Field of Play: Canada's shining season | Sports | CBC Sports CBC Sports - Sochi 2014

OlympicsField of Play: Canada's shining season

Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 | 07:48 PM

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Canadian alpine skier Erin Mielzynski hopes a promising 2012-13 season leads to Olympic success in Sochi, Russia. (Darko Bandic/Associated Press) Canadian alpine skier Erin Mielzynski hopes a promising 2012-13 season leads to Olympic success in Sochi, Russia. (Darko Bandic/Associated Press)

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With the Sochi Olympics less than a year away, Canada has established itself as frontrunners when it comes to the medal haul.
The frigid days are just barely hanging on. Mother Nature is grim and determined and it still snows in parts of the country, even though the calendar has officially flipped to spring.

There are a few curling matches to be played, hockey games to contest and speed skating races to be run.

But for all intents and purposes the winter season is gone.

And what a shining season it's been for Canadian athletes. In the year before the next Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, now less than eleven months away, the Maple Leaf men and women have established themselves as frontrunners when it comes to the medal haul.

In 98 Olympic events at world championships in the various sports held this season, Canada trailed only Norway in total medals won. Norwegian athletes recorded 35 podium results compared to Canada's 32. Canadian athletes won 12 gold medals in world championship competition, while Norway took 17.

"It's an important measuring stick," says Anne Merklinger, CEO of Own The Podium. "It's much more important than the first two years of the Olympic quadrennial. Every country sends their best athletes to world championships the year before the Games so we know where we stand."

Adding further weight to Merklinger's claim are the totals from World Cup events held in 14 of the Olympic disciplines. Only hockey and curling are missing because events are still unfolding in those two sports.

So far Canadians have claimed a whopping 140 medals or 8.32 per cent of all podium results.  They are surpassed by only Germany and the United States.

"The performance of athletes in new Olympic events is phenomenal," Merklinger stresses.  "And we have more depth in winter sports than ever before going to Sochi. Now in most sports there is more than one chance for Canada to hit the podium."

Some disappointments

There have been some disappointments to the season. Alpine skiers did not get to the podium at the world championships in Austria, and won only three medals in World Cup action.

Still, Erik Guay was second in the downhill at Kitzbuhel and the women technical skiers, including Marie-Michelle Gagnon and Erin Mielzynski, looked promising throughout.
However, alpine skiing has not produced an Olympic medal since Edi Podivinsky's bronze in the downhill at the Lillehammer Games in 1994.

"Unfortunate injuries are always a challenge," Merklinger figures with reference to skiers like Manuel Osborne-Paradis and John Kucera, who returned to action after long absences this season.  "It's important to focus on recovery and get it just right in order to be ready for the big moment."

The big moment, according to Merklinger, is the Olympics. And she makes no apologies for Own The Podium driving home the message that Canadian athletes are expected to perform and win medals at the appointed hour.

"The Olympic Games are the ultimate contest," she says. "We know that every medal won at the Olympics has a profound effect on the high performance athletic community and the general Canadian population from coast to coast to coast."

In other words, pride is a factor, as is progress.

Canada has turned the attitudinal corner when it comes to sporting performance on the international stage. It's no longer good enough to be a competitor. Now the emphasis is on being a contender to win.

"We are always going to be striving to win more medals than in the past," Merklinger declares.  "We want to improve on our overall medal ranking, which was third in Vancouver 2010.  We feel we're in a good position to do that."

And that's why this has been a shining season. Three years removed from the home Olympics, this country's winter athletes are on a collision course to be even better in Russia.

When it comes to fields of play covered in ice and snow, Canadians are increasingly a force to be reckoned with.

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