Mission accomplished for Canada's 2014 Paralympic team
Country attains its goal of a top-3 finish
The events are over, the flame is extinguished and the final results are in. It's time to assess Canada’s performance at the 2014 Paralympics Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
How did Canada do?
Pretty well, in the grand scheme of things.
To be fair, every country besides the host nation was competing for second place in the medal standings from day one, as the Russian team stormed its way to an unbelievable 80 medals, of which 30 were gold.
To put that medal haul in perspective, if you combined the total medals of the next five countries in the standings, the number still wouldn’t match Russia’s total of 80 podium finishes.
One of those five countries was Canada, which finished third with 16 medals: seven gold, two silver and seven bronze. Germany placed second with 15 medals, including nine gold. The U.S. and Ukraine had higher medal counts than Germany and Canada, but both countries had fewer of the gold variety.
Canada came into Sochi hoping to improve on its accomplishments at the 2010 Paralympics in Vancouver, where it also placed third behind Russia and Germany, but with a higher total of 19 medals, 10 of them gold.
As was witnessed with the Russian team in Sochi, however, having the noise of the home crowd urging you on can provide a huge boost.
Despite the dip in the final medal count, Canada achieved its goal of a third-place finish set out by Ozzie Sawicki, the country’s Paralympic chef de mission.
Canada headed into the Sochi Games somewhat short-handed as several of its top Paralympians retired after the 2010 Games. Alpine skiers Viviane Forest, who won two silvers in visually impaired alpine skiing, and Lauren Woolstencroft, who earned a record five gold medals in the standing disciplines, both ended their careers after Vancouver.
Sawicki said he was confident that Canada was “growing the new Lauren Woolstencrofts,” and predicted that up-and-coming Paralympians like biathlete Mark Arendz would fill the gap in Sochi. The 24-year-old Arendz proved him right, winning silver in the 7.5-kilometre and bronze in the 12.5K standing races.
The youth movement also came through in the alpine events, as 16-year-old visually impaired skier Mac Marcoux won three medals, including a gold in giant slalom. Veteran sit-skier Josh Dueck, Canada’s flag-bearer for the closing ceremony, added another two medals to Canada’s total with a gold in the super combined and a silver in the downhill.
Usual suspects come through
In the cross-country events, Canada was hoping that one of its most decorated Olympians, Brian McKeever, would add to seven goals he had acquired in previous Games. McKeever didn’t disappoint, winning three individual events to become the first Canadian Winter Paralympian to win 10 gold medals in a career.
Expectations were also high for the wheelchair curling team, which came into Sochi as the two-time defending Paralympic champions and reigning world champions. After compiling a 7-2 record in the round robin, Jim Armstrong’s rink survived a scare against China in the semifinal and thumped arch-rival Russia in the final to give Canada its gold medal three-peat.
While medal contributions from the expected sources are critical in padding a country’s totals, countries also need performances that no one could have predicted. For Canada, this came in the form of cross-country skier Chris Klebl, who pulled off a stunning upset win in the 10K sitting race, and alpine skier Caleb Brousseau, who took home a bronze in the men’s sitting super-G event.
Bronze a consolation prize
It’s not often you can call a podium finish a disappointment, but Canada’s sledge hockey team will no doubt go home wondering what might have been.
After a disappointing fourth-place finish in Vancouver in 2010, captain Greg Westlake and his teammates were determined to make things right and reclaim the gold medal they won in 2006 in Turin.
The team was undefeated in preliminary round play but fell to a red-hot U.S. team in the semis. Canada beat Norway to win bronze.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from these Games is the fact that the Canadian Paralympic team proved that it can now compete with the traditional Paralympic powers on a consistent basis.
Looking ahead to the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang and armed with a group of young and hungry athletes ready to inherit the torch, it’s possible that Canada’s best is yet to come.