In 100 days, the eyes of the world turn toward Sochi, a beach resort in southern Russia nestled on the Black Sea and against the towering Caucasus Mountains.
The 22nd Winter Olympics, which open Feb. 7, will be the most expensive Games ever, summer or winter, with the price so far estimated at more than $50-billion (U.S.). They have also seen their share of controversy, after Russia last year passed a law banning “homosexual propaganda,” setting off a firestorm that has yet to cool. Russian President Vladimir Putin this week attempted to tamp the anger by promising that gay visitors, including athletes, will be free to be themselves – an Olympic bubble for a couple of weeks.
Amid the strains that accompany the Olympics when they are held in authoritarian countries such as Russia or China, athletes maintain a narrow focus on the task at hand, to travel halfway around the world and deliver as best they can. And after Canada’s 14 gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games – the most of any country at a Winter Olympics – Canada once again is poised to be among the top winners in Sochi.
Infostrada, a Netherlands sports-data consultancy, predicts Canada will rank third in the total medal count, behind Norway and Germany and ahead of the United States. The rank would be the same as 2010 but with 34 medals, eight more than Vancouver. Infostrada predicts 11 golds for Canada, also third among countries.
In 2010, moguls skier Alex Bilodeau was the first Canadian to win gold on home soil, a stirring victory that elated the country.
“We always say winning Olympic gold is hard,” Mr. Bilodeau said. “Winning it again is harder. But I see it differently. I’ve tasted it. I loved it. And I want it again.”
Canada’s goal at Sochi is big: to win the most medals. Steve Podborksi, the downhill skier who won bronze at Lake Placid in 1980, is chef de mission for Sochi and acknowledges that winning the most medals is an “enormous goal” and will require all of Canada’s contenders to reach the podium, as well as unexpected names.
Lowering expectations isn’t an option for Mr. Podborski: “You mean, strive for mediocrity?”
“Canada has changed. The Games in Vancouver really highlighted that, that we’re really happy to want to be No. 1.”