Olympics Winter

Canada looks to play catch-up in medal race

The United States appears to be running away with the medal race at the Vancouver Olympics, but Canada figures to finish strong with a host of athletes still eyeing podium spots, starting Thursday with speedskating favourite Christine Nesbitt.

Is Canada in danger of falling out of the Olympic medal race altogether?

That's what some were asking as the sun set on a banner Day 6 for the United States, which broke away from the pack Wednesday by winning six medals — two gold, three silver and a bronze. The Americans overtook Germany in the overall medal standings (14-10) and moved into the lead in gold medals with five, two more than the Germans, South Korea and Switzerland.

Canada — six medals in total, two of them gold — lagged behind in fourth place overall, one back of France and two ahead of South Korea, Austria and Norway.

At first glance, it would seem Canada's dream of finishing atop the medal standings (owning the podium, in organizers' parlance) is slipping away.

But a similar gnashing of teeth occurred in 2006, when Canada reached the podium just four times in the first five days and looked in danger of falling woefully short of its goal of finishing at least third in total medals. A combined seven podium performances over the next two days propelled the Canadians right back into contention, and they went on to place third overall with 24 medals — a national record for a Winter Games.

Adding 'insult' to injury

Think Canadians are too worried about their slow start in Vancouver? In Russia, some members of parliament called Thursday for top sports officials to resign because of the country's mediocre showing through Day 6.

Igor Lebedev, the leader of the Liberal Democratic Party's faction in the State Duma, said Russia's performance has brought "bitterness and insult" to the country, which is hosting the next Winter Games at Sochi in 2014.

As of Wednesday night, Russia had three medals — one of each colour — putting it 11th in overall standings. In 2006, it finished fifth in overall medals with 22, and its eight golds were the fourth most.

In a statement Thursday, Lebedev said Russian Olympic Committee head Leonid Tyagachev should resign immediately and that sports minister Vitaly Mutko should go "if in the remaining days of the Olympics our athletes don't come into a leading role."

The guy in charge of helping Canada win the medal race predicted history would repeat itself in Vancouver. In a conference call with reporters prior to the Olympics, Own the Podium CEO Roger Jackson said the U.S. and Germany would come out of the gate quickly while Canada would make up ground later in the Games.

"As you watch the medal totals day by day, what you need to know is we don't expect Canada to challenge for the lead until the last few days of the Games," Jackson said.

"Halfway through the Games, by Day 8, it may well be the United States and Germany are far ahead of Canada — possibly with up to 20 medals in their case and possibly around 10 medals in Canada's position."

From Day 13 to Day 16, Jackson said, Canadian athletes could win a dozen or more medals.

"Be patient," he said.

Nesbitt, skeleton racers eye gold

The wait could soon be over. On Thursday, speedskater Christine Nesbitt is the favourite in the women's 1,000 metres. Ditto for skeleton racers Mellisa Hollingsworth and Jon Montgomery, who run their first two heats Thursday.

The ice dance competition gets underway Friday, with the team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir considered a near lock for a medal and a strong contender for gold. There's also the men's super-G on Whistler Mountain, where Erik Guay and Manuel Osborne-Paradis have realistic shots at a medal. Osborne-Paradis won the World Cup super-G race at Lake Louise this season and is ranked seventh in the discipline. Guay is sixth.

Saturday could be a big day for Canada. Speedskater Denny Morrison ranks third in the world in the men's 1,500 metres, and short-tracker Charles Hamelin is favoured to make the podium in the men's 1,000. His brother Francois Hamelin is ranked fourth in the World Cup standings.

On Sunday, it's the women's speedskating 1,500, where Kristina Groves and Nesbitt are the top two ranked athletes in the world. Chris Delbosco is No. 3 in men's ski cross, and Lyndon Rush has a chance at finishing on the medal stand in the two-man bobsleigh.

And don't forget curling and hockey: those medals won't be awarded until later in the Games, but Canada can reasonably hope for one from each of its men's and women's teams.

With files from The Associated Press