di­ans are medal con­tenders, of vary­ing de­grees, in snow­board big air, speed­skat­ing’s mass start, curl­ing’s mixed dou­bles and the mixed gen­der alpine re­lay mak­ing their Win­ter Games de­buts.

Of the 36 ad­di­tional medals avail­able in Sochi be­cause of new sports, Cana­di­ans won five.

Two de­vel­op­ments emerg­ing post-2014 for Canada are an­a­lyt­ics and the crack­down on Rus­sian ath­letes for al­leged state-spon­sored dop­ing that coun­try con­tin­ues to deny.

Canada’s Olympians had an­a­lysts crunch­ing data for them for the first time at last year’s Sum­mer Games in Rio.

They fo­cused on swim­ming, row­ing, cy­cling and track and field, build­ing pro­jec­tions mod­els of the times and scores that would win medals there.

They’ve been do­ing the same for Pyeongchang, pre­dict­ing times nec­es­sary to win in luge, bob­sled, long-track speed skat­ing, biathlon and cross-coun­try ski­ing, as well as the scores re­quired in fig­ure skat­ing.

They’re also an­a­lyz­ing which ath­letes are on track to hit those marks.

“Help­ing iden­tify ath­letes whose per­for­mance tra­jec­tory is greater than an­other athlete, that cer­tainly helps in terms of athlete se­lec­tion,” Merklinger said.

The ban­ning of some Rus­sian ath­letes and not oth­ers from Rio had lit­tle in­flu­ence on Canada’s medal count.

At the track, for ex­am­ple, Canada’s six medals were in events that didn’t in­clude strong Rus­sian con­tenders.

But given the host coun­try’s dom­i­nance in Sochi — a table-top­ping 13 gold among 33 medals — any sus­pen­sions of top Rus­sian ath­letes would have more im­pact on Canada’s medal count in Pyeongchang.

The In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee an­nounced Dec. 23 that dis­ci­plinary pro­ceed­ings were un­der­way on 28 Rus­sians who com­peted in Sochi “for whom there is ev­i­dence of ma­nip­u­la­tion of one or more of their urine sam­ple.”

“We can’t con­trol who is on the start line,” Merklinger said. “All we can fo­cus on is mak­ing sure our ath­letes are as pre­pared as they can pos­si­bly be go­ing into the Games. That’s what we think about ev­ery day. Not, ‘Who is go­ing to be there?’”

Cana­dian ath­letes are cur­rently cy­cling through Pyeongchang for var­i­ous test events. The freestyle skiers are there this week for World Cup moguls and ae­ri­als.

“I want to win for sure, but I think the most im­por­tant thing there is to take in as much in­for­ma­tion about ev­ery­thing,” said Cana­dian moguls star Mikael Kings­bury.

ADRIAN WYLD, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Canada’s Spencer O’Brien, of Courte­nay, B.C., shows her dis­ap­point­ment as she waits for her scores in the Ladies’ Slopestyle snow­board event at the Sochi Win­ter Olympics.

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