Another successful Olympics for Canada shows #WeAreWinter

Canadian long-track speed skaters Denny Morrison (left) Gilmore Junio during a press conference at...

Canadian long-track speed skaters Denny Morrison (left) Gilmore Junio during a press conference at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 16, 2014. (AL CHAREST/QMI Agency)

Steve Simmons, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:44 AM ET

SOCHI, RUSSIA - After the remarkable hoopla and celebration of Vancouver, the challenge for Canada's athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics was rather ominous.

See if you can win more medals than in 2010.

And it almost happened. Canada won fewer gold medals here, but more silver, the same number of bronze and with one day left on the Olympic program -- and the Canadian hockey team assured of either silver or gold -- there is maybe an opportunity for one more medal in bobsled.

But most important in the big picture is this: For the third straight time, Canada has proven to be a world power on the Winter Olympic stage.

And each time, it has been different sports and mostly different athletes carrying the ball -- or rather the flag.

Barring a surprise on the final day in four-man bobsled, Canada will end the Olympics with 25 medals, just one fewer than the 26 won in Vancouver.

The feeling may be different across the country but the overall sense is that Canada had a strong Olympics: They won 26 medals in 2010, almost that number here, 24 in Turin in 2006.

They have established their place among the best in the world. A traditional Winter Games power such as Germany, which won the medal count in 1998, 2002 and 2006 has won 77 medals over the past three Olympic Games.

Canada has won 75 medals in the same time period.

"It has been a very good Games for Canada," said Peter Judge, the head of freestyle skiing in Canada and soon to be the winter sport director of the Own The Podium program. "We're at a precipice, though, in many sports. We're at the end of a lot of athlete's careers. You have to turn the page and go on. That's going to be a challenge in the future."

What's fascinating about Canada's medal count at each of the past three Olympics is how diverse the victories have been. In Turin, speed skating was the dominant sport and cross country skiing the biggest surprise. Here, speed skating brought home two surprising Denny Morrison medals and cross country skiing had a challenging Olympics.

Both sports are now at a crossroads of sorts internationally: It will be up to Judge and his group, and the individual sports federations, to take those sports to the another level.

Here, the big sports winner was Judge's freestyle ski team, which won seven of Canada's medals. And if you include ski cross as being freestyle, which not everyone does, then Canada won nine freestyle medals out of 25 -- or 36% of the Canadian medals here.

What's just as remarkable: Two of Judge's gold-medals winners were teenagers and the average age of his entire team is 22.

"There was a perfect storm," Judge said of his team. "We won six medals in 60 hours. We were a bit fried by the end of that with all that was going on."

But as usual, the manner in which the Canadian public will judge just about everything will be based on the result of the gold-medal hockey game. That may be unfair but it is real. And in some ways, this has not necessarily been a breakthrough Olympics for Canada's team sports as much as it has been further establishment of traditional strengths.

This is the first time Canada has won gold in men's and women's curling, which probably should have happened years ago.

And should Team Canada beat Sweden on Sunday, this will be the second straight Olympics in which Canada has won both men's and women's hockey. And the victory for the women, first time as considerable underdogs, was heart-tugging and among the best events of the Games.

My favourite Canadian story of the Games, after the women's hockey: The one in which speed skater Gilmore Junio stepped aside for Morrison, who won the 1,000 metres in speed skating. That was pure Olympics, a made for TV movie on ice.

Next favourite: The sisters Dufour-Lapointe finishing 1-2 in moguls skiing; Canada finished 1-2 in men's moguls. If we didn't know it before, we know it now: We are a moguls nation.

And the most disappointing athlete: Might be Charles Hamelin, the short track speed skater, who was thought capable of winning four medals here. He won gold early in the Games. Then he fell. On his own. Then fell again. Before that, his brother fell. He probably leaves Sochi with the best of memories.

"Do we need to do things differently?" asked Judge, rhetorically. "Are we doing the right things? Being able to critically think our way through things will be important for the future?

Other good news for Canada, the split in medals between men and women was virtually even.

CANADIAN MEDAL COUNTS

SOCHI, 2014

GOLD: Either 9 or 10

SILVER: Either 7 or 8

BRONZE: 5

VANCOUVER, 2010

GOLD: 14

SILVER: 7

BRONZE: 5

CALGARY 1988

GOLD: 0

SILVER: 2

BRONZE: 3


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