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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Hits and misses for Canada in first half of Winter Olympics in Sochi

Posted: 02/15/2014 1:04 PM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 02/15/2014 1:57 PM


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SOCHI, Russia - Canada needs to pick up the pace in the second half to reach its goals at the Sochi Olympics.

Twelve medals — four gold, five silver and three bronze — at Saturday's halfway mark is a faster clip than four years ago in Vancouver.

The host team had just eight medals, including four gold, midway through the 2010 Winter Games. Canada had 11 medals at halftime in 2006 in Turin, Italy, albeit just two gold.

The schedule in 2010 favoured Canada in the back half and the country delivered 18 of its 26 medals in final eight days to finish third in the overall medal count.

Canada's medal chances were spread evenly through the schedule in Sochi and there were hits and misses in the first eight days.

The stated objective of the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own The Podium is to win the overall medal count, but if Canada beats its medal total from Vancouver, victory will be declared.

Canada is tied for fifth overall with Germany, three back of leading Russia. The United States and the Netherlands are tied for second place with 14 apiece. Norway stands alone in fourth with 13 medals.

"I will say I am very confident that we will deliver a fantastic fight for the top," COC president Marcel Aubut told The Canadian Press on Saturday at Canada Olympic House. "We are usually very good also in the second half. Of course, we cannot let go many opportunities if we want to achieve this."

Canadians produced medals at a furious pace in the first four days with nine. As expected, the freestyle team drove that intake with six.

Then came the lull with three medals in four days.

"That's an Olympics, each time you go up and down, up and down," Aubut said. "We let go a couple of opportunities lately, but we could recover."

Speedskater Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., earned his second medal and Canada's lone medal Saturday with a bronze in the 1,500. Morrison won silver in the 1,000 and has a shot at another medal in the men's team pursuit.

What marked Canada's performance in the first half was the compelling stories behind the medals. Regina snowboarder Mark McMorris won bronze in slopestyle's Olympic debut for Canada's first medal despite suffering a fractured rib 12 days before the opening ceremonies.

The photo of the adorable sisters Justine and Chloe Dufour-Lapointe holding hands before they stepped on the moguls podium together for gold and silver touched hearts everywhere. Tennis star Roger Federer re-tweeted it with the caption "So cute. Sport is great."

Alex Bilodeau of Rosemere, Que., spent the last four years since winning moguls gold in Vancouver fighting off upstart teammate Mikael Kingsbury of Deux-Montagnes, Que.

But Bilodeau defended his gold in Sochi, with Kingsbury finishing second, to give Canada 1-2 finishes in both men's and women's moguls.

Dara Howell of Huntsville, Ont., and Kim Lamarre of Quebec City stepped into the breach with gold and bronze respectively in women's freestyle slopestyle. Yuki Tsubota of Whistler, B.C., crashed horrifically and favourite Kaya Turski of Montreal didn't qualify for the final.

Calgary speedskater Gilmore Junio stepping aside to let Morrison race the 1,000 metres is just half the story.

Morrison missed the majority of the 2012-13 with a broken leg suffered while cross-country skiing. His results in his few international races this season didn't forecast a multi-medal performance in Sochi.

The men's hockey team opened with easy wins over Norway and Austria, but will be tested Sunday by Finland.

The women's hockey team capped the preliminary round 3-0 with a 3-2 win over archrival United States in what may very well be a preview of the gold-medal game. But first comes Monday's semifinal against Switzerland.

The Jennifer Jones team from Winnipeg rocketed out of the gates in women's curling with seven straight wins. Canada's Brad Jacobs from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., started 1-2 but the won four to get back into men's playoff contention.

"We had a remarkable first week," Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said. "One of the best on record for Canada."

Short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin of Sainte-Julie, Que., raced sneaky smart to come from behind to win gold in the 1,500. That was expected to kick off a medal run by the short-trackers, but that hasn't transpired.

The Canadians struck out in the men's relay that has historically been automatic for an Olympic medal. Canada didn't qualify for the final of the women's 500 or 1,500 or the men's 1,000 either.

The lugers were primed to win Canada's first Olympic medal in the sport. Then came three straight days of fourth place in women's singles, doubles and the team relay.

The men's cross country team that surrounded the podium in Whistler four year ago struggled in the mountaintops near Krasnaya Polyana.

It was going so badly, Alex Harvey of St-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que., dropped out of the men's 30k race. The athletes said their ski-and-wax combinations weren't working on the snow there.

Reigning world snowboard slopestyle champion Spencer O'Brien finished last in her the Olympic event and cried "I let Canada down."

"The Olympic Games is all about celebration and heartache and we had a number of heartbreaking moments," Merklinger said.

An Olympic silver medal is an accomplishment, but Patrick Chan was disappointed to not win Canada's first gold in men's figure skating.

The Toronto skater found comfort contributing to Canada's medal haul in both men's singles and in the new team event in which Canada also won silver.

"I'm so happy and proud to have contributed to that pool of medals for Canada," Chan said. "I feel it and I hear it every day when I go back to my village.

"That's why I love being Canadian, I love representing Canada here, we have such a great team, and we have each other's back whether it's a gold, silver, bronze. It doesn't matter. A medal's a medal."

Men's and women's freestyle halfpipe, skicross, bobsled, hockey and curling, as well as the ice dance team of Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., are among Canada's top medal contenders in the second half of these Games.

Maelle Ricker of West Vancouver, B.C., will attempt to defend her gold in women's snowboard cross and teammate Dominique Maltais of Petite-Riviere-St-Francois, Que., is also a solid medal prospect in the event.

Hamelin will have another shot at a short-track medal in the 500 metres. Morrison, Regina's Lucas Makowsky and Mathieu Giroux of Pointe-aux-Trembles, Que., are the defending champions in men's pursuit in long track.

"Short-track, long-track, freestyle and snowboard are really the ones that we're watching very carefully," Merklinger said. "We have some depth in some of those disciplines.

"There's so many medal opportunities and we really need to be able to deliver on those."

— With files from Lori Ewing


Follow Donna Spencer on Twitter @DLSpencer10

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