Assessing Team Canada
In a country that has historically approached Olympic competition with a wan combination of modesty and high hopes, things have changed. Leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, to be held in Vancouver and Whistler, British Columbia between February 12 and March 12, 2010, an unfamiliar pride, positivism, and even swagger has come to typify the Canadian attitude to competition.
Fuelling this change is a national initiative called "Own the Podium," which was launched in 2005 to support and train winter sport athletes with the goal of winning the greatest number of medals of any country in 2010. "We want to be the number one nation for the first time at the Olympic Games," says Jean Dupre, Director-General of Speed-Skating Canada. Given that Dupre oversees a speed-skating team that captured roughly half of Canada's medal take at the last three Winter Olympics, the expectations from his quarter are considerable. But other teams that are part of the Canadian national team also nurture exceptionally high hopes.
"Canada is sitting in the number one position moving towards the games," says Peter Judge, CEO of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, which includes top-seeded skiers in freestyle's aerial and mogul events. So, it seems, Canadian athletes are about to collectively abandon a not entirely mythical nice-guy image, get seriously bullish, and go all-out for the top-nation standing. Recent Winter Olympics suggest that it is a strong possibility. In 1998 in Nagano, Japan, Canada placed sixth among countries, and then moved to fourth position in Salt Lake City in 2002. At Turin, Italy four years ago, Canada placed third behind the United States and Germany. In recent collective World Cup standings in winter sport, Canada rates second only to Germany.
Interest in ice hockey, unofficially Canada's national sport, is intense. While eyes will be on the women's team, which won the gold at Turin, the more intense expectations will be for Canada's men's team, which won no medals in Turin. Journalist Stephen Brunt, writing in Canada's newspaper The Globe and Mail on a Canadian hunger to triumph internationally in hockey, looks to "that glorious moment when the puck drops and the great nation-defining drama begins again."
Well that "glorious moment when the puck drops" could refer to the opening in Vancouver of the Games themselves, and Canada's irrepressible intention to show to the world its prowess and skill--even showmanship--in its home-grown winter sports. After all, much of this second largest country in the world is covered in ice and snow November through March. Although the Games will be held in Canada's most temperate region--the southwestern part of the province of British Columbia on its Pacific coast--the coastal mountains, with elevations of up to 7,000 feet are expected to provide stellar winter conditions.
With the Canadian National Team participating in all of the dozens of winter activities, from dog-sledding to back country (off-piste) skiing, the international competitions leading up to these Olympics show that Canadians particularly excel at freestyle skiing, curling, speed skating, and hockey.
Freestyle skiing was born in North America in the heady 1960s and early 70s when the opportunity was seized "to do things a bit out of the norm," says team head Peter Judge. In recent decades, freestyle has branched into three distinct disciplines: aerials and moguls, both of which became Olympic medal sports in the early 1990s, and ski cross, which will make its debut as a medal discipline at the 2010 Games.
Initially Canadian and American freestylers dominated World Cup circuits. Today 30 countries support freestyle programs. At the 2006 Olympics, Australia, Switzerland, China, and Canada won gold medals. In Canada, aerial (acrobatique in French) skiing got its start in the province of Quebec. …