VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Like most of the entire country, Vancouver organizers are waiting for the moment when Canada finally wins its first Olympic gold medal on home soil.
Leading the medals standings and topping it all off by winning the men’s hockey gold on the final night of the games wouldn’t hurt, either.
As host of the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Canada failed to win a single gold medal.
That is bound to change in Vancouver, and it can’t happen fast enough for leaders of local organizing committee VANOC.
“We’d really like to get that monkey off our back,” VANOC chief executive John Furlong said Tuesday, three days before the opening ceremony. “I’d like to be in his brain for 15 seconds to understand how it feels to be the first Canadian to win that gold medal.”
The biggest gold medal of all for Canada would be in the country’s national sport – hockey.
Terry Wright, VANOC’s executive vice president of games operations, said organizers received 155,000 applications for just 4,000 gold-medal tickets.
“There isn’t a Canadian out there who doesn’t have their fingers crossed that Canada will win the hockey gold medal on the last day of the games,” Furlong said. “If we are in the final, there will be nobody in the country not watching TV. I don’t know who will be running the country.”
The pressure on the Canadian hockey team has been building for months.
“I can’t think of any group of athletes under more pressure,” said Dave Cobb, VANOC’s executive vice president. “But I think they welcome the pressure. I think they will thrive on it.”
Organizers hope Canadians will get behind their athletes in all sports, not just hockey, especially now that Canada has a realistic chance of topping the medals table.
Four years ago, at the Turin Olympics, Canada was third behind Germany and the U.S. with 24 medals, its best showing. Now, after investing more than $110 million in its Own The Podium program supporting medal contenders, Canada believes it has a chance to finish on top when the competition ends Feb. 28
“We are such a hockey nation, but we have never been in a position to be at the top of the medal table before,” Furlong said. “I hope the country will experience success across all sports.”
The confidence among Canadians is so high that it was evident in the response Gary Lunn, national minister of sport, provided a German reporter who asked whether the country had set a medal-count total.
“How about we want to win more medals than Germany?” Lunn said with a laugh. Lunn declined to give an actual goal, but did promise a Canadian would win gold and that the team would surpass previous medal counts.
And failing to win gold is not even part of the discussion as far as Chris Rudge is concerned. The Canadian Olympic Committee chief characterized not winning gold as “hypothetical in the extreme.”
“I have no doubt that there will be any number of (gold) medals,” Rudge said, noting Canada won seven in each of the past two Winter Games.
Rudge acknowledged that the ambitious goals inspired by the Own The Podium program is a departure from the mild-mannered nature of Canadians.