Clock ticking down to Sochi in 2014
Canada won more gold medals than any country at the 2010 Winter Olympics, yet that is not the goal for 2014 in Sochi, Russia. The target for Sochi remains as it was for Vancouver and Whistler, B.C., which to beat all other countries in total gold, silver and bronze medals won. The Olympic gold medal, left, and the Paralympic gold medal, right, are shown in Vancouver, B.C., in this Oct. 15, 2009 file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
CALGARY - Canada won more gold medals than any country at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but that's not the goal a year from now in Sochi.
The target for the 2014 Winter Games remains as it was for Vancouver — to beat all other countries in total gold, silver and bronze medals won.
Canada did not achieve that in 2010. The team finished third in the overall medal count with 26 behind the United States (37) and Germany (30).
While Canada's 14 gold in Vancouver set a record for the most won by a country at a single Winter Games, the country isn't moving off the objective of winning the overall medal count in Sochi.
The latter approach is inclusive and gives Canadians more opportunities to celebrate performances, says the chief executive officer of Own The Podium.
"Our objective is to contend for No. 1 in total medals," Anne Merklinger says. "Every medal matters to our country and to Canadians."
The opening ceremony of the 22nd Winter Olympiad in Russia is one year from Thursday.
"We are looking for gold all the time, of course, but the best measurement we see at this stage in our evolution is by total medals," Canadian Olympic Committee Marcel Aubut says.
"Inside of that total, we are looking to get the maximum gold possible. But gold is not the only thing here. It's medals. We want medals."
Canada reinforced its status as a winter sport power at its own Winter Games in 2010, but will have to do more than its slogan "maintain the gain" to beat the world in Russia.
Whether you believe countries should be ranked according to gold or to total, Canadian athletes need to win more gold, silver and bronze to call itself the top winter sports nation in the world.
"Why can't we do both?" asks women's hockey star Hayley Wickenheiser, a three-time gold medallist. "Canada's goal should be to try to win gold in every event and I think the byproduct of that would be maybe silver or bronze medals, but the goal should be to strive for the gold medal."
The United States, Germany and Norway remain Canada's chief rivals in winter sport. Host Russia is coming off a disappointing 2010, but will make the most of home-ice and home-snow.
With new Olympic events in Sochi representing 36 more medals than in 2010, Canada needs to win well over 30 to be in the race for No. 1.
An OTP report tracking the rolling total of world championship medals in Olympic sports from 2011 up to Jan. 27, 2013, shows Canada leading all countries in gold (20) and total medals (37).
A tally of World Cup medals earned in 2012-13 as of Jan. 20 has Canada a distant third with 90 behind Germany (155) and the U.S. (121).
But Canadian athletes are entering a tell-tale phase for Sochi. A dozen sports have yet to conclude their 2013 world championships.
It's the world championship results a year out that are the best gauge of what Canada can do in Sochi.
"It's the most important benchmark for us to really have a good feel for where we stand as a country going in to the Olympic and Paralympic Games," Merklinger says.
The 2014 Paralympics open March 7. Canada applies the gold standard to the Paralympics and will continue with the goal of a top-three finish in gold medals won. Canadians earned 10 gold among its 19 medals in 2010 to rank third.
Of the new sports introduced to the Olympics in Sochi, Canada is well positioned to win some via snowboard slopestyle, freestyle ski halfpipe, the luge mixed relay and the figure skating team event.
Own The Podium is the strategic plan that was established in 2005 to get Canadians on the podium in Vancouver.
In between Olympics, OTP deems which sport federations are producing athletes with medal potential and directs millions of taxpayer dollars from Sport Canada accordingly.
While Canadian athletes may not be flush with cash, they continue to be financially supported post-2010.
The federal government is doling out $31 million in direct funding to winter sport federations this season, plus another $6.9 million in athletes' assistance.
The Canadian Olympic Committee looks after athletes' needs on the ground at Games and prepares them for the Olympic environment.
The COC has taken on the role as corporate fundraiser and embarked last year on an aggressive campaign to raise $100 million in a four-year span.
"We have to get every dollar we can find to support game preparation, which is the key to creating the maximum quality environment where the athletes can find a way to perform at their best," Aubut says. "That's probably the main thing now with 12 months to go."
Merklinger says the federal government's investment in OTP in the four years between Vancouver and Sochi will be $10 million higher than in the pre-2010 quadrennial.
So while some teams have lost their title sponsors since 2010, Canada's sport leaders says the bloom hasn't come off the rose financially after hosting the Winter Games.
"Ordinarily the first thing that happens is government money falls off and then the private sector follows. It was a reverse here," says COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt. "The first thing the Harper government did was step up and make a big commitment to Own The Podium.
"Since then, our team has been working with our national sports federations to tap the private sector. We've seen record deals over the last six months."
While the speedskaters have driven Canada's success in recent Winter Olympics, the freestyle skiers are poised to win more medals in 2014 than the long- and short-track teams combined.
Led by reigning Olympic moguls champion Alex Bilodeau and skicross world champions Chris Del Bosco and Kelsey Serwa, the freestylers are in the enviable position of being deep enough in talent that if one Canadian falters or is injured, another can step up and win a medal.
"We have the benefit of having many hands do the work so we're not going in with only one athlete who is carrying the weight of the whole team on their shoulders," says Canadian Freestyle Ski Association CEO Peter Judge. "It's quite liberating for them to be able to share that responsibility. It frees them up much more to be able to perform rather than be burdened by it."
Cross-country and alpine skiing and speedskating will be the swing sports for Canada.
One athlete can win multiple medals in those sports and contribute disproportionately to a country's total. Speedskater Cindy Klassen's five medals in 2006 is an example of that.
Sliding sports will also be key for Canada because the Germans traditionally dominate there. Canada needs medals on the sliding track to be in the race for No. 1.
"We know it's very challenging for host nations to maintain their performance going into the next set of Games," Merklinger says. "Certainly we're on track and performing very well going into Sochi."