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Canadians shine on world stage just a year out from 2010 Vancouver Games

No athlete from Canada has ever won an Olympic gold medal on home soil.

No athlete from Canada has ever won an Olympic gold medal on home soil.

But a year out from the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, there are positive signs that dubious streak will end.

A victory by Calgary's John Kucera in the men's downhill Saturday at the world ski championships in Val D'Isere, France, highlighted a stellar weekend for Canadians on the world stage. Kucera became the first Canadian man ever to win the world downhill crown, an accomplishment that will surely place him in the spotlight when he competes in Vancouver.

Toronto's Patrick Chan won the men's title Saturday at the Four Nations figure skating event on the same Vancouver ice where the Olympic competition will be held.

Other Canadians are getting comfortable at Games venues as well.

Jennifer Heil of Spruce Grove, Alta., and Alexandre Bilodeau of Rosemere, Que., captured gold medals Saturday in women's and men's World Cup moguls events on the Olympic freestyle course in Whistler. On Friday night, Steve Omischl, the native of North Bay, Ont., who is the world's top-ranked men's aerialist, won gold there as well.

And in speedskating, Ottawa's Kristina Groves and Christine Nesbitt of London, Ont., finished first and second, respectively, in the women's 1,500-metre event at the world allround championships in Norway. This came after Nesbitt and Denny Morrison of Fort St. John, B.C., won 500-metre races Saturday.

Individual race winners only received points and the top three overall finishers were presented with medals. Groves claimed silver in the women's overall standings.

But it's Kucera who has come of age. He had previously won a World Cup super-G race at Lake Louise, Alta., in November 2006 but had never placed better than seventh in downhill - accomplishing that at Lake Louise in November 2007.

Chan's performance boosted Canada's medal total to four at the Four Continents. There was one in each discipline.

The Canadians picked up three silver medals earlier in the competition that was used as an official test event for the Vancouver Olympics: Joannie Rochette of Ile-Dupas, Que., in the women's singles; ice dancers Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont.; and pairs skaters Jessica Dube of Drummondville, Que., and Bryce Davison of Cambridge, Ont.

The Four Continents event was held on NHL-sized ice, slightly smaller than the Olympic-sized version that will be in place next winter. But otherwise everything from the judges platform to the sound system to the timing and scoring was meant to mimic the Vancouver Games.

"I took the time to walk around the whole building," Chan said. "The change rooms are comfortable and I know where everything is.

"I'll be prepared when the Olympics hit next year."

 
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