Canadian officials maintain host team can still be No. 1 at Olympics despite slow start

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Canada can still Own the Podium.
That's the message Canadian team officials sent Sunday in their assessment of the host team's performance over the first half of the Vancouver Olympics, although with perhaps less bravado than a week earlier.
The opening 10 days of these Games combined triumph and disappointment for the Canadian team. At the end of them, Canada was behind its projected pace and far behind the U.S.
The U.S. led with 24 medals. A silver medal from Ottawa speedskater Kristina Groves on Sunday gave Canada nine.
Canada's goal is to win more medals than any other country at its own Games. Own The Podium is a $117-million five-year plan that started in 2005 to achieve that goal. Canadian taxpayers pumped $66 million into it.
The Canadian Olympic Committee and Own The Podium officials continued in their belief that the Canadian team will hit the motherlode in the second half of these Games.
"The U.S. is making it very tough to achieve the goal we set out for ourselves, but that's still our goal to be first in medal count," Canadian Olympic Committee president Michael Chambers said at Sunday's briefing. "This may have been the U.S. week. The week coming up will be Canada's week. You'll see that."
The Canadian team's daily briefing began on a sombre note with the announcement that figure skater Joannie Rochette's mother Therese had died overnight in a Vancouver hospital.
Rochette came into these Games considered a medal contender. While officials said she intended to compete, they acknowledged it would be difficult for her to perform.
Canada had 11 medals halfway through the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, en route to a record total of 24 and third overall in the medal count. The 2010 team was ahead in gold - four compared to two - at Saturday's halfway mark, but the name of Canada's game here is quantity, not quality, of medals.
Germany topped the medal standings in 2006 with 29, so Canada needs to more than triple its first-half output to both beat its Turin totals and have a chance at the overall title.
"We're going to have more medals won than ever before by Canadians at a Winter Olympic Games," Chambers said.
Hopes of a multi-medal Sunday for Canada were dashed when Chris Del Bosco crashed in the final of men's ski cross and speedskater Christine Nesbitt finished sixth in the long-track 1,500.
OTP head Roger Jackson predicted before the Games began that Canada would trail rivals U.S. and Germany after the first week and then play catch-up. The American pace, however, surprised him as the U.S. was three medals ahead of where he thought they would be at the midpoint of the Games.
"There's been some amazingly interesting surprises in the American program," he said. "A number of athletes have performed well at the Games that did not show very much promise leading into the Games."
After the briefing, Jackson was pelted with questions about Canada's perceived poor performance at its own Games and he became defensive. He pointed out Canada was two medals behind its goal at the halfway point.
"I don't know why you're all so negative," he said. "We had about 10 real opportunities in the first week of the Games. We have about 25 real opportunities in the second week of the Games."
Moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau, snowboarder Maelle Ricker, speedskater Christine Nesbitt and skeleton slider Jon Montgomery provided Canada's first-half highlights with gold medals in their events. Bilodeau, from Rosemere, Que., answered the question of who would be the athlete to win Canada's first Olympic gold medal on home soil.
Speedskaters Charles Hamelin and Denny Morrison missing the podium their first two races of the Games was among the disappointments, as was World Cup leader Mellisa Hollingsworth failing to win medal in women's skeleton.
The alpine team was shut out of the medals in men's and women's speed events. The bobsleigh team got off to a rough start. Pilot Lyndon Rush and brakeman Lascelles Brown crashing in their second heat virtually eliminated any chance at a medal in two-man bobsleigh.
A variable OTP couldn't predict was how the performance of Canada's athletes would be affected by the hype and pressure of competing in an Olympic Games at home. Those without previous Olympic experience, and even veterans such as Hollingsworth, may have been affected by an environment unlike anything they'd ever experienced before, said Jackson.
"The finishing, the confidence and aggressiveness that is required in almost all sports might be missing," Jackson mused. "We might see an over-excitement in two or three sports and you can name the sport.
"The athletes you would have thought highly experienced seemed out of control with emotion. It caused difficulty for them. There are a lot of things we have to learn how to manage and it's becoming evident on this world stage, whereas it wasn't evident when the big-pressure moments weren't available."
The second half of the Olympic schedule is weighted in Canada's favour with hockey, curling, women's ski cross and speedskating medals to be awarded. The last four days of the Games will tell the tale for Canada as officials say the host team could win up to 13 medals.
Despite the slow start, some of Canada's athletes still believe winning the medal count is possible.
"You can't stop believing that," said alpine skier Emily Brydon of Fernie, B.C. "As soon as you stop believing the results will stop coming. There is always going to be someone that steps up on the day."

Organizations: Own The Podium, Canadian Olympic Committee, Vancouver hospital

Geographic location: Canada, U.S., VANCOUVER Ottawa Turin Germany Italy Rosemere Fernie

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