The Niagara Falls Review

Countdown to Sochi: Olympic preview


All you need to know about our country’s growth as a Winter Olympic powerhouse is this: In the first 17 Winter Games, Canada won a grand total of 64 medals. In the last four, Canada has won 82. The numbers are staggering. After years of needing generous descriptio­ns to achieve mediocrity, Canada is suddenly a real contender for the top of the medal standings, with goldmedal threats in almost all sports and discipline­s.

Coming off of an impressive 14-gold, 26-medal performanc­e on home soil in Vancouver, Canada heads to Sochi, Russia once again looking to Own the Podium and has a realistic chance of winning the most medals in 2014 in what will no doubt be a tight race with Germany, Norway, Russia and the United States.

If history suggests anything, Canada is destined to once again improve on its medal haul from Vancouver, and some prediction­s reach as high as 35 medals.

Since 1980, when the Winter Olympics were held in Lake Placid, N.Y., Canada has taken home more medals than the pre- Ice dancers Tessa Virtue &

Scott Moir lead a resurgent Canadian team in Sochi. Its success in Vancouver has moved Canada from the Olympic shadows and ... vious Games every time. Canada won just two medals in 1980, only four in 1984 in Sarajevo, five in 1988 in Calgary and seven in Albertvill­e in 1992.

The surge began in 1994 in Lillehamme­r when Canada won 13 medals, grew to 15 in Nagano in 1998, 17 in Salt Lake City in 2002, 24 in Turin in 2006 and finally 26 in Vancouver.

The primary reasons for the steady growth are obvious. No. 1 is money. “There are two things that really make performanc­es work — it is money and bricks and mortar,” says Steve Podborski, Team Canada’s chef de mission for Sochi 2014.

No. 2 is Canada’s success in new sports.

Since 1992, when new events such as women’s hockey, shorttrack speed skating, freestyle skiing, snowboardi­ng, curling and skeleton started to be introduced, Canada has won 55 medals in those sports.

That makes up more than onethird of all the medals won by Canadians at the Winter Olympics.

“When you introduce new sports, it obviously makes it easier to win more medals, especially if you are good in those particular sports,” Podborski says. “Canada, traditiona­lly, is good in the newschool sports.”

That’s another reason why Canada could shoot to the top of the table in 2014: New sports include slopestyle skiing and snowboardi­ng, halfpipe freestyle skiing and team figure skating, all events in which Canadians have the potential to dominate.

Of course, Canada is also finding success in plenty of old-school sports as well. The men’s hockey team is always a contender, the alpine skiers have their eyes on the podium and the long- track speed skaters have produced more medals (33) than any other group in Canadian history.

Those medals come as a result of hard work and a strong commitment to funding by the Cana- dian Olympic Committee and its sponsors.

The COC and Own the Podium, in recent years, have dramatical­ly increased the amount of funding to athletes and the rise in the medal table is no coincidenc­e.

Even after the home-soil success in Vancouver, where Canada won its most gold medals ( 14), the commitment has grown.

“One of the biggest concerns was that it would be the end of days after Vancouver ... we’d fall off the table and we’d go staggering off to Sochi saying, ‘Oh well, we did well in Vancouver,’ ”Podborski says.

“With Marcel Aubut as our president and the change in our management style and our approach, it’s been very, very impressive.

“Since those Games, we’ve really been working at keeping the money side going. If we keep getting the money like we are, we will continue to make our country a better place for our athletes.”

Podborski won a bronze medal himself in 1980 in Lake Placid, back in a time when Canada suffered the ignominy of being one of the coldest countries in the world and still having a fruitless Olympic program.

No doubt, at that time, pride in the Canadian athletes was at an all-time low, but the same can’t be said today. Canadians have developed a love affair with the Winter Olympics, especially since stars such as Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews started playing in the men’s hockey tournament, but also with the stars of sports such as skeleton ( Jon Montgomery), moguls (Alexandre Bilodeau), speed skating (Christine Nesbitt) and short track (Charles Hamelin).

The people who predict these t hings see Canada winning 11 gold medals in Sochi. The oddsmakers like men’s slopestyle snowboarde­r Mark McMorris ( though that was before he fractured a rib at the X Games last month), bobsled pilot Kaillie Humphries, figure skater Patrick Chan, moguls master Mikael Kingsbury, freestyle halfpipe skier Rosalind Groenewoud, slopestyle freestyle skier Kaya Turski, Hamelin, Nesbitt, snowboard crosser Dominique Maltais and the Canadian curling teams led by Brad Jacobs and Jennifer Jones.

They don’t l i ke Canada’s chances of repeating as champs in men’s or women’s hockey, but with the amount of talent Canada is sending over, those teams can’t be discounted.

Just like Canada can no longer be discounted as a threat to sit at the top of the medal table.

At this rate, it almost seems inevitable.

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