Publish date:

At its own Olympic Games, Canada proves a fourth to be reckoned with


On the 12-step road to recovery, they say the first task is to face and acknowledge reality. By that standard, Monday was a gilded day for Canada -- and I'm not talking primarily about the ice-dancing gold medal won by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

"We're living in a fool's paradise," Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge finally said on Monday, conceding the host nation wasn't going to hit either target of Canada's $110 million, taxpayer supported Own the Podium program -- neither the goal of up to 35 medals nor that place atop the medal count.

Rudge also allowed that the program's name might be revisited. Its arrogance -- and violation of that sound business principle, underpromise and overdeliver -- made Canada's Olympic performance an ongoing set-up line for headline writers (WOE CANADA; BLOWN THE PODIUM) and pun-minded columnists ("flown the podium;" "moan the odium"). And those are just examples from the laptops of Canadian journalists.

Canada came into the Vancouver Games determined to end one drought, the almost unfathomable failure to convert a single one of 244 gold-medal opportunities on home soil in two previous Olympics. That ended with Alexandre Bilodeau's success in the moguls a week ago. But then another dry spell set in. Call it the Lost Weekend: the failure, after skeleton rider Jon Montgomery won Canada's fourth gold on Friday, to collect another for three days.

The weekend began with the hosts trailing in the medal count, behind ... South Korea. On Black Saturday, Canada failed to win a single piece of hardware. The Hamelin brothers, Charles and Francois, enjoyed two of the five places in the finals of the men's 1,000-meter short-track finals -- and succeeded in finishing fourth and fifth, respectively.

What was to have been Super Sunday only brought more of the same. Christine Nesbitt, the best 1,500-meter skater in the world, finished sixth in the distance. With a bronze virtually in the bag, Chris Del Bosco crashed on the last jump in the skicross to finish fourth in a four-man field. If men's hockey losing to the U.S. that night bruised national pride, what was to be made of the evening's other result, women's curling losing to China?

Thus the weekend ended, with the hosts now tied in the medal count with ... South Korea.

SI Recommends

Canada's medal haul four years ago in Turin was its best ever -- 24, including seven golds, good for third overall. Now, at their own Olympics, the Canadians are headed for their worst finish in the medal standings since 1992.

Alpine skiing got more Own the Podium cash, $10 million, than any other sport, and hasn't a medal to show for it. Ditto for figure skating. Long-track speedskating expected to have eight or nine medals by now; in fact, it has only three, Nesbitt's gold in the 1,000 and Kristina Groves' silver and bronze in the 1,500 and 1,000, respectively, with six the most it can achieve.

The long-trackers' motto has been Today, Not Tomorrow, or TNT. (Insert joke here.) After two disappointing skates, medal hopeful Denny Morrison briefly blamed Own the Podium for forcing Shani Davis of the U.S., Morrison's one-time training partner, into exile from the Calgary Olympic Oval lest Davis get some spillover benefit from Canadian speedskating's share of Own the Podium's efforts. Morrison quickly took back his criticism, which was in fact Speedskating Canada's and not Own the Podium's. But the lesson was there: Too much TNT can lead to an implosion.

Early Monday afternoon in the men's cross-country team sprint, after leading for stretches late in the race, Canada's Alex Harvey and Devon Kershaw placed ... fourth.

"We're a fourth to be reckoned with," Rudge said, proving that amid the disappointment he could at least call on a sense of humor.

Before Rudge's Monday confession, Canadian officials had still been predicting a dozen medals in the final four days of the Games. But the reality check may be just the thing to relieve the pressure and get the team untracked.

That message was in the music to which Virtue and Moir skated Monday night, the achingly beautiful Adagietto from Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Moviegoers may recall it as a dirge, the soundtrack to Dirk Bogarde's tearful realization that a plague was about to claim his beloved Tadzio in Visconti's Death in Venice -- and given how matters had gone for the Canadian team, a little funereal music seemed regrettably appropriate. In fact, the Austrian composer wrote the Adagietto as a love note to his soon-to-be-wife, Alma, and Virtue and Moir interpreted it as such. "Hear it," conductor Herbert von Karajan once said of Mahler's Fifth, "and you forget that time has passed."

So, Canada: That was music for forgetting, for moving on. Love and truth are eternal verities, and medal-grubbing isn't, especially when led by factotums in dandruff-encrusted blazers who don't do the hard work the athletes must.

If Canada does finish with a rush -- not a gold rush necessarily, but a flurry of performances delivered by athletes doing their unburdened best -- mark Mid-Course Correction Monday as the day it all changed.