The Canadian Paralympic team is looking for a top-three finish in the medal standings in Sochi.
Ozzie Sawicki, Canada’s Paralympic chef de mission, said the goal is definitely within the team’s reach.
“We've been realistic, and we look at the medal count and which athletes fit into those gold medal spots,” he told CBC’s Scott Russell. “Is it possible? Yes it is. Definitely there's five, six, seven countries that are competitive with us.
“But when we speak with the athletes and speak with the sports, that's the beauty of the competitive nature of our group, is that they believe, ‘Why should we not be that third-place gold medal team versus any of the other nations that we're competing against?’”
Canada finished third at the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics with 10 gold medals, behind Russiad, which had 12, and Germany, with 13. The Canadian team also tied for third with Ukraine in total medals with 19, including 10 gold, five silver and four bronze. Russia won the total medal count with 38; Germany was second with 24.
“The reality is that Russia and Ukraine have been exceptionally strong,” Sawicki said. “They've invested a lot into their programs. And for Canada, we're looking at the reality of, 'Can we take that third spot in gold medal count, similar to what we did in Vancouver?' And we believe we can.”
Several standout Canadian Paralympians retired after the Vancouver Games ended, including alpine skiing great Lauren Woolstencroft, who won a record five gold medals in 2010.
“I think we're growing the new Lauren Woolstencrofts,” Sawicki said. “Now we see somebody like Mark Arendz in nordic and biathlon. He's an up-and-comer, he won a gold medal and two bronze at the world championships. So he's the next one on the block that can start to produce at that level.
“So we have up and coming new athletes that are starting to fill that potential gap. But we don't see it as a gap. We see it as an opportunity to create the next generation of superstar athletes in Canada.”
Strong team heading to Sochi
Arendz, of Hartsville, P.E.I., is a multiple medal contender in Sochi. He enters the Paralympics as the world champion in the 7.5 km biathlon sprint, and finished first in the biathlon World Cup standings.
Brian McKeever will again lead Canada’s cross-country team at the Paralympics. The Cochrane, Alta., native has 10 Paralympic medals to his name, including three golds from Vancouver, and is a multiple medal threat again in Sochi.
He heads into Sochi with two titles from the 2013 world championships and was the overall winner in the World Cup circuit this season.
McKeever made headlines by nearly becoming the first athlete in history to compete in both the Paralympics and Olympics in 2010. He was named to the Olympic team but was passed over in favour of other teammates in a controversial coach's decision on the eve of his event. McKeever wasn’t named to the Olympic team in Sochi.
Other strong medal hopefuls include alpine skier Kim Joines, who missed out on Vancouver due to an injury, and who is considered one of the best sit-skiers in the world right now.
Joines, of Rossland, B.C., reached the podium in every event she competed in this season, including two silver and two bronze medals at the 2013 worlds, as the Canadian alpine team won 14 medals at the competition – more than any other nation – and heads into Sochi with a lot of momentum.
The strong Canadian sledge hockey team is looking to redeem themselves after a heartbreaking fourth-place showing at the Vancouver Paralympics. Team Canada heads into the tournament as the defending world champions. Canada’s wheelchair curling rink is also a medal favourite, gunning for its third straight Paralympic gold medal.