Pressure derails Canucks at Whistler

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WHISTLER, B.C. - From Black Cloud Mountain to Whistler Creekside, the Olympics up here have been all downhill.

And for Canada, it’s been for all the wrong reasons.

From death and disappointment in the sliding events at Blackcomb, as it’s properly known, to the medal shutout in alpine competition on the next mountain over, the home-team struggles are just as pronounced as they are down in Vancouver.



At least the sunshine and scenery have been spectacular for the past week, because the results have been much harder on the eyes.

At the Turin Games four years ago, Canadians claimed six medals in events now taking place at Whistler and area venues. Canadian Olympic Committee officials had hoped to at least match that total.

The COC acknowledged the obvious yesterday — that owning the podium won’t happen — and with only one medal thus far, the alpine, sliding and cross-country competitors have been keeping the (slow) pace set by Canada’s other athletes.

With opportunities running out, it will be difficult matching even half the production of Turin. So, on with the blame Games.

“You can see it in the starting gate with some athletes,” Alpine Canada president Gary Allan said here. “There’s a lot of stress. It’s not the first time the home team has come away from the Olympics a little light on medals.”

For good measure, Allan heaped some blame on the media for raising unrealistic expectations, even though his team officials were aiming for three medals. When in doubt, shoot the messenger.

There is plenty of shame and blame to spread around and as COC head Chris Rudge said Monday: “It’s painful to do the autopsy when the patient is still alive and kicking.”

Let’s start with Alpine Canada, which is likely to exit these Games without a medal, thus extending its drought through four Games. Sure the Europeans are powerhouses, but since 2005, Canada’s Own the Podium program has pumped more than $10 million in funding to Alpine Canada and expected results.

A nation still waits. Adding to the embarrassment was the performance of Norwegian Aksel Svindal, who won gold in the men’s super-G and silver in the downhill. Denied access to train here by Own the Podium officials, Svindal rightfully couldn’t resist the temptation to point out the slight to the world’s press.

“It’s disappointing for us and for Canada also,” Canadian skier Erik Guay said. “We’re here to deliver medals and it just didn’t happen.”

Save for one event at the somber Whistler Sliding Centre, Blackcomb also has been brutal. Lugers grumbled that any hope for a medal was erased with the adjusted starting point introduced after the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. Canada’s best, Alex Gough, fumed about it for days before finishing 18th.

Canadians experienced both extremes in the skeleton over a gripping two-hour period Saturday when Mellisa Hollingsworth flamed out in the women’s final — going from gold-medal favourite to fifth — and Jon Montgomery won gold.

Next up is bobsled, where Canada’s top podium prospect, the two-man crew of Lyndon Rush and Lascelles Brown, had their sled overturn in the second run, taking them out of contention.

There has yet to be a medal from the cross-country venue, though a brilliant effort from Devon Kershaw and Alex Harvey came close Monday when the pair finished second in the men’s team sprint.

“I believe the pressure was there because the potential was there,” Canada’s chief de mission, Nathalie Lambert, said in defence of those who have fallen short. “Do you honestly think that their personal goal or team goal was anything different from our goal?”

Goals are nice. But medals are what matter. And until Monday’s backtracking, it was the COC’s mantra.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

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