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2010 Olympic host Canada shut out so far in China

Aug. 15, 2008, 11:44 a.m. (ET)

BEIJING (AP) As host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Canada has drawn up an ambitious medal-winning plan called "Own The Podium." That would be a welcome change for Canadian fans, whose summer athletes have avoided the podium altogether in a medal-less first week in Beijing.

The drought is provoking dismay back in Canada, even reaching the top levels of government. At a news conference in Newfoundland this week, the first question posed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper was about the Olympic shutout.

"We'll remain optimistic," said Harper, echoing Canadian team leaders' mantra that Week Two will be better.

"We've always been a second-half team," Canadian Olympic Committee chairman Michael Chambers said in Beijing.

There have been near misses. Christine Girard finished fourth in her weightlifting class - hoisting just three more kilograms would have earned a bronze medal. Swimmer Mike Brown missed a bronze in the 200-meter breaststroke by .09 seconds.

"Fourth place is probably the worst spot you can get," he said, unconsoled by setting a Canadian record.

As of Friday night, 54 countries - including Togo and Tajikistan - had won medals. Canada is arguably the most prominent sporting nation among the 150 with none.

As the games opened, Canadian officials predicted their team would finish in the top 16, likely with more than the 12 medals it won in Athens four years ago. Now, Canadians aren't so sure.

"We're getting beaten by Togo," said an editorial in the National Post, a daily circulating across Canada. "A country as young, prosperous, healthy and intelligent as Canada should be doing better."

Several commentators have blamed inadequate financial support. The Globe and Mail, a Toronto-based daily, said Australia, despite a smaller population, consistently outperforms Canada in the Summer Olympics thanks in part to more generous government funding.

Canada did expand funding three years ago for athletes eying the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver. A smaller sum later was earmarked for summer athletes, not soon enough to provide a major boost for Beijing.

"Not to say it puts us on equal footing with Australia," said former Olympic kayaker Peter Giles, the Canadians' assistant chef de mission in Beijing. "But I think it will pay off in 2012."

Indeed, Giles said Canada aims to among the top 12 nations four years from now in London.

Collectively, Canadian sports fans are most energized by winter sports, notably ice hockey, so the first-week bust in Beijing perhaps hasn't been as traumatic as it would have been in some countries.

"I'm not really upset with Canadian athletes. I'm upset with Canada," said Joan Dorosario of Toronto. "We don't fund them, we give them no money to train. ... We don't focus on phys ed in school, we're closing pools."

Cherie Humphrey, 36, also of Toronto, said funding wasn't the problem.

"That's just the Canadian way - to whine!" she said. "Let's face it, as competitors we've never been at the top of the list. Until we adopt a winning mentality and some patriotism, we will always be content just being in mediocrity."

Canadian team leaders make a strong case that the medal drought will end next week - they see solid prospects in rowing, canoeing, taekwondo, triathlon and softball.

Giles also said Canadians should be proud of some unexpectedly strong also-ran showings in archery and cycling.

"The people who follow these sports between Olympics, they recognize the great performances," Giles said. "People who tune in just for the Olympics, they see the medal table and it looks like a disappointment."

Canada's all-time high in medals was 44, at the 1984 Los Angeles Games that were boycotted by the Soviet bloc. Eight years earlier, in Montreal, Canada became the only Summer Olympics host to win no gold medals.

There are other underachievers in Beijing. Greece, which won 16 medals as host four years ago, has won none so far here. Russia, though winning 19 medals overall, is likely disappointed that only three are gold.

Two years from now, any bad Canadian memories of Beijing are likely to fade as Vancouver and the ski resort of Whistler host what could be one of the great Winter Games of all-time - the indoor sports in a cosmopolitan, eye-catching port city and the snow sports in spectacular mountain terrain.

Complex projects - included an improved Vancouver-to-Whistler highway and a light-rail system - are proceeding on schedule. And the organizers are working hard on a new ticketing scheme, featuring bar-coded tickets, to cut down on the problem of empty seats that has dampened the atmosphere in Beijing and other host cities.

Intent on being a triumphant as well as hospitable host, Canada has launched its unprecedented $110 million Own The Podium program with the explicit goal of winning the 2010 medal race. More than 200 athletes who've been identified as medal prospects are receiving state-of-the art coaching, training and psychological help, as well as tips from a sports research program called Top Secret.

"When we won the bid for the games, we recognized that the atmosphere is impacted significantly by how the host country does," said Dave Cobb, executive vice president of the organizing committee. "Our athletes will be able to step on the snow and the ice feeling they've had all the support they needed to meet the high expectations for them."


Associated Press writer Charmaine Noronha in Toronto contributed to this report.