Canada projected as medal champ 

Canada’s record spending to end a gold-medal shutout at home and top the medal standings at the Vancouver Winter Olympics will pay off, according to an economist who has forecast winners at the games with a
94 percent accuracy rate.

“The numbers say it will be Canada’s year,” said Daniel Johnson, an economics professor at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Canada spent $109 million to prepare its skiers, skaters, sliders and the rest of its winter athletes for Vancouver. Johnson, a former resident of the Olympic city, predicts Canada will top the standings with 27 medals, one more than Norway and the U.S.

His model analyzes Olympic data going back to 1952, ignoring athletes and focusing on each country’s per capita income, population, climate and so-called home-field advantage.

Canada failed to win a gold medal the previous two times it hosted the Olympics — the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

Canada set up the “Own the Podium” program in 2004 to ensure its winter athletes fared better in Vancouver. The program paid dividends at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, when Canada placed third with 24 medals, a national record.

“We have a single goal, to be No. 1,” said Roger Jackson, the chief executive officer of Own the Podium, which is funded by the federal government and the organizing committee of the Vancouver Winter Games. “This has galvanized everyone.”

Building a program to develop world-class athletes usually takes five to seven years, said Jackson, who won gold for Canada as a rower at the 1964 Tokyo Games.

“Most of our sports started at a very low level,” Jackson, 68, said in a telephone interview from Calgary. “Only a couple of sports, like curling and hockey, had almost everything in place when we started.”

To allocate funding, Canada used criteria such as past Olympic success, medal potential for 2010 and the nation’s sports culture. Hockey, curling, figure skating and speedskating were the priorities.

Hockey Canada moved members of its women’s team to Calgary on Aug. 1 to train. By the time the Olympics begin, the team — which got almost $4.5 million in funding over four years — will have played 55 games in six months. Both men’s and women’s hockey teams are medal favorites, with the men’s team led by Sidney Crosby of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins.

Canada also poured $7.47 million into a program called “Top Secret — 2010” to improve training methods and produce new equipment for the Vancouver Olympics, which run Friday through Feb. 28.

Using professors and doctoral students at universities across the country, Own the Podium funded 55 projects, including wind-tunnel testing for cross-country skiers and speedskaters and a study of sweeping techniques in curling.

“The scientific backup has been tremendous,” said John Morris, 31, a firefighter from Calgary who is on the men’s curling team. “They showed us the best brooms to use, the most effective ways to sweep. Technically, all these little things could be big.”

Medal contenders for Canada include freestyle skier Jennifer Heil, 26, who won gold in Turin; snowboarder Jasey-Jay Anderson, 34, a former world champion at his fourth Olympics; and Melissa Hollingsworth, 29, a bronze- medal winner in skeleton four years ago.

Jackson said Canada may win an average of two medals a day and take 30 in all. He said the country has a shot at medals in 10 of 13 sports, on par with the U.S., and that speedskating will account for half the country’s haul.

Colorado College’s Johnson, who plans to spend a week in Vancouver during the games, says it’s impossible to overstate the importance of hosting. Johnson, who has a doctorate in economics from Yalehas forecast the top-10 medal rankings by country for the past five Olympics.

“Usually the home nation pours extra funding, extra support and extra training behind the home team,” Johnson, 40, said in a telephone interview from Colorado Springs. “It’s your opportunity to shine in front of the world."

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