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Canada's team Michael Gilday, Charles Hamelin, Olivier Jean and Charle Cournoyer celebrate on the podium (LASZLO BALOGH/REUTERS)
Canada's team Michael Gilday, Charles Hamelin, Olivier Jean and Charle Cournoyer celebrate on the podium (LASZLO BALOGH/REUTERS)

DAILY GRIND

Dowbiggin: Speed skating could be key to Canada’s 2014 Olympic medal haul Add to ...

It was encouraging to see Canada skate off with three medals this weekend in the World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont. Patrick Chan’s third straight gold in men’s singles, the silver in ice dance for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and the bronze in pairs from Erik Radford and Megan Duhamel mean Canada will have 11 entries in figure skating at next February’s Olympics.

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That’s a promising start toward equalling or even surpassing the unprecedented medal haul at the 2010 Games in Vancouver. Canada will need a strong showing in figure skating if it wants to do that. There are the usual pockets of strength in freestyle skiing, snowboard, curling, hockey and sliding sports. Estimates suggest that Canada could net 25 medals in these sports.

But experienced Olympic watchers say there are troubling signs in a couple of traditional sports that it might be tough to attain the long-sought goal of No. 1 winter sports nation. As sports with multiple events where a dominant performer can leave a Games with four or five medals, long-track and short-track speed skating has to produce 7-10 medals for Canada to be No. 1.

Long-track speed skating, a reliable source of strength in the past, has hit a rough patch with no Clara Hughes or Jeremy Wotherspoon on the horizon. Outside of world No. 1 Christine Nesbitt, there is a real chance of no other medals in this discipline. Short-track is better positioned, but with its unpredictable history of falls and upsets, nothing is ever quite guaranteed.

Compared to the haul Canada expects in freestyle skiing, speed skating will not be a Canadian strength in Sochi. Based on the 2013 season, neither will alpine skiing. Despite the considerable effort to restore the Crazy Canuck legacy, the downhillers and technical skiers have been plagued by injury and inconsistency. A single medal will be an accomplishment here.

Hockey is also up in the air as the NHL struggles toward making a decision on participation. While it’s almost a certainty something can be worked out, Canadian fans have to be reminded that a medal is not always a certainty when Canada’s men take to the big ice surface. Remember Torino and Nagano?

OLYMPIC RELOCATION: While Sochi will likely see the NHL stars, it’s hard to envision the league shutting down for a trip to Korea in 2018. Unlike Russia, where hockey is a passion, there is no market in South Korea to be developed. The TV time-zone starts suit only Asia, where hockey is an afterthought. Travel to Korea in winter is onerous, and with North Korea an unstable political force, the league may decide to take a pass.

Or perhaps the NHL should make a deal with the IOC to stage a tournament – just not in South Korea. As a longterm proposition, maybe the Olympic hockey tournament should always be staged in North America or Europe in a city that is accessible to the NHL’s schedule and that maximizes the profit and time-zone exposure in markets that scare about hockey.

With the vast majority of viewers watching on TV, who cares where the games are played? The Summer Games often stage events such as yachting or equestrian in locales far from the home city, but it doesn’t effect the colour of the medals.

Tell the IOC it can have the best players but on better terms and in better locations for the NHL.

RUSSELL OUT: CKNW in Vancouver is not renewing Dan Russell’s Sports Talk when his contract run out this summer. The show’s been running 29 years, the longest consecutive years in Canadian sports radio. “We’ve had a long run on CKNW and look forward to the next chapter,” Russell told us Friday afternoon.

This is one of the recent changes at NW which added longtime Vancouver sports figure David Pratt in the past year while losing Neil McRae, a fixture in the city for decades. Formerly the sports source in Vancouver, CKNW has been usurped by the TEAM 1040 in recent years as its competitor grabbed the radio rights to the Canucks, Lions and Whitecaps.

NET EFFECT: The Greeks remind us that first comes hubris, then comes nemesis. Or, in the case of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, first comes comedy then comes tragedy. Last Thursday saw Canuck goalie Roberto Luongo making like Cheech & Chong for TSN with his “bitter” rival Cory Schneider over the No. 1 job in Van City,

The bit drew lots of laughs and attention. Then on Saturday came the downer. Luongo floundered in net as the Canucks were outclassed 5-2 by Detroit at Rogers Arena. The Canucks goalie situation went from funny to flat. Hey, it was fun while it lasted.

Besides, Lui and Schneids will never hold a candle to these guys.

dowbboy@saw.ca / @dowbboy

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