Sochi 2014: Canadians to watch
Ahead of the opening day on Feb. 7, we asked the experts for their predictions about the Canadian athletes most likely to own the podium in Sochi
Canada’s Olympic hopefuls
The bar was set high by the Vancouver 2010 Canadian Olympic Team’s 26 medals: a world-beating 14 gold, plus seven silver and five bronze. Can we do it again?
CBC Olympic commentator Scott Russell thinks so. “We should come away with as many, if not more, medals. There are 12 new events and Canada is strong across the board,” he says. “I think 26 is doable, and many of those can be gold.”
It’s tough to single anyone out, so we talked to some sports commentators and former Olympians to find out who they are excited about.
The expert panel: Scott Russell, Kurt Browning, Jennifer Heil, Brenda Irving, Mark Connolly and Cassie Campbell-Pascall.
Christine Nesbitt, 28, Calgary
Nesbitt took home gold in Vancouver, and Russell sees her in medal contention again. “She is a terrific competitor. Christine is still at the top of her game, and if she wins a gold medal in the 1,000 metre, she’d become the first Canadian to repeat gold since Catriona Le May Doan.”
Patrick Chan, 23, Toronto
“Every athlete is different when you are 100 days out, and 100 seconds out, from performing,” says former world champion Kurt Browning. “But I know Patrick. Put a happy, healthy kid on the ice and watch him do his job.” Browning knows how important it is that Chan isn’t injured; Browning missed the podium in Albertville 1992 because of a slipped disc, and because of the flu in Lillehammer 1994. “For most of these kids, this is the most important thing in their lives up to this point. And winning is more fun than losing.”
Kelsey Serwa, 24, Kelowna, B.C.
Serwa has been busy since hitting the competitive circuit in 2008, racking up 15 World Cup podium finishes. She tore her ACL in 2012 and again in 2013, but is now in fighting form, says Russell. “This could be a great comeback story.”
Alex Harvey, 25, St-Ferréol, Que.; and Devon Kershaw, 31, Canmore, Alta.
“In cross-country, everyone is protective of their equipment,” says Jennifer Heil, who won silver in moguls at the Vancouver Games. “These two are probably the only people who share skis. They give up their fast skis for each other!” The duo finished fourth in the team sprint at the Vancouver Games. Kershaw won gold at two World Cup races in 2012, and the pair won the team sprint at the 2011 World Championships. Adds Russell, “Alex is a legitimate medal hopeful.”
Tessa Virtue, 24; and Scott Moir, 26; both London, Ont.
At the Vancouver Olympics, Virtue and Moir ice-danced their way into Canadians’-and judges’-hearts, taking gold. “Ice dance is going to be a battle for the ages in Sochi,” says CBC broadcaster Brenda Irving. “Their long-term rivals [Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White] are riding high after winning the world title in March 2013. But Virtue and Moir have a great free dance they believe will lead to gold.”
Charles Hamelin, 29; Sainte-julie, Que.
By the time he hits the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Hamelin will have been competing at the world level for over a decade-and he’s only 29. He was Canada’s only multiple gold medallist at the Vancouver Olympics, and he’s in good shape to repeat history-he is ranked number one in the world for short track. “Hamelin is on fire,” says Russell.
Mikael Kingsbury, 21, Deux-Montagnes, Que.; and Alex Bilodeau, 26, Montreal
When Bilodeau won gold in moguls on the second day of competition at the Vancouver Olympics, he did more than bring Canadians to their feet: He was the first Canadian to win an Olympic gold medal on home soil.
At Sochi, one of his fiercest competitors will be teammate Mikael Kingsbury, reigning world champion.
“I love Mik and Alex,” says Heil. “They grew up spinning tricks in their sleep. Alex is defending an Olympic title-which is harder. Mik has a calmness and maturity. They are both passionate and want it, and are capable of skiing their perfect run.”
Justine Dufour-Lapointe, 19; and Chloé Dufour-Lapointe, 22; Montreal
Three Dufour-Lapointe sisters grew up skiing moguls in Quebec, and two of them will be competing at Sochi. Heil trained with both. “Chloé has experience and is now world champion in moguls,” says Heil. “Justine was one of those young athletes who came on the scene and started winning and then stayed there. They could end up on the podium together-that would be a great moment.”
Alex Gough, 26, Calgary
“I’m excited about Alex, and about the new team event relay,” says Russell. In the team event, Gough will lead a single women’s sled, followed by Sam Edney taking a single men’s sled down the same track, followed by pairs Tristan Walker and Justin Snith-total team time wins. Mark Connolly, a CBC broadcaster, will be a commentator on luge with two-time Olympian Jeff Christie. “The team event has been a good one for Canada at the world level, so they go into the Games with confidence. I’m looking forward to calling that race, and the first-ever luge medal for Canada,” says Connolly.
Kaillie Humphries, 28, Calgary
“I love Kaillie Humphries,” Russell says with a grin. “And what a great situation she is in: two-time world champion, Olympic champion-and she won with different partners!” The real question will be who she chooses for the brake position: Humphries won gold in Vancouver with Heather Moyse, and gold at the World Cup in 2013 with Chelsea Valois.
Russell is wagering we will see another Heather Moyse/Kaillie Humphries pair-up. “Being the overwhelming favourite is a challenge for some athletes, and I’m interested to see how they handle it,” says Connolly. Russell adds: “Humphries has spent a lot of time leading up to Sochi talking to the media, travelling around Canada-and she has to keep her head in the game. But if anyone can do it, she can.”
Rosalind Groenewoud, 24, Squamish, B.C.
Groenewoud will be skiing not only for herself, but the memory of teammate and friend Sarah Burke, who died tragically after being seriously injured during training on the slopes in Utah in 2012. It was Burke who lobbied the International Olympic Committee to include halfpipe in the Olympics, and she was considered a medal favourite. “Roz is going into the Games really inspired, and she is at the top of her game and has been world champion,” says Russell. “This is one of those new events where Canada could grab medals.”
Travis Gerrits, 22, Milton, Ont.
Gerrits’ motto is: “To be the best is not to be better than others, but to continue to push your own limits.” He has been doing that consistently, and took silver at the FIS Freestyle World Championships in Norway this year. “Aerials is something Canada has a tradition in,” says Russell. “Travis is really good. There is no doubt he could hit the podium.”
Kirsten Moore-Towers, 21; and Dylan Moscovitch, 29; both Waterloo, Ont.
Browning predicts Canada will bring home three figure-skating medals: men’s, ice dance and pairs. Russell agrees Moore-Towers and Moscovitch could get a medal-if they hit the ice with all they’ve got. Adds Irving: “They’re one of my favourite teams. They have so much energy and enthusiasm-it’s contagious.”
What about hockey?
“In hockey, there is no other colour than gold,” says Cassie Campbell-Pascall, former captain of the Canadian women’s hockey team, who has two Olympic gold and one silver medal. She was a commentator for CTV in Vancouver when the women took gold. “Those were my teammates, and I knew how hard they worked, how much it meant to win on home soil.”
The pressure on our hockey teams for these Games is immense: “This is Canada’s sport,” says Campbell-Pascall.
Russell can think of nothing better than Canada and Russia playing for gold. “This atmosphere of heightened competition where there is a natural rivalry between Canada and Russia is exhilarating.”
Update: On Thursday, Jan. 23, Hayley Wickenheiser of the Canadian women’s hockey team was named flag-bearer.