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Optimistic Steve Podborski foresees golden Games

Crazy Canuck Steve Podborski speaks at a news conference where it was announced that he will be Chef de Mission of the Canadian Olympic Team for Sochi 2014, in Calgary, Alberta, February 10, 2012.

Todd Korol/Reuters

Leave it to the Russians to sweat the human-rights-abuse claims, massive construction zones and melting snow on the hills.

Steve Podborski, head cheerleader for the Canadian Winter Olympic team, says nothing he's seen in Sochi, Russia, could derail Canada's chances of achieving an audacious goal a year from now: winning more Olympic medals than any other country.

"There's going to be the usual challenges when you have to travel literally to the other side of the planet," the chef de mission told reporters on Thursday. "I've seen nothing that's insurmountable."

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Dressed in a sharp black suit and looking lively despite the late hour in Sochi, the legendary alpine racer and Crazy Canuck said he'd been in the mountains, toured the venues, eaten the food, and adjusted to the 12-hour time difference between the resort area off the Black Sea and B.C.'s West Coast, where he lives.

He likes Canada's chances.

"Yeah, we want to win more medals than anyone else," he said. "We have a tremendous team."

The feat would surpass the record set four years ago in Vancouver, when Canada finished third in the overall medal count but won 14 gold medals, the most won by a country in a Winter Olympics.

One forecaster supports those predictions to a point. Infostrada Sports Group in the Netherlands is forecasting Canada will top all countries with 17 gold medals in Sochi. But it predicts Canada in third overall with 32 podium finishes.

That lines up with where Canada currently ranks in World Cup medal totals in winter Olympic sports this season: third overall, according to a Jan. 24 report by Own The Podium officials.

Canada's Paralympic athletes are also on track to reach their 2014 goal of third-most medals overall; they currently sit third overall in the World Cup standings.

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The athletes are now entering the world championship and Sochi test event sections of their competition schedules, and there's one race that Podborski will be watching for sure.

If Canadian alpine ski racer Erik Guay earns a podium finish at Saturday's world downhill championship in Austria, Guay will tie the national record (20 World Cup podiums during a career) held by Podborski.

He said he wouldn't mind in the least.

"I want Erik to beat that record. I want him to beat 'em all. Then I want someone to come along and beat his record," Podborski said.

Russian officials have said the games a year from now will be the most expensive in history, costing more than $50-billion. That would easily eclipse the record $42-billion spent by China on the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing, and reflects the massive ambitions of President Vladimir Putin.

In a report by the Associated Press on Thursday, Putin has demanded that a senior member of the Russian Olympic Committee be fired, apparently because of the huge cost overruns.

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"Sochi doesn't look like Russia. It's all new, lots of construction. They're really trying to show the world Russia can be a good host for the Olympics," said cross-country skier Ivan Babikov, who was born in Syktyvkar, Russia and competed in 2010 as a Canadian citizen. He was in Sochi last week for a set of World Cup races.

Podborski thought so, too.

"I think they want to show the world that they're the best," he said, speaking of the Olympic hosts. "In many ways, we want to come and spoil their party."

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