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Canada third in medal race, U.S. on pace for 'a lousy Olympics'

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

Canadian freestyle skier Cassie Sharpe took gold in the Women's Ski Halfpipe on Tuesday at the Winter Games in South Korea. (Laurent Salino/Getty Images)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


TODAY:

  • Canada on pace for its best-ever showing at Winter Olympics, while U.S. performance remains underwhelming
  • Syria's civil war in danger of spreading beyond its borders, as Syria dispatches pro-government forces to aid former enemy Kurdish YPG militias
  • Brutal war for control of Dublin's drug trade heats up as Irish police warn 29 men their names are on "death lists"


America first? Try sixth

It was the kind of day that Canadians could get used to.

Twenty-four hours of sustained success brought three more golds at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.

It started with Justin Kripps and Alexander Kopacz in the two-man bobsleigh, then Cassie Sharpe's first in ladies' halfpipe, and closed with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's stirring ice-dance triumph.

Canada's Cassie Sharpe delivers a gold-medal performance in the freestyle ski halfpipe final on Tuesday. (Laurent Salino/Getty Images)
With five days of competition remaining, Canada currently sits third in the medal table in both golds and overall medals won, trailing only Norway and Germany.

With 19 medals so far, Canada is on pace for its best-ever showing at the Winter Olympics, eclipsing the 26 medals won at home in Vancouver in 2010.

Top nations in the Winter Games medal race as of Feb. 20, 2018. (CBC)

Russia, which had many of its medal hopes crushed by the IOCs decision to keep suspected Sochi cheaters away from Korea, lags way behind its traditional pace.

But the biggest surprise of the Games so far might be the underwhelming performance of the United States. It currently sits in sixth overall behind the Netherlands and France, with just 12 medals, including five golds.

Four years ago in Sochi the Americans had 28 podium finishes, nine of them on the top step.

Canadian skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won gold in the ice dance competition on Tuesday. (Kevin Light/CBC)
In Vancouver they won 37 medals, the most of any country, although their nine golds finished well behind Canada's record-setting 14.

Projections heading into Pyeongchang placed the Americans third in the table, with 29 medals — one more than Canada. But America's largest-ever Olympic team — 244 athletes — has thus far mostly failed to deliver.

Canada, on the other hand, is slightly ahead of projections.

Over the weekend, the data-driven website FiveThirtyEight crunched the numbers and declared that America is on pace for "a lousy Olympics."

The difficulties of perennial American champions like skier Ted Ligety, or the much-hyped Mikaela Shiffrin who has confounded expectations by only winning one gold so far, have not gone unnoticed at home.

Mikaela Shiffrin of the U.S. makes a run during Downhill Alpine Skiing training on Tuesday. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Over the weekend, CNN grumbled about how the U.S. is on track for its "lowest Winter Olympic medal count in two decades."

The Washington Post dubbed it an "almost drought," noting that even Austria — with a population smaller than New Jersey's — has won more medals.

Canadian goalie Shannon Szabados, left, celebrates with Bailey Bram after their win over the Olympic Athletes from Russia team. Canada will play the U.S. in the women's hockey final. (Grigory Dukor/Reuters)
The good news is that the United States is guaranteed at least one more medal, in women's hockey, tomorrow night. The bad news is that they are playing Canada.

The U.S. women's team has won eight of the last 10 world championships. Team Canada has won four straight golds.

Follow all the results and get a full broadcast schedule at CBC's online Olympic hub.

And tune in to The National tonight for David Common's report on how Virtue and Moir turned a hockey nation into figure skating fanatics.

The National can be found at its regular time on CBC News Network, as well as streamed on YouTube and Facebook, for the duration of the Games.


Syria's fresh horrors

Syria's civil war is in danger of spreading beyond its borders even as the regime of Bashar al Assad finds fresh ways to kill its own people.

Barrel bombs and shelling, along with government and Russian airstrikes that appeared to deliberately target medical facilities, were responsible for close to 200 civilian deaths in the suburbs outside of Damascus on Monday and Tuesday.

The Syrian civil defence force evacuates an injured civilian on a stretcher after an airstrike in the town Saqba, near Damascus, on Tuesday. (Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)
At least 20 children were counted among Monday's dead.

It marks the worst period of fighting in three years in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, a supposed "de-escalation zone" under a recent agreement meant to bring an end to the seven-year conflict.

The United Nations seems to have run out of ideas and words when it comes to halting the violence.

UNICEF's regional director for the Middle East and North Africa issued a press release today on the carnage, under the headline "Do those inflicting the suffering still have words to justify their barbaric acts?" — with the rest of the page purposefully left blank.

A Syrian man carries a child injured in government bombing in the rebel-held town of Hamouria, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on Monday. (Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)
But the Assad government, now on the brink of victory, is not easily shamed.

Today it dispatched pro-government forces to aid one of its former enemies, the Kurdish YPG militias.

The uneasy alliance is meant to stop what Syrian state media calls "aggression by the Turkish regime" around the northeast city of Afrin.

Civilians in Saqba flee after an airstrike on Tuesday. (Abdulmonam Eassa/AFP/Getty Images)
Turkey is now in the second month of a cross-border offensive against the YPG, an American-backed force that helped defeat ISIS. The government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan considers the group, which has ties to Kurdish separatists within Turkey, to be terrorists, and has vowed to root them out.

