Americans owning our podium

Canadian athletes wilting under pressure

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“America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a loser.”

- General George S. Patton

VANCOUVER — Lindsey Vonn dominated the downhill scene all season long, but no moreso than Mellisa Hollingsworth dominated in the skeleton event.


American athletes are taking charge and winning medals while Canadians expected to challenge for podium positions have been faltering. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI AGENCY)


Yet, here at the Winter Olympics — with everything on the line and with the world watching — Vonn obliterated the field in winning her signature event, while Hollingsworth was unable to perform up to par when it mattered most.

And that’s just one of too many examples of the apparent Olympic difference between Americans and Canadians here, which begs the question: What do they have inside of them competitively and athletically that we do not?

How is it that Americans, one medal ahead of Canada in Turin four years ago, have almost as many gold medals as Canada has medals so far this time around?

Why is it, more often than not, that the American exceeds expectations while the Canadian too often succumbs to them?

“If we knew what they were doing, we’d be doing it too,” said Michael Chambers, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. “The U.S. is having a tremendous Games. They are making it very tough for us. I’m very impressed by what I’ve seen from their team.”

Hollingsworth, short-track speed skater Charles Hamelin, alpine skier Manuel Osborne-Paradis and ski-cross racer Chris Del Bosco were all projected to win medals. Hamelin was projected to win multiple medals. To date, there are no podiums for any of them to own.

Jennifer Heil and Kristina Groves were projected as gold-medal winners. Both won silver. The long-track speed skating team was considered for nine medals and so far, the number is three. The short-track team was put down for five or six medals and so far, they have just one.

And what hasn’t happened — and what usually happens at an Olympics — is the home country gets an emotional boost from the rabid fans and the comfort of performing on familiar turf. Right now, the Americans are treating these Games as though this is home turf and they are, indeed, owning the podium.

“We didn’t see this coming,” said Roger Jackson, the CEO of Own The Podium, talking about the American dominance here. “There have been some amazing interesting surprises in the American program. The number of athletes who have performed well at the Games that did not show that much promise coming into the Games is remarkable. They have peaked at the right time … They are treating this like a home Olympics.”

Americans appear to celebrate greatness. It is in their nature. Canadians, by comparison, have difficulty grasping the moment.

The great Canadian bump some expected by hosting a Games in Vancouver has not translated in numbers. Japan, for example, more than tripled its medal count from the previous Games to when it hosted in 1998. The U.S. went from 13 medals to 34 in Salt Lake City in 2002. Only Italy won less with its own Games, but it may be challenging for Canada to equal the 24 medals produced in Turin.

“It’s like the seventh man in hockey,” said Marcel Aubut, incoming president of the COC. “We thought it would be to our advantage. It hasn’t worked out that way … we deal with pressure? That’s something we’re going to have examine at the end of the Games … Americans seems to have the edge that makes them win.”

No matter what the numbers end up and no matter how optimistic the COC people are about the final week of the Games, the Americans have made this their Olympcis.

“I think we’d be living in a fool’s paradise if we said that we’re going to catch the Americans,” said COC chief Chris Rudge.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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