Single silver makes Canada's first day of the 2010 Olympic Games a mild success

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER, B.C. - Canada got on the board on the first full day of competition at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Chalk up a silver, but it's still a long way to the top of the medals table.

Jennifer Heil's silver in moguls Saturday night answered the question: who would win the first medal for Canada? It didn't solve the mystery over who would win the first gold.

"It would have been tough today if we hadn't got any medals, but Jenn came through for us as I knew she would," Canadian Olympic Committee president Michael Chambers said. "Today is a satisfactory, good first day and we still do feel very confident about achieving the goal we've set for ourselves."

Germany topped the medal table with 29 four years ago in Turin, Italy. Canada will likely need at least that many to have a shot at No. 1.

Weather hampered Canada's attempt at a multi-medal first day. The hosts initially had three strong medal chances on Saturday's schedule with men's downhill, the 1,500 metres of men's short-track speedskating and women's moguls, respectively.

The number dropped to two early when the morning downhill was postponed to Monday because of soft, slushy snow at Whistler Creekside.

That took the pressure off Manuel Osborne-Paradis of Invermere, B.C., and the rest of the Canadian speed team to produce Canada's first medal. At night, attention flipped to short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin of Ste-Julie, Que., and Heil, from Spruce Grove, Alta.

Hamelin, ranked second in this season's World Cup standings in the 1,500 metres, was third in his semifinal heat and did not advance to the medal round. Teammate Olivier Jean of Lachenaie, Que., qualified for the final and was fourth, although not in contention for a medal by the latter stages of the race.

The spotlight swung to Heil. Rain sweeping across Cypress Mountain made the course treacherous and several favourites crashed. Heil, the second-last skier down the course, skied bravely and aggressively, but was then bested by American Hannah Kearney.

Kristi Richards of Summerland, B.C., qualified fourth for the final and appeared in contention for the podium, but she also crashed.

The head of Own The Podium, the $117-million, five-year plan designed to help the Canada finish first overall in medals won at the Games, had mixed emotions about the day.

Roger Jackson felt Hamelin was a missed opportunity. He also felt Heil's teammate Kristi Richards of Summerland, B.C., had potential to reach the podium. Richards qualified fourth and also skied aggressively in the final, but crashed.

"I felt really sad for her because it was really close," he said.

Heil's gold the first day of competition at the 2006 Olympics sparked Canada to a record haul of 24 medals. A tearful Heil called Saturday's silver "Canada's medal" but what momentum can it generate for the home team?

"It breaks the ice, vis-a-vis, our haul of medals," Chambers said. "It may have given us a little angst if we had come out of today with no medals."

Jackson had tried to temper expectations before these Games began, saying that the bulk of Canada's best medal chances would come in the back end of the schedule.

He cautioned that Germany and the U.S. - Canada's rivals for topping the medal count - would likely jump out in front the first week, but that Canada would play catch up and win as many as a dozen medals over the final four days of competition. The U.S. won four medals Saturday, while Germany had one.

"It's Day 1 of 16 days so it's hard to get a sense of trends," Jackson said. "We're in good shape."

Now that the curtain has risen on the Games, hunger for medals will grow among Canadians who pumped $66 million of their own tax money into OTP to win medals here.

Canada's best medal opportunities Sunday will be men's moguls. Defending world champion Alexandre Bilodeau of Rosemere, Que., leads a deep Canadian cast onto Cypress Mountain. Vincent Marquis of Quebec City won bronze at last year's world championship and Pierre-Alexandre Rousseau of Drummondville, Que., is a former world champion. The three men twice swept the podium at World Cups last year.

Long-track speedskater Kristina Groves of Ottawa is a more outside chance at a medal in the women's 3,000 metre, although her strength is the 1,500 later in the Games.

Cindy Klassen of Winnipeg has a pair of bronze medals in the distance from the previous two Olympics, but she is a dark horse after taking all of last season off to rehabilitate knees following surgery.

"The one medal today, we'll pocket and there's lots of room left to win the number of medals we will need to top the medal count," Chambers said.

Organizations: Canadian Olympic Committee, Own The Podium, World Cups

Geographic location: Canada, Germany, VANCOUVER, B.C. Cypress Mountain Turin Italy Summerland Invermere Ste-Julie Spruce Grove Lachenaie U.S. Rosemere Quebec City Drummondville Ottawa Winnipeg

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