From Whistler, B.C., to Chamonix, France, from Deer Valley, Utah, to Rybinsk, Russia, Canadians are dominating on snow and ice like never before, winning medals, hogging the podium.
It’s happening in a variety of sports and it’s happening in waves, from Devon Kershaw’s golden effort in cross-country skiing Saturday to Jan Hudec and Erik Guay finishing first and third. respectively, at a World Cup downhill. Toss in the bobsleigh and skeleton team’s four-medal showing (three golds and a bronze) and it’s almost been too much to keep track of.
“I had 12 medals so far,” said Ken Read, Own The Podium’s winter director and a former alpine skier. That was the count before Valerie Maltais won a bronze in a short track speed skating event in Moscow.
“We had two weekends in December that were very prolific, not just on the World Cup but also on the pro tours.” added Read. “But the results in all sports this weekend and leading up to it are unprecedented.”
Canada’s success has been equally rewarding outside the World Cup circuit – at the recent Winter X-Games and at Grand Prix events, where Canadians freestyle skiers Mikael Kingsbury and Olivier Rochon lead the moguls and aerials points race.
“These are all World Cup races,” Read said of this weekend’s results. “Then you look at the results in the X-Games in the ski half-pipe and slope-style, in the snowboard slope-style and cross and ski-cross. Was this anticipated? One does expect when you’ve had a concerted build-up to a Games there will be a shadow. Athletes carry on. But what we’re also seeing are performances that didn’t happen at the Olympics because there wasn’t enough time - cross-country skiing, for example, and luge.”
The Canadian cross-country ski team didn’t win a medal at the 2010 Olympics but was ever so close in a number of races. On Saturday, Kershaw became only the second Canadian to win a World Cup cross-country race after Pierre Harvey did it in 1988.
“It only took 10 years but I got it,” said Kershaw, who also won a bronze medal this week and whose teammate Alex Harvey, Pierre’s son, placed fifth Saturday in Russia.
Asked how OTP has been able to follow its record-setting achievements at the 2010 Olympics – Canada topped the medal count with 14 golds – Read pointed to a critical component – money to help support the athletes.
“We were able to continue the funding. The budget of March, 2010, ensured we weren’t looking at a massive cut. The COC and its funding – OTP allocates it – enabled us to step in and help with a lot of new sports,” said Read. “The amount this year was just shy of $1-million and it went into new sports … [to put]head coaches and support staff in place. It’s growing the organizational depth.”
Maintaining the existing programs while assisting the newer disciplines will help Canada fulfill its ambitions for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The plan is to once again be among the top nations in both the Olympics and Paralympics, a lofty goal considering these won’t be a home Games for Canadian athletes.
The good news, insisted Read, is that everyone now expects Canada to be fighting among the leaders in Olympic sports.
“The shift is there’s now a culture and expectation that this is what we do; this is fun. We’re supporting programs properly and I firmly believe most Canadians feel this is what they want,” said Read. “They want to see athletes given opportunities to demonstrate what they can do. You want to be in the mix of the Games, a competitive force. That’s equally exciting.
Some of Canada’s recent winter successes:
Bobsleigh and skeleton
Lyndon Rush, Jesse Lumsden – gold in the two-man bob at Whistler
Mellisa Hollingsworth – gold, skeleton
Kaillie Humphries, Emily Baadsvik - gold, women’s bob
Helen Upperton, Shelly-Ann Brown - bronze, women’s bob
Jan Hudec – first, men’s downhill at Chamonix, France
Erik Guay – third, men’s downhill
Ben Thomsen – fifth, men’s downhill
Olivier Rochon – third, men’s aerials at Deer Valley, Utah
Short track speed skating
Valerie Maltais – bronze, women’s 1,500 metres at Moscow
Devin Kershaw – first, 15-km skate-ski race at Rybinsk Russia; was also third in a skate sprint in Moscow
Alex Harvey – fifth in Rybinsk