Canada was on pace for its best Winter Olympics at the midway point in Pyeongchang.
With 15 medals (five gold, five silver, five bronze) in the bank by Saturday, Canadians tabbed as medal favourites had delivered for the most part in the first week. Canada’s top medal haul was 26 (14 gold, seven silver, five bronze) in 2010, when the Games were held in Vancouver.
The stated target by the Canadian Olympic Committee was for the team to contend for first in the overall medal count. That will take a second-half surge, however, as Norway set a torrid clip of 21 medals (seven goals, eight silver, six bronze) by Saturday. Germany (16), Canada (15) and the Netherlands (13) were bunched in a race for second place.
Germany was far ahead of any other country in world championship and World Cup medals heading into these Games. But the Norwegians dominated the snow sports of alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and ski jumping in the first week.
The COC is withholding official comment on Canada’s performance at these Games until next Sunday’s closing ceremony.
“Every medal that Canada wins here at the Games is an absolute battle,” Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said Saturday. “At this point, we’ve had some tremendous performances. We have many more ahead and every one of the medal opportunities is an absolute war.”
Own The Podium gives technical advice to sports federations and makes funding recommendations directing $24 million of federal government money annually to winter sport federations based on medal potential.
Canada’s 2018 team is ahead of the pace set in Sochi, Russia, four years ago — when the country had a dozen medals — and well ahead of the eight at the same point in Vancouver.
Among the highlights:
- The next generation of Canada’s short track stars emerged in Pyeongchang. Samuel Girard, 21, captured 1,000-metre gold and Kim Boutin, 23, claimed her second bronze of the Games placing third in the 1,500 metres Saturday.
- Freestyle skier Mikael Kingsbury has now won everything there is to win in men’s moguls with Olympic gold to go along with his world and World Cup titles.
- Despite his struggles in men’s singles, figure skate Patrick Chan got his gold medal in Pyeongchang along with Kaetlyn Osmond, ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and pair Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel in the team event.
- Mixed doubles curling, which made its Olympic debut here, was somewhat of a wild card for Canada, but John Morris and Kaitlyn Lawes dominated the Swiss in a gold-medal game that lasted just six ends.
- And long-track speedskater Ted-Jan Bloemen says his decision to leave the Netherlands four years ago and move to Calgary to compete for Canada paid off with gold in the gruelling men’s 10,000 metres.
Less than a year after a backcountry crash put snowboarder Mark McMorris on what he called his “death bed,” he earned bronze in men’s slopestyle behind teammate and silver medallist Max Parrot.
Luger Alex Gough’s bronze was Canada’s first ever medal in the sport. A second came when Gough, Sam Edney and the doubles team of Tristan Walker and Justin Snith won silver in the relay.
Edney says the Canadian athletes are feeding off the momentum of teammates’ performances.
“You’re not hiding away in your room. You’re down in the athletes’ lounge hanging out with the freestyle skiers, the speedskaters, the figure skaters,” he said. “You see the bobsled team come in and there’s a sense, or vibe, they’re fired up. We win a silver medal, but we get more excited to see Ted-Jan won a gold in the 10k. That gives me goose bumps right now.”
There were a few misses in Canada’s opening week. Canadian men were 1,500-metre medal favourites in short track. Girard was fourth and 2014 champ Charles Hamelin took a penalty and was disqualified. And Rachel Homan’s curling team opened the preliminary round with an uncomfortable three straight losses.
But Canadians are medal favourites in plenty of sports to come, including bobsled, men’s snowboard big air, freestyle ski cross and halfpipe, more short track, speedskating, figure skating, curling and, of course, hockey.
The men’s hockey team started off with a win and a shootout loss to rank second in its group. The women went undefeated in their pool at 3-0 and face the Russian team in Monday’s semifinals.