Pride of Winnipeg

For some, like 21-year-old Shannon Rempel, it'll be their first step onto the biggest stage in sports.

For others -- fellow speed skater Mike Ireland comes to mind -- it's one last chance at a medal that's always been just out of his grasp.

And for three -- skaters, Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes, along with hockey player Jennifer Botterill -- it's an opportunity to take their place alongside the most successful athletes in Canadian Olympic history.

Yes, you could say Manitoba has a lot at stake in the XX Olympic Winter Games, beginning in Turin, Italy, this weekend.

The entire country does, too, as these Games will tell us whether or not Canada is on track to "win it all" at Vancouver, 2010, the goal set by officials and athletes, alike.

But let's face it: a good portion of Team Canada's success these next two weeks hinges on the performance of the five active Winnipeggers -- speed skater Brittany Schussler and goalie Sami Jo Small are alternates -- all of whom have medals on their minds.

Some are favourites, some are outside shots.

Hughes, already in the history books as the only Canadian to medal at both the Summer and Winter Games, probably sums up the goal for all of them.

"I want to have the races of my life there," she told the Sun before going overseas. "I want to go beyond anything I have ever done in my life as an athlete."

Do that, and they can return home satisfied, regardless of the result.

Fall short of their own expectations, and they'll face the inevitable questions.

But there is no harsher critic than the one staring back at them in the mirror every morning.

Ireland had to answer to him after the Salt Lake City Games four years ago, when he finished well out of the medals in both his events.

It was a bitter pill to swallow for one of the top sprinters in the world, considering he'd missed the '98 Games with an injury.

No wonder, then, that Ireland trained through the effects of a serious concussion just to get back here, one more time.

At 32, this is it.

"Chances are," Ireland admitted. "The goal is to win."

At the opposite end of the spectrum is Rempel, perhaps the next great female sprinter, someone to pick up the torch carried by two-time gold medalist Catriona Le May Doan.

Rempel knows she should get another chance in four years, but you never know. Things happen. Just ask Ireland.

Then there's Botterill, the hockey player with the great genes and the perfect timing: she made Team Canada when women's hockey first became an Olympic sport.

One silver and one gold medal later, the daughter of speed skater Doreen McCannell and hockey player Cal Botterill is almost certain to become a three-time medalist -- and she's just 26.

"Having been (to two Games) allows you to maybe control your emotions a little more," Botterill said. "And use the excitement of it in a good way, but not let it drain you or put too much pressure on you."

You want pressure?

Look no further than Klassen, already heralded as Canada's likely Queen of the Games, and she hasn't even stepped up to the starting line, yet.

No less an expert than Le May Doan has said the 26-year-old could win an unprecedented five medals in Turin.

And Klassen?

"That's a tough question," she said, in her usual self-effacing manner. "It could be anybody's day."

Actually, this day belongs to all of them. All the athletes who've sacrificed so much just to get here.

Relatively anonymous the last four years, it's their time in the spotlight.

Time for their Olympic moment.