On Tuesday, the countdown clock for the Sochi 2014 Games ticked down to 500 days — 500 days of training, preparing and competing for spots for Canada's Olympic and Paralympic athletes.
Canada's goal this time around is a little more modest. In 2010 we wanted to be first overall among nations for total medals, but instead placed third; however, we did win more gold medals (14) than any other country in the history of the Winter Games and our results were heralded as a triumph for Canadian sports, and the Own the Podium program that channeled record amounts of government funding into our national sports system.
Canada's goal heading into Sochi is aggressive; to be the first host nation to sustain its position in the overall medal count by placing third — a feat we accomplished with 26 medals this time around, but with new events on the schedule it could take a few more than that to repeat.
While it might seem like a lofty goal, in many ways Canada is better prepared this time around.
Our freestyle team won its seventh straight overall Nations Cup title last season, boosted by the strong results of three athletes in particular — Mikael Kingsbury was on the podium every single event and won eight gold medals to take the overall moguls crown, while Justine Dufour-Lapointe placed second overall in the women's moguls standings with one gold medal and seven more podiums. Meanwhile Olivier Rochon came out of nowhere to win the overall Crystal Globe in men's aerials with six podium appearances. In total, moguls and aerials athletes combined for 37 medals.
The freestyle program is expanding this year to include two new sports; ski halfpipe and ski slopestyle. Canada has solid medal contenders on both sides, with Kaya Turski of Montreal winning every pro slopestyle contest she entered last season and Rosalind Groenewoud taking the Association of Freeskiing Professionals (AFP) World Tour title in halfpipe. There are also strong contenders on the men's and women's teams, including Dara Howell, Megan Gunning, Keltie Hansen and others.
While most teams consider ski cross an alpine discipline, the FIS still groups it with freestyle. Canada is solidly positioned on both the men's and women's side, with Olympic champion Ashleigh McIvor and world champion Kelsey Serwa returning from injury this season. Meanwhile, Whistler's Marielle Thompson, in only her second year with the national team, captured the women's overall Crystal Globe with six medals, three of them gold. Almost all members of the men's team contributed, with Brady Leman, Chris Del Bosco, David Duncan and Tristan Tafel on the podium.
Cross-country, Nordic sports
While Canada's cross-country team failed to win a medal in 2010 they came agonizingly close a few times — then followed up with a series of results that have shattered previous records set by Canadians in international competitions. The last season was out of a dream, with athletes winning 14 medals on the World Cup circuit, three times more hardware than in the team's previous best season. The men's team was primarily responsible, with Devon Kershaw on the podium six times with two gold medals to place second overall, Alex Harvey winning three medals to rank sixth overall and Len Valjas winning three medals. Chandra Crawford won two medals on the women's team, with Crawford teaming up with Perianne Jones to win a bronze in the team sprint.