Canada aims to 'Own the Podium' at Vancouver Olympics
Mild-mannered Canada? Think again. The host of the Vancouver Olympics has been on a five-year national drive to win the most medals.
Whistler, British Columbia
In 2006, Canadian athletes won a record 24 medals in the Winter Olympics. But they were just seconds from grabbing 13 more, trapped in fourth-place finishes.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Luge
In Pictures Following the Olympic Flame
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The boldness of host Canada’s $110 million "Own the Podium" program, initiated five years ago to improve everything from the speed of a snowboard to the psychology of a speedskater, has taken some by surprise – not least of all its southern neighbor. But just because Canadians are friendly doesn’t mean they don’t want to win.
“[The world] maybe thought that we didn’t want it because we weren’t at that level,” says Regan Lauscher of Canada’s luge team, which is now within striking distance of winning the country’s first medals in the sport. “We always did want to win and we always did want to excel.”
The luge team has drawn particular attention for dropping a reciprocity agreement dating back to 1980, under which the US and Canada gave each other extra runs ahead of major competitions. While that caused some grumbling, Canadian athletes say they have every right to capitalize on their unique opportunity as Olympic host.
“They thought they could squeeze in an extra few runs, barter for more, and that we would say, ‘Sure,’ ” adds Lauscher. “But finally, we just said, we want to win – not because we wanted to disadvantage anyone else, but because we wanted to give ourselves the best advantage."
Breakout at Torino
Since their breakout performance at the 2006 Torino Games, where Canada was only one medal behind the US and improved its 2002 haul by 50 percent, Canadians have built momentum for an even more impressive showing here – with plenty of red maple flags and hometown fans urging them on.
- In 2002, Canada won no medals in skeleton. In Torino, they won three.
- In cross-country skiing, only four years after winning the country’s first medal in a women’s event, Beckie Scott led a trio of women to medal performances. Since then, the men’s team has come on strong.
- Speedskaters improved on their nine medals from 2002 with 12 in Torino.
- The two-man bobsled team turned in Canada’s third medal-winning performance in the entire history of the sport and is now ranked sixth in the world.
And that’s just in the more traditional sports. The addition of X-Games sports has favored Canada and the US. This year, Whistler native Maella Ricker is ranked No. 1 going into the Olympic snowboard cross event.
The 'Top Secret' program
The Canadians are following a well-worn pattern, with the US ramping up winter sports ahead of the 2002 Games and Beijing funding a massive bid to win more gold medals than any other country – which it did. London, too, is ramping up ahead of the Summer Games two years from now.