Canada fell a medal short of “maintaining the gain” at the Sochi Olympics.
The host team’s 26 medals four years ago in Vancouver set a new Winter Games standard.
Canada’s 220 athletes departed Russia with 10 gold, 10 silver and five bronze for 25, compared to 14 gold, seven silver and five bronze in 2010. Their performance was capped by the men’s hockey team defending the gold Sunday with a 3-0 win over Sweden.
Canada finished fourth in the overall medal standings and third in gold medals. The stated objective by Canadian sport leaders was to win more medals than any other country.
But it was host Russia that stormed the top of the table on the final weekend to finish with 33, ahead of the United States at 28 and Norway with 26. The Netherlands was fifth with all 24 medals earned in speedskating.
Beating or even matching the 2010 performance was going to be a tall order for Canada without home-ice and home-snow advantage. The Canadian team came close thanks to five medals won in new sports introduced in Sochi.
“We asked our athletes to contend,” chef de mission Steve Podborski said Sunday. “Our athletes have done so. It’s not easy. Sometimes it doesn’t work very well at all. But they stood up. They stood together.
“I’m delighted with the performance they have offered us, and what they have done for themselves and for their teammates.”
It was a talking point at the Canadian Olympic Committee news conference Sunday morning that Canada sat only four medals back of Russia in first place. But the gap was considerably larger by the end of the day.
Russia’s final surge Sunday included a podium sweep in the men’s cross-country race and another medal in bobsled. After a dismal 2010 with just 15 medals including three gold, the host team scooped up seven medals on the final weekend to claim the overall pennant.
“Russia nailed it,” said Caroline Assalian, the COC’s chief sport officer.
The Americans lost some ground in Sochi with nine fewer medals than in 2010. The Germans plummeted to 19 from the 30 that put them second behind the U.S. in Vancouver.
In the end, Canada finished nine medals out of first, instead of 11 back in 2010.
“We just want first place,” COC president Marcel Aubut said. “That’s all we want. It’s going to happen one day.”
The COC uses a “conversion rate” — the percentage of athletes ranked in the top five at their most recent world championships who make it onto an Olympic podium — to monitor how Canada compares to other countries in getting athletes on the Olympic podium.
Canada’s conversion rate in Sochi was 54 per cent compared to 59 in Vancouver, according to Assalian.
The U.S. dropped 15 per cent to 69, while Russia jumped from 54 per cent to 71.
Norway dominated recent winter world championships, but converted only 48 per cent in Sochi compared to 64 in 2010. The Germans fell to 48 per cent after posting a 68 four years ago.
“We dropped four or five per cent, but if you look at what our competition is doing, major, major fluctuations,” Assalian said.
“While we may have been one or two medals shy of where our ambitious target was, we’re very close,” added Own The Podium chief Anne Merklinger. “We didn’t take a significant drop. We were right there. We’re not disappointed.
“There’s a lot to celebrate in terms of our performance here in Sochi.”
There were 36 more medals to be won in Sochi than in Vancouver because of new sports.
Of them, Canadians claimed bronze in men’s snowboard slopestyle, silver in team figure skating, gold and bronze in women’s ski slopestyle and silver in men’s freestyle halfpipe.
As expected, the freestyle ski team drove Canada’s medal count with nine medals, including skicross. That sport is handled domestically by Alpine Canada, but the world governing body of skiing considers it a freestyle discipline.
The freestylers won six of the first nine medals that put Canada briefly atop the medal standings on the fourth day. Four times in freestyle events, there were two Canadian medallists.
Among the highlights, Alex Bilodeau of Rosemere, Que., defended the gold medal in moguls and so did Kaillie Humphries of Calgary and Heather Moyse of Summerside, P.E.I., in women’s bobsled. Humphries and Moyse were named Canada’s flagbearers for the closing ceremonies.
Canada claimed double gold in hockey again. The women earned a fourth straight gold in heartstopping fashion. Trailing by two goals late in the third period, they mounted a comeback and Marie-Philip Poulin of Beauceville, Que., scored the golden goal in overtime.
Canada also swept men’s and women’s curling gold for the first time since the sport returned to the Winter Games in 1998. Jennifer Jones and her Winnipeg team went undefeated. Brad Jacobs and his Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., teammates started 1-2, but didn’t lose again en route to gold.
The photo of Montreal sisters Justine Dufour-Lapointe and Chloe holding hands before stepping onto the moguls podium for gold and silver will be one of Canada’s enduring images of these Games.
Another popular story was Calgary speedskater Gilmore Junio vacating his spot in the 1,000 metres for his friend and teammate Denny Morrison, who earned silver. The three-time Olympian from Fort St. John, B.C., also took bronze in the 1,500.
Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., and Kelsey Serwa of Kelowna, B.C., worked together in the women’s skicross final to ensure they’d both finish in the medals. They too won gold and silver.
Freestyle skiers Dara Howell of Huntsville, Ont., and Kim Lamarre of Quebec City emerged from a tumultuous first women’s slopestyle event with gold and bronze.
Short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin of Ste-Julie, Que., was the Olympic champion in the 1,500 metres.
Painful misses were a drag on Canada’s medal count. The first Olympic medals in luge and in men’s cross-country skiing were anticipated and didn’t happen.
The luge team was fourth three nights in a row. The skiers were beset with waxing issues early in the Games.
World champion snowboard slopestyle champion Spencer O’Brien of Courtenay, B.C., finished last and sobbed that she’d let her country down. The short-track team’s goal was five medals and capable of it, but produced three.
Toronto figure skater Patrick Chan joined Morrison as a double medallist in Sochi. Chan helped Canada win the team silver. He was devastated, however, to fall short of the elusive gold in men’s singles for Canada.
Canadian taxpayers are the biggest investor in their Olympians.
According to figures provided to The Canadian Press by the Minister of Sport, the federal government has spent $150 million on high-performance sport since 2010, compared to $125 million in the quadrennial prior to Vancouver and Whistler.
Own The Podium allocates about $62 million of that annually to summer, winter and Paralympic sport. In consultation with each sport federation, OTP determines which athletes have medal potential and directs those dollars accordingly.
The money pays for coaching, training, competition and travel costs as well as the medical support teams. The latter was crucial to Canada’s success in Sochi.
Snowboard bronze medallist Mark McMorris, alpine ski bronze medallist Jan Hudec, Morrison and Serwa were among the athletes who said their surgeons, chiropractors and physiotherapists got them to the start line in condition to compete for a medal.
The COC prepares athletes for the Games environment and looks after them on the ground at the Games. The organization pays for that via corporate sponsorships.
The COC launched an aggressive campaign after the 2012 Summer Games in London with the goal of raising $100 million over a four-year period. In December, the COC vowed to divert $37 million of it to OTP.
It’s expensive to be a world player in winter sport.
“Sport is the best place to invest,” Aubut insisted. “You get the return right away. We did in Vancouver and the Russians did it in four years too. They invested. They got focused. They got the support.”
“Wherever the Games are, going to South Korea next time, we want to be number one. This will never quit the mind of the team, the COC, Own The Podium, government, private sector investors. It’s what the athletes are looking for too with our help.”
The COC pays out bonus money to medallists — $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze — and that bill came to just over $1.5 million in Sochi.
Coaches were also rewarded when their athletes stepped on the podium: $10,000 per gold, $7,500 for silver and $5,000 for bronze. The COC paid out $200,000 to coaches.
The Paralympics open March 7 in Sochi. Canada’s goal is to finish top three in the gold-medal count, which was achieved in 2010 with 10 gold among the 19 won.