Canada’s team in Beijing’s Winter Olympics navigated the COVID-19 virus, made it to the start line and brought home a lot of medals.
About 125 people in Canada’s delegation of 555 athletes, coaches, support and mission staff had contracted the virus in the weeks before the opening ceremonies, according to Canadian Olympic Committee chief executive officer David Shoemaker.
All but one of 215 athletes were able to fully compete in their events. Keegan Messing didn’t make it to Beijing in time for figure skating’s team event, but arrived to skate in the men’s competition.
“Our goal was to ensure no athlete was deprived of an opportunity to compete,” Shoemaker said Sunday at the main press centre. “I feel quite good with how we handled that.”
A handful of athletes were shedding the virus upon landing in Beijing and did isolate initially, Shoemaker said, with the COC convincing the organizing committee’s medical panel they were safe to compete.
Canada’s 26 medals — four gold, eight silver and 14 bronze — ranked fourth in the medal table behind Norway (37), Russia (32) and Germany (27) and ahead of the United States (24).
Four gold slotted Canada 11th, and was the lowest since three in 1994 in Lillehammer, Norway. Canada’s bottom line in Beijing was bolstered by a record number of bronze medals.
“Completely satisfied with that performance,” Shoemaker said. “I think that puts us in the company that we always aspire to compete with.
“Let’s not gloss over how difficult these last two years were for Team Canada that in my estimation had to endure the most restrictive COVID protocols of any nation.”
The 26 medals in Beijing matched Canada’s output in Vancouver and Whistler B.C. in 2010 for the second-highest in Winter Olympic history, although the host team won 14 gold there.
“It’s been a remarkable performance,” Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said.
Canada tallied a record 29 medals in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, including 11 gold.
Canada’s sport leaders began backing off hard targets even before the pandemic made medal predictions difficult.
Total medals, not gold, was the measure of success when finishing first among countries in 2010 and 2014 was the stated goal.
Ottawa speed skater Isabelle Weidemann, who carried the flag into the closing ceremonies, and short-track skater Steven Dubois of Terrebone, Que., each earned a complete set of medals with their gold coming in team events.
Emotionally charged moments included Canada edging the United States 3-2 for gold in women’s hockey and cancer survivor Max Parrot of Bromont, Que., claiming snowboard gold and bronze.
Short-tracker Charles Hamelin of Sainte-Julie, Que., collected his sixth career medal — a relay gold — in his Olympic swan song.
New mixed-gender team events were fertile medal ground with a bronze in ski jumping for Canada’s first, as well as bronze in aerials and snowboard cross.
A men’s curling bronze by Brad Gushue’s team out of Newfoundland and Labrador avoided a podium shutout in that sport.
Pilot Justin Kripps of Summerland, B.C. and brakemen Cam Stones of Whitby, Ont., Ryan Sommer of White Rock, B.C., and Saskatoon’s Ben Coakwell produced Canada’s 26th medal Sunday in four-man bobsled.
The COC offers performance awards of $20,000 for gold, $15,000 for silver and $10,000 for bronze, with coaches rewarded at half those amounts.
Canadian athletes placed fourth eight times and fifth nine times in Beijing.
The infectious Omicron variant sent Canadian athletes into virtual lockdowns in January. Many have not seen their families in weeks.
“There’s been a lot of struggle on the team just to get here,” Weidemann said Sunday. “But you can really feel kind of the gratitude just to be able to do what we love.
“The pandemic was hard and it continues to be so hard. It’s just made us very grateful.”
Canadians are not done competing in Beijing. The 10-day Winter Paralympics open March 4.
A future 27th medal from Beijing is a possibility. Canada could move up from fourth in figure skating’s team event if Russia is eventually disqualified from gold for a doping infraction.
Teenage star Kamila Valieva testing positive for a banned heart drug on Dec. 25 wasn’t revealed until the day after she helped Russia win gold in Beijing.
That drama and the International Olympic Committee’s handling of the situation became a story that enveloped the Games. A medal ceremony has yet to be held.
“I find that this whole story is so sad and disappointing for us all,” Shoemaker said. “While we may be elevated in the outcome, in a matter of, we don’t even know, weeks, months, years, there’s an American team and a Japanese team that earned the right to stand on a podium here in Beijing.
“They were deprived of that right and I’m deeply disturbed by that.”
Beijing’s Winter Games came six months after Tokyo’s Summer Games postponed from 2020 to 2021 because of the pandemic.
The emotional and mental hurdles athletes cleared to compete in a pair of pandemic Olympic Games were no less significant than physical barriers, Merklinger said.
“Improved focus on mental health and mental wellness for everyone is a significant takeaway from the pandemic,” she said. “It’s a significant takeaway from Tokyo and Beijing.”
Shoemaker was aware Canada’s athletes in Beijing competed for headlines at home with trucker convoy protests and conflict over COVID-19 restrictions.
“I’d like to think that it went over much the same way as Tokyo did, which is that there was a nation that felt a collective need to be inspired by our athletes in their incredible performances and they were,” he said.
Our Olympic team has a daily newsletter that lands in your inbox every morning during the Games. Sign up today to join us in keeping up with medals, events and other news.