Canada guaranteed of winning most gold medals in Vancouver; most at any Winter Games in reach

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Canada wins gold chase at Vancouver Games

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Though Canada didn’t exactly own the podium, it staked a remarkable claim to the highest part.

With a surge of victories down the home stretch, Canada assured itself of winning the most gold medals at the Vancouver Olympics and tied a record for most golds at any Winter Games.

Its brash pre-Olympic prediction of winning the most medals overall, on the strength of a program called Own The Podium, won’t come true. The U.S. will win that title.

But three victories Saturday — by the men’s pursuit speedskating team, by slalom snowboarder Jasey-Jay Anderson and by the men’s curling team — gave Canada 13 golds. With only two events left on Sunday, no other country could catch up.

One of those events is the men’s gold-medal hockey game. If Canada beats the U.S. in that showdown, it would break the record for most gold medals at a Winter Games — the Soviet Union in 1976 and Norway in 2002 each won 13.

Canada already has broken the host-nation mark of 10 golds shared by the United States in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Norway in Lillehammer in 1994.

It’s also the most gold medals Canada has won at any Olympics — winter or summer. Its previous high was 10 at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, which were boycotted by the Soviet Union and its allies.

The captain of the curling team was elated when told his team had secured the record-tying gold.

“We have 13, fantastic,” said Kevin Martin. “We need to have more Olympic Games in our country, don’t we?”

The surge over the past four days was a remarkable turnaround for Canada, which won no golds at all in the two previous Olympics it hosted — the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

And it’s been a huge relief for Canadian Olympic officials, who entered these games predicting that their five-year, $117 million Own The Podium program would enable it to win the most medals overall.

“We thought we had the right plan — we knew these last four or five days were going to be in our wheelhouse,” said Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee. “But I don’t think in our wildest dreams we thought we’d get this many golds.”

Rudge said the games have been a “rollercoaster of emotion” for him — and that would apply to many Canadians as the fortunes of their Olympians fluctuated dramatically over the past two weeks before the homestretch burst of successes.

The very concept of Own The Podium sparked vigorous debate across the country, with some Canadians suggesting it smacked of arrogance to predict a medals victory and many others hailing it as a sign of self-confidence and national pride.

Rudge called it a “very healthy debate.”

“What it’s done is caused Canada to look within itself in a unique way, beyond just sport — a debate about who we are and what we value,” he said. “If we continue this kind of debate, it makes us a richer, stronger and healthier country.”

Fittingly, the pursuit speedskating team — which won the record-breaking 11th gold medal — was emblematic of how these Olympics have brought together a nation that is perennially challenged by linguistic and geographic divisions.

Its members were Denny Morrison from the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia, Lucas Makowsky from the prairie province of Saskatchewan and Mathieu Giroux from French-speaking Quebec in the east.

Assured of no worse than a silver medal in men’s hockey, Canada will likely finish these games with 26 medals overall — beating its previous mark of 24 set at Turin in 2006. It came close to boosting the total haul, with seven fourth-place finishes and 13 fifth-place finishes.

The United States had 36 medals overall though Saturday, with another — gold or silver — coming in Sunday’s hockey final against Canada. Tickets for that game are being offered on Internet marketplaces such as Craigslist for several thousand dollars apiece.

Throughout the games, Canadian athletes said the home crowds were a major factor in spurring them on. And Martin, the curling captain, also gave credit to Own The Podium.

“It’s given the athletes an opportunity to win, and that’s what we need,” he said.

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