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Canada’s medal hopes on the slopes primed

Shannon Gunning launches off a jump while training this week at Whistler-Blackcomb in British Columbia.

BEN NELMS/The Globe and Mail

The ascent of freestyle skiing and snowboarding at the Winter Olympics buoys Canada's chances at replicating the country's wondrous performance at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Canada scored a best 14 gold medals and ranked third in total medals, snatching 26.

The addition of new sports to the Olympics, such as ski halfpipe and snowboard slopestyle, means that one in five medals at the Games in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 will be awarded in freestyle skiing, snowboarding, and ski-cross racing, up from one in seven in Vancouver.

In new events, Canada has numerous favourites for gold: Rosalind Groenewoud in women's ski halfpipe, Kaya Turski in women's ski slopestyle, Spencer O'Brien in women's snowboard slopestyle, and Mark McMorris and Sebastien Toutant in men's snowboard slopestyle.

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In the ski halfpipe, there is veteran Mike Riddle and surging youngster Noah Bowman, up-and-comers like Kris Atkinson and Simon d'Artois, and junior skiers like Shannon Gunning.

Beyond the acrobatics on snow, Canada will be a top contender in hockey, in men's if the NHL sends its players, and women's.

Patrick Chan, the 22-year-old figure skater, has won back-to-back world championships, in 2011 and 2012, after finishing fifth at the 2010 Olympics.

Speed skater Christine Nesbitt, who won gold in 2010 in the 1,000 metres, just had the best year of her career. In 2012, Nesbitt set a world record in the 1,000 metres and won the world championships in 1,000 metres and 1,500 metres.

On the bobsleigh track, Calgary's Kaillie Humphries is primed, having won gold in two-women bobsleigh in 2010, and rattling off eight straight victories.

On Friday in Altenberg, Germany, Humphries and rookie brakeman Chelsea Valois of Zenon Park, Sask., finished third in a World Cup bobsleigh event. That ended Humphries's win streak at eight races, but it marked the ninth straight event she had captured a medal in.

"The streak is over, but I knew it would come to an end at some point," said the 27-year-old Humphries, whose first of nine career World Cup victories came here in 2009. "We had a good day today. I made a small mistake on my second run. This shows that even though you have a good day, sometimes others are going to be better than you."

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German teams grabbed the top two positions.

Cathleen Martini and Stephanie Schneider finished first with a time of 1 minute 56.95 seconds while compatriots Sandra Kiriasis and Franziska Bertels were second in 1:57.25. The Canadians were next in 1:57.27 as Humphries earned a 17th career World Cup medal as a pilot.

"Overall it was a good day and I'm happy with how our pushes were," Humphries said. "There was a crash before us and that was another new experience for Chelsea to respond to. She did great again today."

There was also a World Cup women's skeleton event on the track, with rookie Cassie Hawrysh of Brandon the top Canadian in eighth with a time of 2:03.37.

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About the Author
National correspondent, Vancouver bureau

David Ebner is a national correspondent based in Vancouver. He joined The Globe and Mail in 2000 and worked in Toronto and Calgary before moving to Vancouver in 2008. He has reported on a wide range of stories – business, politics, arts, crime – and has covered sports since 2012. More

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