Less than 18 months after Beijing capped its spectacular hosting of the summer Olympics, the XXI Winter Games will open in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Feb. 12. And while Canada’s effort is unlikely to equal China’s in magnitude, the traditionally modest country is poised to make these Games, the third it has hosted, its most successful.
Here are some key trends to watch. For more on each individual sport, see our list of briefing pages below. Each page offers information about who to watch, when to watch, event details, history, graphics, photo galleries, videos, and links to more information.
Host Canada aims to win medal count
Watch out this year. Since cooking up the $110 million “Own the Podium” program – a coordinated national push for Olympic success – Canada won a record 24 medals in the 2006 Games. That was a nearly 50 percent improvement over 2002.
They’ve also worked to protect their home-court advantage – a sore point for some US teams, such as USA Luge, which says Canada abruptly cut off an unwritten reciprocity agreement dating back to the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics under which the neighbors gave each other extra training runs.
Tale of two cities
St. Moritz, Grenoble, and Innsbruck – these locations represented an idyllic era when the Olympics could be contained in a mountain hamlet. That era drew to a close with the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. The 21st-century Games are now too big for windy roads and A-frame chalets. In Canada, half the events will unfold in Vancouver, while a virtually separate Olympics will take place in Whistler – a roughly five-hour round trip, given expected traffic and weather.
An end to European dominance?
Many of the traditional Winter Olympic sports – particularly those involving skis – have long been dominated by Europeans. But US Nordic combined athletes, cross-country skiers, and biathletes (those who shoot and ski), who had been largely shut out of international medals for decades, have come on strong in the past few seasons. At the 2009 Nordic World Championships, the US won twice as many medals as in all previous championships combined, and finished second in the gold-medal count.
In addition, the newer Olympic events – including the newest, ski cross (think BMX on snow with a lot more speed but no wheels) – have disproportionately benefited the US and Canada.
Both teams should do well against European teams at the hockey tournament, which some are billing as the greatest in Olympic history. Playing on North American ice – significantly smaller than European rinks – is likely to mean more collisions and plenty of excitement.