Canada a good bet for gold on Saturday

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VANCOUVER — The first Winter Olympics without Winter is about to begin.

Welcome to Vancouver, where it may more important to own an umbrella than own the podium. Temperatures aside: This should be the most successful Winter Olympics in Canadian history and never mind that people were golfing Monday.

Sports Illustrated is predicting a record 30 medals for Canada and completely independently — with a whole lot of help from Canadian Olympic Committee people — I had come up with the same number last week. My friend Brian Williams, who knows everything Olympian, says that number is high. And normally he’s the optimistic and I’m the pessimist.

Whatever the number is, it is encouraging and exciting for a country not known for flaunting athletic success at Olympic time to be able to chest-thump. And considering how much we paid for these Games, we deserve that kind of show.

Herein is a brief Olympic Guide for people who don’t follow the Olympics until the Olympics actually begin:

Super Saturday

Canada has a grand opportunity to start these Games in style. There are three legitimate medal opportunities on the first real day of competition. It begins with Manuel Osborne-Paradis with the downhill in the afternoon, then moves to night when defending gold medal winner, Jenn Heil, competes in the moguls event and short track speedskater Charles Hamelin likely wins his first — of what could be several — medals here. The key to Saturday: Somebody, likely Heil or Hamelin, putting to rest this Canada never has won gold on Canadian soil thing, that is already old.

No momentum building

Here is the thing. Medals are supposed to begat medals. Your country wins one, you win another. Well, it won’t exactly work out that way in Vancouver. Of the 30-something legitimate medal opportunities for Canada, the majority are in the second week of the Games. So even if Day 1 of the competition does turn out to be a Super Saturday, the glut of medals, won more by women than men, will have to wait.

Hero worship

The real Olympic question for Canada away from the hockey arena: Are these the Games of Christine or Kristina? Or both? Cindy Klassen was the star of the Turin Games four years ago. Having had both her knees repaired, she won’t win a handful of medals here. Young Christine Nesbitt has been the most dominant female speedskater in the world. She’ll win golds. Veteran Kristina Groves has been around the podium all season long. She may win more medals.

One of these women — maybe both — will be the non hockey-playing face of these Olympics.

The weather

This is how weird these Olympics are. The opening ceremony is indoors. That has never happened before at a Winter Games. (I wish they had thought of this in Norway and I wouldn’t have frostbite on my hands to this day.) Get ready for weather reports and snow-making reports. These are known as the Games of ice and snow, but slush seems more likely considering the temperatures. A Winter Olympic first: Ponchos are being sold at every outdoor venue. And while Olympic tickets are barely available, good tee times are.

The Olympic snub

Not enough was made of this but it is insulting, thoughtless and just plain wrong that gold medallist Kerrin Lee-Gartner didn’t get an opportunity to carry the Olympic torch as it made its way across Canada. Lee-Gartner, a downhill champion from Albertville in 1992, is one of this country’s greatest Olympians. How VANOC and the torch people ignored her is mind-boggling. A whole bunch of minor celebrities, media people, and friends of friends got to carry the torch. Lee-Gartner didn’t.

The Chandra story

Chandra Crawford was the great come-out-of-nowhere story in Turin, one of the great come-out-of-nowhere stories of all time. She won a gold medal in cross country skiing and her pure excitement and her non-ending smile was unforgettable. But here’s the rub: The event Crawford won her gold in isn’t offered in these Games. She’s a defending gold medal winner with no event to defend. While she’s not expected to be a medal factor in Vancouver, hopefully someone will follow in her tracks. Nothing is more engaging than an unexpected medal winner.

My gold medal count

With apologies to Brian Williams, here is a prediction for 11 gold medals for Canada: Mens and women’s hockey (2); Speed Skating (4), Men’s curling (1), Women’s skeleton (1), Women’s moguls (1), Short track speed skating (2).

The hockey wait

The Games open Friday. The hockey tournament doesn’t really get going with anything interesting until Day 10. How the Olympics begin will have little to do with men’s hockey. But once the hockey tournament begins, we hope, sincerely, that hockey doesn’t dwarf all that is around it.


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