"In the coming days we will lay siege to the centre of the town of Afrin," the Turkish president said Monday. "Aid from outside will be blocked, and the terrorist group will have no room to bargain with anyone."

A Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army fighter holds an ammunition belt near the city of Afrin, Syria, on Monday. (Khalil Ashawi/Reuters)
But the arrival of Syrian government troops dramatically increases the likelihood of the conflict morphing into a new regional war.

And even if ISIS has largely disappeared from the battlefield, it is still playing a role in the fighting.

Today, CNN reported that the jihadists are busy selling M16 assault rifles via online forums — U.S. taxpayer-purchased weapons that were originally sent to Syria to help anti-ISIS rebels.


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Dublin's drug war

A brutal, two-year war for control of Dublin's drug trade has taken 15 lives, and now Irish police have warned 29 other men that their names are on "death lists."

For months now, armed members of the Gardaí have been stationed on 24-hour watch in several of the capital's central neighbourhoods to try and protect targets, and bring and end to a cycle of tit-for-tat assassinations.

The body of Eddie Hutch is removed from his home on Feb. 9, 2016. He was killed in an ongoing gang feud. (Niall Carson/Associated Press)
But the violence between the forces of Ireland's most infamous gangster, Christy Kinahan, and local hardman Gerry "The Monk" Hutch, continues unabated.

The latest shootings, in late January, took the lives of two Hutch associates. One was gunned down in the parking lot outside a prison where he was about to toss drugs over the wall, and the other picked off on city streets.

The origins of the feud can be traced back to a September 2015 slaying in Spain. Gary Hutch, a convicted armed robber and nephew of "The Monk," was shot dead in his Costa del Sol apartment. He had survived a number of other attempts on his life after being released from prison eight years prior.

Gerry Hutch, wearing a disguise, leaves the funeral service for his brother Eddie in Dublin on Feb. 19, 2016. Eddie Hutch was shot and killed at his home. (Reuters)
A few months later, at the beginning of February 2016, several men dressed in police uniforms and armed with AK-47s stormed a boxing match weigh-in at a downtown Dublin hotel in a revenge attack aimed at several Kinahan associates. The ensuing shootout and stampede made global headlines, but only one man, David Byrne, described as a "Kinahan soldier," died.

What has followed since has apparently been a lopsided battle. The U.K.'s Guardian yesterday reported that police believe Kinahan's gang has been responsible for 13 of the 15 deaths so far, including two men who were slain  in cases of mistaken identity.

If so, it would be something of a departure for Kinahan, who reputedly rose through organized crime ranks by keeping a low profile.

The funeral cortege for David Byrne moves through Dublin on Feb. 15, 2016. Byrne was shot dead during a boxing weigh-in at a hotel by several gunmen armed with assault rifles, in what police believe was retaliation for a another gangland shooting. (Niall Carson/Associated Press)
A university-educated jet-setter with homes in Spain, Dubai and North Africa, the 61-year-old Kinahan is said to speak four languages. Police allege that his empire, which spans Europe and has direct links to South American drug cartels, is worth hundreds of millions of euros.

The Gardia's Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau, which is overseeing efforts to contain the feud, has made 320 arrests and seized 67 weapons — including a half-dozen machine guns — since 2015.

A floral tribute with a photograph of David Byrne is carried by a mourner at his funeral in Dublin on Feb. 15, 2016. (Niall Carson/Associated Press)
But some question whether the police resources mobilized to protect alleged gangsters and drug dealers are being put to good use. The overtime bill for 2017 alone was in excess of 100 million Euros.

Earlier this month, Ireland's TV3 network aired a documentary that claimed a "pill and pot epidemic" has taken over Dublin streets, with children as young as 12 recruited to work as lookouts and mules, as police focus their attention on the violence.


Quote of the moment

"They fear that Brexit could lead to an Anglo-Saxon race to the bottom, with Britain plunged into a 'Mad Max'-style world borrowed from dystopian fiction. These fears about a race to the bottom are based on nothing, not history, not intention, nor interest."

- David Davis, the U.K.'s Brexit minister, charging that pro-EU forces are making things sound way too interesting.

David Davis, Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, delivers a speech in Vienna on Tuesday. (Heinz-Peter Bader/Reuters)

What The National is reading

  • Ottawa backs off proposal to lower DUI threshold (CBC)
  • Questions raised about Berlusconi's ties to Cosa Nostra (Guardian)
  • U.S. assault rifles for sale on jihadist online forums (CNN)
  • 'Baby factory' dad wins paternity rights (BBC)
  • Another Yukon Arctic Ultra racer faces amputations due to frostbite (CBC)
  • Brooklyn Nets owner funding lawsuit against Russian doping whistleblower (Daily Beast)
  • Driverless taxis are headed your way this year (NBC News)

Today in history

Feb. 20, 1968: Pearson tells nation he seeks to clarify confidence

Lester Pearson had already told Canadians that he was going to step down as Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Party. But some opposition members weren't willing to wait until April. Pearson was in Jamaica on a state visit when his government somehow lost a third-reading vote on an amendment to the Income Tax Act. It took almost a week for the Liberals to clear things up and win a proper vote of confidence. All underlining Peter C. Newman's assessment in his 1968 best-seller The Distemper of Our Times: "The daily record of Pearson's government was a series of mishaps that threatened to blunder into farce."

After an unexpected 1968 defeat in the House, Pearson addresses the nation to tell Canadians the situation must be cleared up. 3:42

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.