Friday, February 6, 1998
13 golds for canada? Funny you should ask
"Can I get a comment,'' the man began, "on how it feels to get the most gold medals at the Olympic Games?''
After the usual giggling stopped, and after the man was told he was, in fact, in the Canadian office, he then repeated his question.
It turns out, this man has covered many Olympic Games. And before every Olympics, he likes to break down the sports, event by event, athlete by athlete, and attempt to determine how many medals each country will win.
By his calculation, purely unscientific, Canada will win 13 gold medals at Nagano - roughly the same number of gold medals it has managed in the past 12 Winter Games combined.
That is the wildly optimistic view on the eve of the opening of the Nagano Olympics. Wildly optimistic considering the history.
Three gold medals in Lillehammer.
Two in Albertville.
None in Calgary.
Two in Sarajevo.
None in Lake Placid.
And no more than two in any of the Olympics before that. In fact, the last time the Winter Games were held in Japan, in 1972, Canada left Sapporo with just one medal - silver.
Now, people are talking big and it isn't the Canadian people. Actually, the opposite is happening. While the Canadian team leaders gladly will tell you this will be, to use their favorite phrase, Canada's best Olympics, they won't make predictions. They won't necessarily talk numbers.
No Canadian would be so bold or crazy to predict 13 gold medals in a decade, let alone in one Games. But here is the thinking - and do the math.
Elvis Stojko, world figure skating champion. One gold medal.
Jean-Luc Brassard, world champion moguls skier. Two gold medals.
Men's hockey. Three gold medals.
Women's hockey. Four gold medals.
Men's and women's curling. Six gold medals.
Pierre Lueders and Dave McEachern, World Cup champions in the two-man bobsled. Seven gold medals.
Catriona Le May Doan, speed skating in the 500 and 1,000 metres. Nine gold medals.
Jeremy Wotherspoon, speed skating in the 1,000 metres. Ten gold medals.
And none of this is a reach. That is the remarkable part of the story. All of it is possible.
Then there is Marc Gagnon, world-record holder in two short-track speed skating events, predicted for gold in the 500. Eleven gold medals.
The women's relay team in that very strange sport called short track. Twelve gold medals.
And in the new Olympic sport of snowboarding, Mark Fawcett of New Brunswick, a medallist in eight of his past 10 giant slalom events is favored. Thirteen gold medals.
Thirteen gold medals?
There won't, of course, be that many. It's not logical. It's not possible. And yet, none of these victories would be considered a reach. All of them, all in the same Olympics, though, would be highly improbable.
"Canadian athletes now feel they can accomplish anything," Nikki Keddie said of the biathlon team. "You see what our athletes have done around the world and I think that inspires everybody."
The changing face of the Winter Games has benefited the Canadian team tremendously. The more new sports in the Games, the more Canadian medal opportunities.
Moguls is a relatively new Olympic sport and so is short-track speed skating.
Then there are the first-time Olympic sports - curling, snowboarding and women's hockey.
Of the 13 gold medals predicted here, seven are in new disciplines. In the more traditional sports, Canada remains a middle-of-the-road player.
It seems a long way from the first week of the Albertville Games, where the unofficial motto seemed to be Share The Blame. Six years later, everything has changed. There may not be 13 Canadian gold medals here, but there are that many possibilities.
And it has never been that way before.