Canada needs hot second half to catch Americans in Olympic medal standings

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Canada isn't owning the podium at the Vancouver Olympics. The United States is.
While the U.S. has galloped through the opening days of the 2010 Winter Games, the host Canadians have merely trotted.
Canada will have to open up on the backstretch in order to achieve its goal of winning more medals than any other country at the Games. Own The Podium spent $117 million over the last five years on Canadian athletes to reach that target.
Canadian team officials had expected the home team to start slowly and pick up steam in the back half, but were taken aback at the pace of the Americans as Saturday's midpoint of the Games approached.
While American alpine skiers were winning their country's 19th and 20th medals Friday morning, Canada had just seven heading into evening events.
"It's going to be tough. I'm not going to be Pollyanna-ish about this," Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge said Friday. "It's a moot point whether or not we'll be at the top still. We know our best events are to come.
"We know that in the last four to five days of Games, we'll probably have a nine-to-11 medal potential. That's our wheelhouse."
In the first eight days of competition, Canada was on the same medal pace as it was in Turin, Italy, four years ago when Canadians won a record 24 medals to finish third overall. If the U.S. intake in 2010 is any indication, the hosts need to win at least 30 to be in the hunt over the overall title.
Rudge opened the door Friday to the possibility Canada might not achieve its goal, saying it was important to set a high standard rather than aim for mediocre.
"The goal was number one," he said. "If we fall a little bit short, but we do better than we've ever one in the past, I think it's fair to say having set the bold target will have had an influence on what we achieved."
Canada has traditionally taken time to build up steam at Olympic Games. At the 2008 Summer Games, Canadians didn't win their first medal until the halfway point. They ended up finishing with 18 total medals.
"We're always a back-end country," Rudge said.
The first-half highlights in Vancouver have been Canada's first Olympic gold medal on home soil by moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau of Rosemere, Que., and gold medals from speedskaters Marianne St-Gelais of St-Felicien, Que., in short track and Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., in long track.
A bronze from Ottawa long-track speedskater Kristina Groves in the 3,000 metres could be considered gravy as that distance is not her strength.
Among the lowlights were the alpine men's speed team getting shut out of the medals in both the downhill and super-G. Figure skater Patrick Chan of Toronto and speedskater Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., in the 1,500 metres won silver medals at last year's world championships, yet did not win Olympic medals. Short-tracker Charles Hamelin of Ste-Julie, Que., did not make the podium in the 1,500 metres either.
Canada also missed opportunities to win more than one medal in a single event. Moguls skier Kristi Richards of Summerland, B.C., qualified fourth for women's moguls, but crashed and did not join silver medallist Jennifer Heil on the podium. Short-track speedskater Jessica Gregg of Edmonton made the four-skater final in the women's 500 metres, but was fourth.
Groves missed joining Nesbitt on the podium by six hundredths of a second in the 1,000 metres. Canada had 13 fourth-place finishes in Turin and collected four of them over the first eight days of these Games.
"We've always been a fourth to be reckoned with and we continue to be," quipped Rudge.
In some events where Canada's potential medallists didn't deliver, the Americans capitalized. The U.S. won a pair of medals in Morrison's event, two medals in the men's super-G on Friday and a men's figure skating gold.
The U.S. has a depth of athletes with medal potential that Canada does not have. In some sports, Canada has one medal hopeful to three or four for the Americans. That may be because the programs built for the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City are coming into maturity. Five years wasn't enough time for OTP to develop similar depth.
"In terms of athlete development, you need much more," Rudge said. "It's impossible to do it in five or six years. Athlete development at this level needs a 10-year horizon."
Expect Canada to keep chipping away with a medal or two a day as it crests the hill over the weekend. Then buckle your seatbelt because it's going to be a wild ride to the finish starting Wednesday.
"It's a little too early to say we're far behind where we think we would be," chef de mission Nathalie Lambert said. "Ski cross hasn't started yet. We're looking good for the next week."
Long-track speedskater Clara Hughes will attempt to defend her gold in the 5,000 metres Wednesday. The women's bobsled and short-track relay teams will also be in the medal hunt that day.
The women's hockey final, the ladies figure skating free skate and men's aerials are Canada's best medal chances Thursday before a potential medal bonanza next Friday and Saturday.
As expected, the speedskaters will be the main players in Canada's rush to the finish. Short track has three medal chances Friday and Cheryl Bernard's Calgary curling team is expected to add another that day.
Kevin Martin's curling team plans to be in a medal game Saturday. The men's and women's team pursuit in long-track speedskating should produce a pair of medals that day, too, and snowboarder Jasey-Jay Anderson is a medal hopeful in men's parallel giant slalom.
Only two medal events - the men's hockey final and the men's 50-kilometre cross-country skiing race- are scheduled before Sunday's closing ceremonies. If Canada is in the final, the hosts are guaranteed a medal in men's hockey, although only gold will do for Canadian fans.
While Canada has virtually no chance in the cross-country skiing, it is a significant race because Calgary's Brian McKeever, a visually-impaired athlete, will make history as the first winter athlete to compete in both the Olympics and Paralympics.

Organizations: Vancouver Olympics, Canadian Olympic Committee, Olympic Games

Geographic location: Canada, United States, VANCOUVER Turin Italy Rosemere St-Felicien London, Ont. Ottawa Toronto Fort St. John Ste-Julie Summerland Edmonton Calgary Salt Lake City

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