Tony Care - Thursday Feb. 6, 2014 20:21 ET

Canada’s Olympic medal expectations remain lofty

Officials believe Canada can win Sochi Games medals race

Team Canada's medal expectations
There are a number of Canadian athletes expected to win medals at the upcoming Sochi Olympics. (Canadian Press/Associated Press/Getty Images/Reuters)

When Canada won 26 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, some doubted it could match or even improve on those results heading into the Sochi Games.

The third-place showing, which included a record 14 gold medals, was viewed in a few circles as a nation that simply peaked on home soil.

But the goal of becoming the world’s No. 1 winter nation hasn't changed.

In fact, the expectations have only heightened, seemingly from everywhere.

Why? For starters Canada will be sending 221 athletes to Sochi, its biggest team ever.

The Associated Press also picked Canada to win 31 medals, 13 of them gold.

Team Canada’s Chef de Mission Steve Podborski, and Anne Merklinger, CEO of Own The Podium, both told CBC Sports Weekend host Scott Russell that winning the medal standings in Sochi continues to be the main priority.

“Let’s not strive for mediocrity,” Podborski told Russell. “Let’s strive to be the best, most medal-winning country in the world. Why not? And if it doesn’t work out this time, then the next Chef De Mission is going to sit in the same chair and say, ‘yes we’re striving to be number one.’ But if we haven’t strived we’ll never get there.”

Newer sports get more funding

Own The Podium has poured in more than $100 million into Canadian athletes since the program began back in 2004. It’s a big reason why sports like snowboarding, ski cross and freestyle skiing are getting more funding, while traditional sports such as long track speed skating, biathlon and alpine skiing are getting less.

“Our mandate is very simple: It’s to help more Canadian athletes win more medals at the Olympics,” said Merklinger. “We can’t be all things to all sports or all athletes. So as we get closer and closer to the Games the focus narrows. And so now we are so focused on those athletes and coaches that are demonstrating potential results, and that’s where the investment is recommended.”

As we’ve chronicled every week leading up to Sochi, Canada’s performance at World Cups and Grand Prix events this season has justified the expectations placed on Canadian Olympians.

Canada finished third with 106 medals, only behind the U.S. (160) and Germany (152).

For Canada to have any chance of taking the top of the medal standings away from nations like the U.S., Germany and Norway it must do so largely by the efforts of the freestyle athletes.

They dominated the World Cup scene with 28 medals, second to the U.S.’s 29. The team will be led by Dara Howell, Marielle Thompson, Mike Riddle, Mikael Kingsbury and Alex Bilodeau, who all have the opportunity of winning gold. 

Big things are also expected from Canada’s men’s and women’s hockey teams, along with the curling rinks of Brad Jacobs and Jennifer Jones.

Charles Hamelin crushes competition

In short track speed skating, director Yves Hamelin told me that five medals are targeted by his federation. He's counting on his son Charles Hamelin, who crushed the competition during the World Cup season, to duplicate his double-gold medal performance in Vancouver, and adding another medal in the 1,000 metres this time around in Sochi.

Other notable gold-medal contenders are: Kaillie Humphries and Heather Moyse (bobsleigh), Patrick Chan (figure skating), Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (figure skating), snowboarders Mark McMorris and Maxence Parrot.

Of course, there is also a downside to all the hype surrounding this Canadian team as several athletes could walk away disappointed. McMorris broke a rib at the recently completed X Games, and won’t be in peak form in Sochi. Kaya Turski won her fourth X Games slopestyle gold, but she just returned from knee surgery.

Speed skater Christine Nesbitt, the reigning Olympic champion in the 1,000m, failed to win a World Cup medal this year, a troubling sign considering the long track team is already short on medal hopes.

“We set big, audacious goals because we want to achieve big results. They go hand-in-hand,” said Merklinger. “If we don’t deliver on those results we’ll take a step back, and figure out where our shortcomings were and how do we continue to be better.”

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