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Canada set out to win the most medals at all costs, and wound up eating its words and then some.
With outstanding goaltending by Ryan Miller, Team USA slapped down Canada by a score of 5-3. The headline in Canada’s largest circulation newspaper, the Toronto Star, pretty much said it all: “Call it a star-spangled spanking.”
Wrote sports reporter, Paul Hunter: “It’s not the end of the world for Canadian hockey. It will just seem that way for a day or two.”
The overall standings told the story: By Monday evening, the United States was in first place with 24 medals; Canada, with 10 medals, was in fifth. Operation Own the Podium was a bust.
Canadian Olympic officials now talk of hopefully winning second place overall, which amounts to re-branding their program, Almost Own the Podium.
“How is it that Americans, one medal ahead of Canada in Turin four years ago, have almost as many gold medals as Canada has medals so far this time around?” asked a sports writer with the Toronto Sun.
“If we knew what they were doing, we’d be doing it too,” Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, was quoted as saying. "The U.S. is having a tremendous Games. They are making it very tough for us.”
The failure capped a difficult first week for the Vancouver Games. After the Georgian’s death, officials reduced the length of the luge track to make it safer. Then, the ice at the Richmond Oval was denounced as “laughable” by Dutch speed skater Jan Bos. Criticism got worse when the ice-resurfacing machine malfunctioned during the men’s 500 meters, causing lengthy delays and frayed nerves.
Outside of the events, organizers faced a popular revolt over a high chain link fence placed around the Olympic cauldron, preventing people from getting a clear picture of the flames. The fence was eventually moved closer to the cauldron and gaps cut out of it for pictures to be snapped unobstructed.
The biggest problem, of course, has been the weather — more precisely, the lack of snow. It’s never a good sign for the Winter Games when crocuses sprout. But what did the International Olympic Committee expect when they awarded the Games to a city that typically has mild winters?
Vancouver 2010 organizers can be blamed, however, for choosing Cypress Mountain as a venue, even when its close proximity to the city made it more likely to get rain than snow. Within days, 20,000 tickets were refunded for cancelled events there.
Compounding the bad news at the end of the first week was the decision by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party to mix politics with sports. The party launched a video campaign that tries to use pride in Canadian athletes to boost its stagnant support. “With our strong leader, Canada will continue to compete with the world’s best,” the video proclaims, as if the success of Canada’s athletes depends on Harper remaining prime minister.
The campaign comes from a prime minister under fire for suspending Parliament until after the Winter Games. He’s widely accused of blocking parliamentary inquiries into allegations his government did nothing to stop Canadian soldiers from transferring detainees to Afghan jails, where they were tortured.
Harper’s critics say he’s hoping a stack of Canadian medals will distract from his troubles. So far, Canadian athletes aren’t cooperating.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include the fact that Canada had won 10 medals by Feb. 22, 2010.