VANCOUVER — Canada’s quest for home-turf Olympic dominance begins today when the first of the country’s 206 athletes get into action at the long-awaited Vancouver Games.
Canadian Olympic officials have made it clear they want the country to finish the Games on Feb. 28 with more medals than any other nation, including powerhouses such as Germany and the United States.
Canadian Olympic Committee chairman Michael Chambers says the goal is ambitious but eminently achievable in what will be the third time Canada has hosted the Olympics after Montreal in 1976 and Calgary in 1988.
“If you don’t reach for something, you don’t grasp something,” Chambers told a news conference on Thursday.
“Our athletes are ready.”
Nathalie Lambert, the Canadian chef de mission, said the lofty objective of outstripping other countries in terms of medal totals means Canadians have begun thinking outside the box.
“As a Canadian, it hasn’t been typical to want to be first,” Lambert told the same news conference.
Of Canada’s 206 athletes, 112 are rookies.
At the other end of the spectrum are three Canadians taking part in their fifth Olympics — hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, bobsledder Pierre Lueders and speedskater Clara Hughes, who will carry the Canadian flag at the opening ceremonies.
“It’s a very inspiring team,” said Lambert.
Ski jumping will launch the 17-day sports extravaganza, which will feature a smorgasbord of talented athletes from 82 countries. Canada has four ski jumpers on its young team but none are expected to contend for the podium.
Something that will be on the minds of many people over the next few weeks is the weather and whether it might affect any events.
There was rain, rain and more rain in Vancouver on Thursday, while Mother Nature played havoc with the women’s downhill ski training schedule in Whistler for the second day in a row as a thick blanket of fog forced the cancellation of the event after only one skier made it down the hill.
Thursday also saw the 2010 torch arrive in Vancouver after a 45,000-kilometre hike coast to coast to coast.
Speculation continued to mount on the identity of the final torchbearer.
Wayne Gretzky and Terry Fox’s mother Betty are among the names mentioned as possible candidates to light the cauldron at B.C. Place.
There was some drama in the hills in and around Whistler on Thursday when a bus carrying 17 American ski fans found out from the driver that U.S. skier Stacey Cook had crashed during downhill training and been airlifted to hospital.
A collective “oh no!” filled the bus.
The group from Idaho is in Whistler to support friend and family member Erik Fisher of the U.S. ski team. They all sported “Go Fish” T-shirts and one young man, Mike Freer of Featherville, Idaho, had a sign on the back of his parka, written in neon green tape: “MEN’S DOWNHILL. I NEED TICKETS.”
The man, a friend of Fisher, said the group of 17 supporters had only five tickets to the men’s downhill for Saturday and that those would go to immediate family members.