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Canada's Patrick Chan wears his gold medal after winning the men's singles skating competition during the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012, in Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Julie Jacobson/AP

Canada's winter sports athletes are getting world championship, World Cup, and X Games medals at a historic levels this year – and have passed powerhouse Germany to stand first in world-class medals halfway to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics in Russia.



According to statistics being assembled by Own the Podium, Canada has garnered 34 world-championship medals in 97 Olympic events to 29 for Germany and is tied with Norway in wins with 15. Most of Norway's wins have come in cross-country skiing. Canada's top three medal-producing sports are freestyle skiing (nine), short-track speed skating (six) and long-track speed skating (four).



Ken Read, director of winter sports for OTP, said world championships in 2011-12 gave the most accurate picture of Canada's upsurge in Winter Olympic sport – even more accurate than World Cups, which take place weekly in some sports and annually in others.

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But by any yardstick, Canada is a winner. Instead of falling back after winning a record 14 gold medals and 26 medals overall at the 2010 Vancouver Games, Canada will close out the 2012 winter season – following season-ending championships in speed skating, curling, figure skating and hockey – as the envy of other nations.



Canada's had medal breakthroughs in sports that were once dominated by Europeans such as cross-country skiing and luge and had a brilliant all-podium performance by Mikael Kingsbury in freestyle moguls. Canada has seen bobsleigh pilot Kaillie Humphries and long track skater Christine Nesbitt maintain world-championship form and hit the medals stand at every stop in ski cross. Figure skater Patrick Chan has won gold in every event he's entered.



"The learnings of 2010 have become entrenched in Canadian sport culture," said Read, the former Crazy Canuck alpine skier.



He said in the past, Olympic host countries have poured in funding and put on a big show for home fans, then let support for Olympians dwindle when the Games moved on. That didn't happen in Canada, he said.



He said Own the Podium – a kind of athletic finishing school designed to enhance Canadian Olympic medal chances – was maintained. OTP is financed by the Canadian Olympic Committee and – at arms length – the federal government. Through Sport Canada, the feds contribute a total of $62-million in enhanced-excellence funding each year to Canadian winter and summer sports. About $22-million is committed to winter sports, and $34-million for the summer sports and $6-million is for team sports.



Read said the sports community feared a 50-per-cent cut in the sport budget – 'sunset' grants that were to disappear with the 2010 Games. But after Vancouver, the feds instead increased their contribution.



"You have to invest. You have to invest over a long period of time," Read said. "We realized we did well identifying top athletes and providing them with support and research and innovation. It was a matter of trying to get every one to collaborate and work together. The 2010 Games ... is the very first time Canada had in line all the NSO [National Sports Organizations] providing qualified athletes and the seven sport centres across the country for development and testing, and the COC and CPC [Canadian Paralympic Committee]providing Games environments, and Sports Canada [financing]to OTP.

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"It was everyone working toward a common purpose and we had one of our best-ever outcomes."



Read said the United States, which held the Games in 2002, slipped in its 2006 Winter Olympic performance when the Games went to Turin.



"Our focus has been that we want to maintain the gain ... we want to at least do was well – if not better – than we did in 2010. ... That's in part because of the addition of new events, but also because maintaining ensures that we'd do something that no other country has done – to equal or increase the number of medals you've won in a post-Games environment."



Sochi will see the addition of team events in luge, biathlon and figure skating, ski halfpipe, ski slopestyle, snowboard slopestyle, snowboard special parallel slalom, and women's ski jump.



The new events for 2014, according to Own the Podium calculations, have contributed five medals (two gold, one silver and two bronze) to Canada's medal total.



Canada still has some pieces to add to the puzzle, Read said. The 2010 Olympic host had the highest number of fourths and fifths of any nation.

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"The other thing that leaped out at us was the area we call 'Dark Horses,' that area where athletes ranked outside the top eight won medals. That's where the U.S. really shone. They had 12 or 13 medals [there]we had zero," Read said.





With a report from Beverley Smith

2011-12 World Championship medal haul (Winter sports)

Total rank

2011-12

Total rank

2010

Nation

Gold

Silver

Bronze

Total

1

3

Canada

15

10

9

34

2

2

Germany

8

9

12

29

3

4

Norway

15

6

6

27

4

1

United States

10

8

7

25

5

5

Austria

12

5

6

23

6

9

Sweden

3

7

8

18

7

10

France

6

8

2

16

8

12

Netherlands

4

7

4

15

9

6

Russia

1

6

7

14

10

7

Korea

4

5

4

13

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