altBy Paul Gains - 22 March 2009

With less than a year until the opening of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver-Whistler the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) is sticking by its ambitious goal of topping the medal table.


Chris Rudge, the COC’s Coventry-born, chief executive officer, says the country’s athletes are well on track to achieve this goal.
“We set a goal of being number one at our home games,” he declares, “And that wasn't a goal set by merely saying ‘wouldn’t that be nice.’
"[Five years ago] we did a thorough analysis at our recent Games Salt Lake City which included significant in-depth discussion with all our winter sports federations, a look at the depth our our teams and then having them tell us where they could drive their program in 2010 if we got them the resources they need.
“There was a belief that if we got them everything they needed there was a chance we could be number one in the world. We have monitored it regularly. The first litmus test was Torino where we moved from 17 medals to 24 medals and moved up to third place, one medal behind the Americans.”
Canada has the dubious distinction of hosting two Olympic Games, the 1976 Summer Games and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary and coming away without a single gold medal in either, the only host nation to endure such failure. It’s a shameful label of which Rudge is well aware.
“I wouldn’t say it hangs over our head,” he says, “It’s certainly not something anyone in this country is proud of. We have talked about it. The whole country is aware of it. We have put it out in front of the market and we have used it as a catalyst to get more support for the team.”
“We have any number of speed skaters, who will be touted as potential gold medal winners, as we do in sliding sports, skeleton and bobsled. Our freestyle skiers are at the top of the world. Certainly our curlers and hockey players will be looked upon as being capable of delivering gold medals. Certainly, within those you are going to see gold medal potential. And, our figure skaters have come on very strong. We are pretty strong across the board.”
altCanadians are nothing if not passionate about their hockey. When the national men’s team failed to medal at the 2006 Games in Turin and were humiliated by nations such as Switzerland in the opening round, it raised controversy. It was terribly humbling, particularly to those Canadians who feel Canada could enter two teams and win two medals.
“There’s a large percentage of Canadians, if not the majority, who would be happy if we won the two gold medals in [men’s and women’s] hockey and two in curling and nothing else rather than obtain our objective of being number one,” Rudge concedes with a laugh.
Through the Federal Government initiatives such as Own the Podium the sports have received unprecedented funding to help them toward their individual team goals. It was this programme that allowed Luge Canada, for instance, to hire German coach Wolfgang Staudinger two years ago. He has introduced new optimism into the national team.
“Things have changed in every aspect of program,” says Tim Farstad, chief executive of Luge Canada. “Physical training, different off-season methods, different methods to set up sleds to make them fast, and different training methods, he gets the athlete to train a lot more runs than they would normally do on a daily basis. He’s taken some of the methods that the very dominant Germans are using and put it into our group.”
Farstad is eagerly awaiting another key development in the push towards Vancouver 2010. The entry ramp at Canada’s Olympic Park’s Ice House in Calgary, needs to be extended in order to replicate the run athletes will use in Vancouver. At present it is long enough for only one or two paddles whereas five or six is required during a race. Thanks to a variety of partners they are now looking over engineering drawings and work is to be done in May.
With pressure on the COC to deliver upon its promises one wonders if the individual sports, given all the components on their wish list, also feels pressure. Luge Canada athletes have never won either a World Championship or Olympic medal.
“No, we don't feel pressure we are just trying to do exactly what we have always try to do and that is try to win medals,” Farstad claims. “We haven't done that before. We think we are on the path to have our best chance to do that. But we would love to pitch in but we don't feel pressure to make them win in 2010.
“Our job is to put our athletes in the best position we can with the help of OTP by bringing in coaches like Stauding and, with the home track advantage, and all these things lining up we are putting our athletes in the position to challenge for the podium. If we put it together on the race day I think we have a chance. That’s something we have never been able to say before. It’s pretty exciting.”
This new attitude, Canadians hope will be consistent across all sports and take the nation to the top of the medal podium.
Paul Gains is a Canadian-based freelance writer whose work has appeared in Time, the New York Times, Toronto Star, GQ and  many other publications around the world. He covered the recent Beijing Olympics for CBC Television and was the athletics news editor for the 2004 Athens Olympic News Service.


Go Canada!By Karen Schutlz, Toronto

25 March 2009 at 10:52am

I enjoyed this piece. It is nice to read on an international
website about our team's chances in Vancouver. I remember
Montreal and the 1976 Olympics. They were a bit of a disaster all
round really. I hope we avoid that fate this time.By Marian Carrillo, London, Canada

25 March 2009 at 10:53am