At the home Olympics Canada will battle an inferiority complex. It is the only country to have hosted the Games (Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988), and not win a gold medal inside its borders.
It’s a glaring blemish on an otherwise illustrious Olympic history.
Vancouver/Whistler and the 2010 Games promise to end the pain. Yet even as the flame begins its journey from Olympia to Canadian shores, nothing is a lock. Certainly not hockey gold, and in the individual sports anything can happen.
That leaves curling, men’s and women’s, and at least one gold medal that many Canadians have come to count on.
“My generation of curlers is the first that grew up with the Olympics being the No. 1 goal,” says Brad Gushue, who won 2006 gold in Torino for Canada. “You know for sure that Canadian fans expect a gold medal in curling.”
Gushue’s foursome and 13 other men’s teams are in Mississauga this weekend at the Grey Power World Cup of Curling. The most talented lineup yet assembled includes seven European rinks, one each from China and the United States, all to appear at the Olympics in February. The five Canadian teams are the cream of the crop, but only one will have the chance to compete in Vancouver after winning an arduous trial process that essentially begins now.
“I relish that chance,” says 2007 world champion Glenn Howard from Ontario’s Georgian Bay region. “The whole planet will be watching. I can’t think of anything more that I want in my life than to win a gold medal for my country.”
It’s a lot of pressure to bear.
Curling is, after all, a sport close to the heart in Canada with millions of passionate fans. But it’s also a sport whose homeland is Scotland.
“Canada expects a gold medal, yes — but to us that’s a huge challenge,” warns reigning world champion David Murdoch of Lockerbie, Scotland, who will represent Great Britain. “A big crowd in Vancouver totally against us will inspire us to be even better.”
It is the podium finish that could end the drought. Curling holds that much promise at the upcoming home Olympics.
Then again, in a sport where the playing field is rapidly becoming more level, not even curling can make a golden promise to Canadians this time.
– Scott Russell is the Host of CBC Sports Weekend seen Saturday afternoons. He has covered professional and amateur sports including nine Olympic games and numerous world championships.