Canada’s goal at the Vancouver Winter Games was to have its red and white maple-leaf flag rise above the podium more often than any other. Now the hosts are raising a very different flag — the white flag of surrender.
The Canada Olympic Committee conceded the medal race to the U.S. on Monday, simultaneously admitting that it would not accomplish its mission to "Own the Podium."
"We are going to be short of our goal," Chris Rudge, the committee’s CEO, told the media. "We’d be living in a fool’s paradise if we said we were going to catch the Americans and win. They are way out ahead at this point."
As of Monday night, Canada was tied with Austria and South Korea for fifth in the medal count with nine, 15 behind the first-place U.S.
Canada spent $117 million over the last five years on its Own the Podium program, a plan to win the most medals by giving extra financial support to athletes and teams that had a real chance of winning a medal.
Many of those athletes and teams haven’t lived up to expectations. Perhaps the biggest disappointment thus far has been the Alpine skiing team. It received more Own the Podium funding than any other team, but it has yet to procure a single medal.
"It’s a little frustrating," Alpine Canada president Gary Allan told reporters. "Dealing with the hometown pressure did have an impact on the performances of the athletes."
Sunday was arguably Canada’s most disappointing day yet. It had two speedskaters in the women’s 1,500 meters and a skier in the men’s skier-cross that were considered medal favorites, but none of the three ended up on the podium.
"It was a potential multiple-medal day where we didn’t get multiple medals," Rudge said. "We’ve had a number of those and those are disappointing."
Adding to the misery was the men’s hockey team’s 5-3 loss to the U.S. in the final game of group play. An estimated 10.6 million Canadians watched the contest, making it the most-watched sporting event in Canadian television history.
Now Canada will have to win an elimination game against Germany to get to the quarterfinals, where it would then meet Russia in a showdown that most experts didn’t expect to see until the gold-medal game.
If the men’s hockey team does find a way to capture gold, though, it’s safe to say that most Canadians would forget all about the shortcomings of Own the Podium. At this point, that might be Team Canada’s only shot at saving face.
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