Losing a hockey game to the United States was embarrassing enough. Now Canada is raising the white flag — giving up on its brash goal of winning the most medals at the Vancouver Games.
The U.S. remains on course for a historic medal haul, with a chance to take home the most hardware at the Winter Games for the first time in almost 80 years.
But Canada’s Own the Podium program is in tatters. And a surprising, demoralizing loss to a young American team in ice hockey — a sport Canada invented — is only making the pain deeper.
“Woe Canada: U.S. sticks stake in our hearts,” read the headline in Monday’s Vancouver Sun.
“It was very disappointing,” said George Assaf, a Vancouver firefighter who was wearing a Canada hockey jersey as he took photos of the Olympic cauldron Monday. “The Canadians didn’t play up to their standards. But I’m still hopeful we’ll pull it out in the end.”
With one medal event left on the 10th day of competition Monday, the U.S. led the overall medal count with 24 — three more than Germany. The U.S. and Germany were tied for the most golds, seven each.
Canada had just four golds and nine medals overall, a disappointment for a country that spent $117 million over five years to give extra support to contending athletes and dominate the medals stand.
On Monday, they conceded defeat.
“We’d be living in a fool’s paradise if we said we’re going to catch the Americans and win,” said Chris Rudge, chief executive of the Canadian Olympic Committee.
The USOC has been careful not to make medal forecasts, boast about the success so far or take pleasure from Canada’s failed attempt at medal supremacy.
The United States hasn’t topped the medals table — gold or overall — at a Winter Olympics since the 1932 Games in Lake Placid. The Americans could also challenge their record of 34 total medals from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
“Certainly it would be a bonus, but we’re not focused on that outcome,” said Mike English, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s director of sports performance. “We’re focused on the athletes’ performance, not medals.”
The United States had a good chance of picking up another medal later Monday, with ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White in second place heading into the free dance.
The Americans are assured of at least a silver medal in women’s hockey after beating Sweden 9-1 in a semifinal game. The U.S. will face either Canada or Finland in Thursday’s final.
And the U.S. also has good medal prospects in the coming days in Nordic combined skiing, short-track speedskating, freestyle aerials and Alpine skiing.
Alpine has given the U.S. eight medals, including three for Bode Miller and two from Lindsey Vonn. Ted Ligety will be a threat in the men’s giant slalom, with Julia Mancuso the defending champion in the women’s.
Even the U.S. men’s hockey team now has legitimate medal hopes after Sunday’s unexpected 5-3 win over the star-studded Canadians — the biggest win for the American team since the 1980 Miracle on Ice upset of the Soviet Union.
The Americans will go into the quarterfinals as the top-seeded team, while Canada might have to beat powerful Russia just to advance past the quarterfinals.
Vancouver organizing committee spokeswoman Renee Smith-Valade insisted the Own the Podium project, which mixed government and private money to help the athletes, had been an overall success.
“There was an inordinate amount of pressure on the Canadian team,” she said. “When the time comes, it is up to the athletes to deliver. We believe everything was done to give them the confidence they need. We know the program will continue to be a factor. They will have fire in their eyes and make the country proud.”
The USOC spent less than half what Canada did — $55 million over the past four years — to boost its medal hopes in Vancouver. English said the Americans were never fazed by Canada’s slogan.
“We didn’t take that as a threat or anything,” he said. “It’s something that every host nation prepares for, and we certainly have done it with our own games. I think it’s part of the business going forward.”