Ninety eight medal events and 18 days of competition. A record number of events at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi give Canadian fans 12 new reasons to rally.
The event count has increased from the 86 in Vancouver thanks to the addition of 12 new podium chances divided across seven sports and 16 disciplines. This suits Canada’s athletes just fine.
Figure Skaters teaming up
Figure Skating will add the team event for the first major change to the program at the Olympic Winter Games since ice dance was included at Innsbruck 1976. Teams will be comprised of one male single skater, one female single skater, one pair and one ice dance couple to create a team of six people and that bodes well for a Canadian team stacked with a deep pool of talent.
Leading the way will likely be 2010 Olympic ice dancing gold medallists Tessa Virtue (London, ON) and Scott Moir (Ilderton, ON) and two-time reigning world champion and 2010 Olympian Patrick Chan (Ottawa, ON) as the veterans on the squad. They will be joined by a likely mixture of youth and first time Olympians.
With the retirement of Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette (Montreal, QC), the women’s individual spot is wide open. This year a new contender has emerged in 17-year-old Kaetlyn Osmond (Marystown, NL) who has taken the country by storm after winning the Skate Canada Grand Prix and the 2013 national title this season. Looking to take the final pairs sport will be Meagan Duhamal (Lively, ON) Eric Radford (Balmertown, ON) who in the course of a month won their second national title and claimed their first international victory after winning the Four Continents Championships.
“Everything we do every day and our short term goals that we have are leading up to Sochi,” said Duhamel. “That’s what we wake up for every single day. We’re thinking about representing Canada and being on the podium.”
Strength in numbers on the Luge track
Luge will be adding a new event in the team relay, which marks the first major change to the program at the Olympic Winter Games since the sport was first included at Innsbruck 1964. One man, one woman and one doubles sled will be eligible to enter the team relay. Canada is an international powerhouse. The 2013 World Championship silver medal winning team of Alex Gough (Calgary, AB), Sam Edney (Calgary, AB), and the doubles tandem of Tristan Walker (Cochrane, AB) and Justin Snith(Calgary, AB) will be looking to blast the track in Sochi.
Individually, the team is very strong with Gough adding a bronze medal at Worlds, Edney finishing in fifth and the duo of Snith and Walker finishing in fourth. They are also experienced having all competed in at least one Olympic Games.
“We need to keep working the way we are,” said Gough about closing the gap on world number one Germany. “We keep coming closer and closer – closing the door – and we need to continue to do that and keep fighting for it. Yes, it is frustrating to see them on top all the time, but we are going to fight for it (in the next year).”
Mixing it up in Biathlon
The Biathlon program at the Olympic Winter Games has undergone numerous changes over the years as more and more events were added. Now with five events each for men and women, the mixed relay represents the first time that the two genders will compete together.
Two-time Olympian Jean-Phillippe Le Guellec (Shannon, QC) has been the talk of the country in the sport of Biathlon after some breakthrough performances this year including becoming the first Canadian male ever to ski onto a World Cup biathlon podium by winning a sprint competition in Oestersund, Sweden. Now off of a recent top-10 finish at the World Championship, Le Guellec is poised to take another step toward Olympic hopes when paired with one male teammate and two women on the national team.
“I think being in the top-15 on any day is a good day. It is so hard to continuously be there in such a deep field,” said Le Guellec. “I have the podium in my sights each race now more than ever before, but my focus has to remain on the performance and let the result take care of itself.”
Women set to soar in Ski Jumping
Ski Jumping will be included in the women’s program for Sochi 2014, leaving Nordic Combined as the only remaining male-exclusive discipline. This is the first addition to the Olympic Ski Jumping program since the men’s team event was included at Calgary 1988. A fairly new women’s international discipline, Ski Jumping was only added to the World Championship program in 2009.
Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes became the first Canadian to jump past the 200m mark with a jump of 205m in an event in Harrachov, Czech Republic. The 200 metre mark is an unofficial distance every jumper strives for and is a great sign that Canadian athletes are ready to compete with the rest of the world.
Freestyle Skiing adds serious style
The freestyle skiing program in Sochi 2014 will feature five events for each gender with the addition of halfpipe and slopestyle. Both promise to be a huge attraction for fans.
Calgary’s Rosalind Groenewoud (‘Roz-G’), a gold medal winner in the halfpipe at both the 2011 FIS World Championships and 2012 Winter X Games will indeed be looking to rip in the debut event — something that would not have been possible without the late Sarah Burke’s (Midland, ON) advocacy to have it included in the program.
“In 2014, the sport that Sarah helped build is going to debut in the Winter Olympics,” said Trennon Paynter, the Canaidan Ski Halfpipe Team Head Coach. “Her influence on her sport, and on countless young girls around the world who wish to follow in her footsteps, is too great to measure.”
Montreal’s Kaya Turski is one of Canada’s top slopestyle athletes and carries a lot of promise after an undefeated season in 2011-12, winning her third straight gold medals at both the Winter X Games and Winter X Games Europe. She will hope to build on recent success that has included a silver medal at the Winter X Games in 2013.
Snowboarding goes big
The Snowboard program in Sochi will feature five events for each gender with the addition of parallel slalom and slopestyle. Parallel slalom mirrors the parallel giant slalom event Jasey-Jay Anderson (Mont-Tremblant, QC) won in 2010. Anderson will eye competition in both with a double-podium performance in the back of his mind.
The two leading Canadian names in slopestyle right now are Mark McMorris (Regina, SK) on the men’s side and Spencer O’Brien leading the women. McMorris recently won gold in the event at the 2013 Winter X Games and defended his 2012 title in the process. Vancouver native O’Brien captured bronze at those same 2013 X Games a week after capturing her second consecutive World Championship title – winning in 2013 on home soil in Stoneham, QC.
“Sochi will be our first Olympic Games,” said O’Brien. “It gives me a ton of motivation and I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics since I was a kid. I feel the excitement with having my event accepted for Russia.”
With new events, new stars will shine and new heroes will be born for Canadians from coast to coast to cheer on.
- George Fadel