BEIJING (Reuters) – As sporting rivalries go the United States and Canada does not reach the intensity of Argentina and Brazil but when it comes to Winter Olympics the North American neighbours turn the heat up.
Canada may be out-matched by the United States at the Summer Olympics but punches above its weight in the winter when medals are decided on the snow and ice.
For Canada, which brands itself as a winter sports nation, the 2022 Beijing Winter Games represent another opportunity to put it to their rivals to the south.
Data analysis Nielsen’s Gracenote are predicting a tight tussle between Canada and the U.S. with both collecting 22 total medals at the Feb. 4-20 Games.
The Americans are tipped to edge the Canadians in the final rankings on seven gold to six to take fourth spot on the table behind Norway, Germany and the Russian Olympic Committee.
At the previous three Winter Games Canada has won more gold than the U.S., which is the way the medals table is tabulated by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
With a bit of creative accounting the U.S. spin puts it ahead in 2010 and 2014 pointing to the total medals count, including a then record 37 collected at the Vancouver Winter Games.
So a line in the snow has been drawn for North American bragging rights in Beijing with many of the top medal prospects for both countries showing up in the same events.
For Canada two medals are more important than all others — men’s and women’s ice hockey.
Since women’s hockey became part of the Olympic programme in 1998 Canada and the U.S. have claimed every gold.
The U.S. took the first in Nagano and the last at the Pyeongchang Winter Games. Canada swept the four in-between.
It would be considered one of the Beijing Games major upsets if the two nemesis aren’t facing off in the Olympic final again on Feb. 16.
With the National Hockey League pulling out of the Beijing Games in December after COVID-19 forced the postponement of over 100 games, handicapping the men’s medal contenders is more difficult.
The U.S. and Canada, tipped as gold favourites before the NHL pull out, are now medal question marks.
Canada will also be looking to atone for crushing failure at the curling rink in Pyeongchang where both the men’s and women’s teams failed to return home with a medal.
The Canadian men saw their run of four consecutive Olympic titles end in South Korea, while John Shuster’s rink gave the U.S. curling gold for the first time and is back for a fifth Games to defend the title.
There will be some bad blood at the bobsleigh track where Kaillie Humphries, after winning gold for Canada at the 2010 and 2104 Winter Olympics, defected to the U.S. over a dispute with the national federation and will compete in Beijing as an American.
Snowboard will also see some cross-border showdowns with Canada’s Mark McMorris and Max Parrott looking good for gold in slopestyle and Big Air.
The U.S will be once again look to dominate the halfpipe with Shaun White, competing in his fifth Olympics trying to close out his Olympic career with a fourth gold and Chloe Kim bidding for a successful defence of her Pyeongchang crown.
A big edge will go to the U.S. on the alpine ski slopes where American all-rounder Mikaela Shiffrin is poised be a one-woman medal machine bidding to reach the podium in five events.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Beijing; Editing by Michael Perry)