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One year away, Canadian athletes gearing up for 2018 Winter Olympics

Canada's Spencer O'Brien, at the Sochi Winter Olympics, in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia, in a February 9, 2014, file photo. Athletes hoping to wear the Maple Leaf at the 2018 Winter Olympics have one year to secure a spot on the Canadian team and hone their performance for a shot at a medal.

Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Athletes hoping to wear the Maple Leaf at the 2018 Winter Olympics have one year to secure a spot on the Canadian team and hone their performance for a shot at a medal.

"It's definitely on my mind pretty much daily, trying to figure out where you want to be come that day," snowboarder Spencer O'Brien said. "It's pretty crazy to put four years into something and relatively for us, it's four years for 30 seconds."

The 23rd Winter Olympics open Feb. 9, 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and close 16 days later.

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Those who run Canadian sport haven't yet stated a goal for 2018 after making No. 1 in the overall medal count the target in 2010 and 2014.

Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said Canadian performances at world championships over the next several weeks must be taken into account before that declaration.

"We really need to wait for those to conclude, so we know where we stand relative to the rest of the world," she said. "Winning more medals than we won in Sochi will certainly be a primary goal."

The host team won the most gold with 14, but finished third in the overall with 26 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Four years later in Sochi, Canada's 25 medals ranked fourth overall and third in gold with 10.

Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith estimates it will take more medals than that to top the overall table in Pyeongchang.

"We want to have a top performance and be contending for number one," Smith said. "The number of medals in what it takes to be number one changes depending on what all the other nations are doing, so you're up there in the high 20s or early 30s, but we don't have a specific target."

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Despite falling short of its ambition in 2010 and 2014, Canada has cemented its position as a world power in winter sport.

In World Cup medals won this season, Canada ranked third (116) behind Germany (163) and the United States (126) as of Monday. Russia was fourth at 109.

The Germans led in gold medals won (64) ahead of the U.S. (45), Canada (41) and France (33).

Freestyle skiers, snowboarders and speedskaters are leading Canada's charge to Pyeongchang.

For Canadian hockey fans, the burning question is whether NHL players will play in Pyeongchang next year. While many stars say they're willing, team owners don't see the benefits.

New Olympic events will continue to be crucial to Canada's bottom line in 2018

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Canadians are medal contenders, of varying degrees, in snowboard big air, speedskating's mass start, curling's mixed doubles and the mixed gender alpine relay making their Winter Games debuts.

Of the 36 additional medals available in Sochi because of new sports, Canadians won five.

Two developments emerging post-2014 for Canada are analytics and the crackdown on Russian athletes for alleged state-sponsored doping that country continues to deny.

Canada's Olympians had analysts crunching data for them for the first time at last year's Summer Games in Rio.

They focused on swimming, rowing, cycling and track and field, building projections models of the times and scores that would win medals there.

They've been doing the same for Pyeongchang, predicting times necessary to win in luge, bobsled, long-track speedskating, biathlon and cross-country skiing, as well as the scores required in figure skating.

They're also analyzing which athletes are on track to hit those marks.

"Helping identify athletes whose performance trajectory is greater than another athlete, that certainly helps in terms of athlete selection," Merklinger said.

The banning of some Russian athletes and not others from Rio had little influence on Canada's medal count.

At the track, for example, Canada's six medals were in events that didn't include strong Russian contenders.

But given the host country's dominance in Sochi — a table-topping 13 gold among 33 medals — any suspensions of top Russian athletes would have more impact on Canada's medal count in Pyeongchang.

The International Olympic Committee announced Dec. 23 that disciplinary proceedings were underway on 28 Russians who competed in Sochi "for whom there is evidence of manipulation of one or more of their urine sample." Several of those athletes are currently in various stages of appeal.

"We can't control who is on the start line," Merklinger said. "All we can focus on is making sure our athletes are as prepared as they can possibly be going into the Games. That's what we think about every day. Not, 'Who is going to be there?"'

Despite the impeachment trial of South Korean president Park Geun-hye amid allegations of corruption, Pyeongchang's Winter Games preparation appears to be on track.

The venues will be ready, according to COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt.

"I was there a year ago and they were already ahead of the game in my estimation," he said.

Canadian athletes are currently cycling through Pyeongchang for various test events. The freestyle skiers are there this week for World Cup moguls and aerials.

"I want to win for sure, but I think the most important thing there is to take in as much information about everything," said Canadian moguls star Mikael Kingsbury.

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Athletes to watch

The 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics open a year from Thursday. Here is a look at some Canadian athletes to watch heading into the Feb. 9-25 Games:

TED-JAN BLOEMEN

A transplanted Dutchman now competing for Canada's long-track speedskating team, Bloemen set a world record in the 10,000 metres after donning the Maple Leaf. He's also a powerful addition to the men's pursuit team.

PATRICK CHAN

Olympic gold in men's singles has eluded Canada's top male figure skater over the years. The 26-year-old from Toronto must up his quadruple-jump quotient to upgrade from silver in 2014.

JUSTINE DUFOUR-LAPOINTE

The 22-year-old Montrealer is ramping up for a run at a second straight gold in women's moguls. Dufour-Lapointe and silver-winning sister Chloe provided Canada's most touching moment of 2014 in their 1-2 finish.

CHARLES HAMELIN

Owner of Olympic gold medals in the 500 and 1,500 metres and relay, the 32-year-old short-track speedskater from Sainte-Julie, Que., wants to complete the set with a 1,000-metre win.

ALEX HARVEY

The 28-year-old cross-country skier from Saint-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., has the goods to become the first Canadian man to win a cross-country medal and be the difference-maker in a relay medal.

KAILLIE HUMPHRIES

The 31-year-old bobsled pilot from Calgary goes for her third gold in as many Games.

MIKAEL KINGSBURY

The 24-year-old moguls skier from Deux-Montagnes, Que., has won everything there is to win in his sport several times over, except an Olympic gold. He was runner-up to now-retired teammate Alex Bilodeau in 2014.

MARK McMORRIS

The snowboarder is a double medal threat with the introduction of the Big Air event. A slopestyle bronze medallist in 2014, the Regina boarder bounced back from a broken femur in 2016 and is back on his epic game.

MARIE-PHILIP POULIN

The 25-year-old women's hockey forward from Beauceville, Que., is a gold-medal gamer scoring a combined four goals, including an overtime winner, in the last two women's Olympic finals.

MARIELLE THOMPSON

Ms. Consistency in the elbows-up, first-to-the-line sport of skicross, the 24-year-old from Whistler, B.C., aims to become the first woman to win back-to-back gold.

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