Whoever wins first gold medal at home can write name in Canadian history

Few people wake up in the morning knowing they have an opportunity to write history that day.

WHISTLER, B.C. — Few people wake up in the morning knowing they have an opportunity to write history that day.

At least three athletes have the chance to pick up a pen and scrawl their name in Canadian lore Saturday by winning Canada’s first gold medal in an Olympics on home soil. The 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympics ended without a Canadian golden moment.

Looking to break that jinx is Manuel Osborne-Paradis, the steel-spined downhill skier whose eyes sparkle with a mischievous glint. There’s short-track speedskater Charles Hamelin, who is soft-spoken and shy, but turns needle sharp on the ice. Or it could be Jennifer Heil, the smiling defending moguls champion who balances her skiing skills with a social conscience.

The favourites could be upstaged during the first full day of Olympic competition, leaving the gold to hang around the neck of a darkhorse like downhill skier Robbie Dixon. Canada might put several athletes on the podium, but none on the top step.

There is even a chance history might have to wait for another day to be written.

Nathalie Lambert, the Olympic team chef de mission, said there’s no ifs about Canada grabbing gold at these Games. It’s just a matter of when.

I don’t think it’s that important to get it on the first day,” said the former short-track speedskater. If it doesn’t happen on Day 1, it will happen on Day 2 or Day 3. ”

Osborne-Paradis of Invermere, B.C., may have the first chance to see the Maple Leaf raised. The men’s downhill is scheduled for noon, but could be delayed or postponed because of rain or wet conditions.

Weather won’t be an issue when Hamelin, of Ste-Julie, Que., competes in the 1,500 metres in the afternoon. Heil, of Spruce Grove, Alta., will try to shine under the lights that night at Cypress Mountain.

Osborne-Paradis, who turned 26 Monday, said winning is his first priority.

If I win a gold medal, I think I’ll be happy to win a gold medal and not to win the first,” he said. I think that will sink in after the Games.”

Hamelin, 26, is calm in the storm of anticipation.

I’ll do what I have to do, and if it happens it happens,” said the skater with the bed-head hair and scraggly beard. If it happens it will be one of the most incredible things that I’ve ever accomplished in my career.”

For Heil, 27, it’s Olympic pressure redux. She went into the 2006 Games in Turin as the gold medal favourite and on the first day didn’t disappoint.

Peter Judge, head of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association, said Heil’s slender shoulders can carry the load.

Jenn has a steely-eyed competitive gene in her that makes her a phenomenally tenacious competitor,” Judge said in a recent interview. She’s very hungry and won’t let anything lie.”

Bagging that first gold will be a huge psychological lift. The Own the Podium program has spent $117 million with the goal of having Canadian athletes win more medals than any other country.

Pocketing gold the first day would be the first return on that investment.

It’s have a phenomenal impact,” said Judge. Early success is really going to take the pressure off the entire Olympic team.

To have it under your belt is going to spark everybody up. As we know from Turin, the women’s hockey team was talking about watching Jenn and watching her win and how it sparked them up. Certainly it would be a very, very positive thing.”

Given her choice, downhill skier Emily Brydon knows what sport she hopes lands the big prize.

I want a skier to win, that’s my passion,” said Brydon, who is competing in her third and last Games. I know what has gone into it.

Just for any one of them to win a gold would be amazing. Everyone is equally deserving. If it’s one of those, it doesn’t matter.”

The pressure of winning can be like a rolling ocean wave. It can drown you, or give you a thrill-of-a-life ride.

For me, from start gate to finish, it’s just another race,” said Osborne-Paradis, who enjoys swapping his skis for a surf board. Obviously you have to figure out how to engage in the race with all the other differences happening outside the race.

You actually have to kind of mentally stay in your bubble and figure out how you are going to race and don’t let everything else get in the way.”

Whoever wins that first Olympic gold at home will earn themselves a place in Canadian sports history beside Nancy Greene, Gaetan Boucher and the lucky loonie buried in the hockey ice at the Salt Lake Games.

Just the thought of it makes John Furlong, head of the Vancouver Olympic Games Organizing Committee, a little jealous.

I’d just love to live inside the brain of that person for 15 seconds,” he said. To know what it feels like to be the one who won that medal, and go down as the first Canadian to be an Olympic champion on home soil.”