Thursday, February 5, 1998
Solid gold fever for Team Canada
Jones picks Canada for 21 medals and maybe victory over Americans in medal race
a. Canada, for the first time in Olympic Winter Games history, beats the United States in total medals but loses to the U.S. in hockey.
b. Canada, for the 18th straight Winter Olympics, loses to the U.S. in total medals but - for the first time since 1952 - wins gold in hockey.
If it could be one, but not both, which would you choose?
A no-brainer? For most Canadians, I suspect so.
Take the hockey gold. Throw the rest of 'em away, eh.
Kinda pathetic when you think about it. But that's who we are. We love one game more than all the others combined.
But keep the scenario in mind. Canada versus the U.S. is our storyline at these Olympics whether it's the big picture or the Big Hat (hockey arena) picture.
I'm betting we beat the U.S. at the Olympics. I predict Canada shatters any previous medal total. My guess is Canada hits 7-7-7 on the Olympic slot machine.
Seven gold. Seven silver. Seven bronze.
That's 21 medals. Twenty more than Canada won the last time the Olympics were in Japan. (Karen Magnusson won a figure skating silver in Sapporo in '72.)
We've never won more than 13 before, equalling the U.S. total of 13 four years ago in Lillehammer but losing 6-3 in golds.
None of my Canadian colleagues think we'll finish that high. And I don't see why.
Neither does Gaetan Boucher.
The greatest speedskater in Canadian history, the man who won two of our four medals in Sarajevo in '84, sees Canada winning more medals in his sport than we'd ever won at an entire Winter Olympics until Lillehammer.
"I think we will win six medals in long-track,'' he said. "I think there will be four more in short-track. That's 10 for speed-skating. There could be more.''
You have to figure two in curling, two in hockey, two in figure skating as being almost automatic.
Canada has never gone into an Olympics with medals so secure in figure skating as Elvis Stojko, the most machine-like performer in figure skating history, and the dance duo of Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz.
Pierre Lueders has won four of six World Cup races this year in two-man bobsled and a medal there has to be considered a solid bet. And Jean-Luc Brassard and the Quebec Air Force have to be good for two or three in freestyle skiing. Add a couple more in snowboarding ...
Do the math. It adds up.
Well, maybe not to some. Sports Illustrated's Olympic predictions are out. They have it 20-18 U.S.
They have it 7-5 U.S. in golds. Jean-Luc Brassard, Pierre Lueders, Sandra Schmirler, Catriona Le May Doan and the Canadian women's hockey team get gold.
Elvis Stojko, Jeremy Wotherspoon, Nicolas Fontaine, Marc Gagnon, Isabelle Charest and, yes, the Canadian men's hockey team get silver.
OR SO THEY SAY.
While the NHL's Team Canada will be Canada's passion play here, the Canadian speedskaters will be our real Olympic heroes, predicts Boucher.
"Catriona Le May Doan will win two, maybe three,'' he says.
"Jeremy Wotherspoon will win two. Susan Auch and Sylvain Bouchard should win one each. And Kevin Overland is a possibility. We have so many. Two or three should be gold.''
O Calgary ...
When it happens maybe they should play O Calgary instead of O Canada.
"The reason we're going to be so successful is Calgary,'' says Boucher. "The Calgary track. The Calgary coaching staff.''
It's the legacy of the Calgary '88 Olympics.
"It's the fastest track in the world. It's inside. There's no wind, no dirt on the ice. And it's open all year-round.
"Now, technically, everybody is very good.''
The Canadians have taken to the new clap skates better than anybody in the world.
"It was the Calgary track that gave us an advantage with the clap skates,'' says Boucher. "It gave us more time trying the skates and testing the skates.''
Auch says there's no disputing Canada's new status in the sport.
"We're for sure the best sprint team in the world,'' she says.
In a way, they've got the Crazy Canucks thing going from the good old days in skiing.
"We help each other,'' she says. "The team thing is a big thing. We support each other. We get on a roll together.''
Because of speedskating, if Canada finally beats the U.S. at the Olympic Winter Games, it ought not be a surprise.
And after the World Cup of Hockey, if the U.S. beats Canada at hockey, that ought not be a surprise either.