Canada's bid to 'own the podium' falls short 

Canada came into the Vancouver Olympics with a pledge to "Own the Podium" by winning more medals than any other country. With the Games more than half over, Canada has barely enough for a down payment.

Canada ranks fourth with nine medals, less than half the total for the U.S., which leads with 24. Canada's Olympic committee set a target of 28 to 34 medals for these Games. To make matters worse, the United States beat Canada in hockey Sunday for the first time at an Olympics since 1960.

"They have a reason to be disappointed," said Alpine skier Manuel Osborne-Paradis, 26, who won three World Cup races in the last two years and was considered a medal favorite. He crashed and failed to finish Friday's super-G event at Whistler.

The medal tally is raising concern from some athletes that funding may be cut after the federal government and corporate sponsors spent a record $112 million over four years on training through the Own the Podium program.

"We wouldn't be here without the funding," said Alpine skier Erik Guay, 28, who finished fifth in men's super-G, missing a medal by .03 seconds. "Sometimes it takes a few more years to create champions."

Canada set up Own the Podium in 2004 to ensure its athletes fared better in the medal standings in Vancouver. The program helped fund research ranging from studies of sweeping techniques in curling to the use of wind tunnels for testing cross-country skiers and speedskaters.

With its focus on topping the medal standings, the Canadian Olympic Committee asked the federal government for $21 million in additional funding each year, in anticipation of reduced backing from corporate sponsors for future Games not on Canadian soil. The request is on top of $45 million each year Canada already invests in elite training, said Chris Rudge, the Olympic committee's chief executive officer.

"As long as we have a very good performance, I think they're going to say this has been a very successful program," Rudge told reporters in Vancouver. "You can always rightfully say, 'Where would we have been if we hadn't invested?"

Canada has missed several medals with fourth- and fifth-place finishes from athletes favored to land on the podium, including Charles Hamelin in short-track speedskating and slider Mellisa Hollingsworth in women's skeleton.

"I feel like I've let my entire country down," Hollingsworth said in an interview with CTV Television. "I wanted to make everyone proud."

The U.S. men's ice hockey team 5-3 victory in Sunday's preliminary round competition was the first U.S. victory over Canada at the Olympics since the Games in Squaw Valley, California, 50 years ago.

U.S. athletes such as snowboarder Nate Holland have poked fun at Canada's medal targets, saying they plan to "rent" the podium from the Canadians during the Games.

"We've always been a fourth to be reckoned with and continue to be so," Rudge said, referring to Canada's current medals rank. Canada slipped to fifth overall Sunday before Kristina Groves won silver in women's 1,500-meter speedskating.

Canada's ambitions have been hampered by the performance of U.S. athletes, including gold medalists Lindsey Vonn, Shaun White and Shani Davis.

"The U.S. is making it very, very difficult for us to achieve the goal we set out for ourselves, but that's still our goal," Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee said Sunday. "This may have been the U.S. week. The week coming up will be Canada's."

Canadian officials say the country has time to bounce back and meet its targets, with seven days of competition left before Sunday's closing ceremony.

Roger Jackson, president of Own the Podium, said Canadians have the potential to win more than 20 medals in the final week in events such as hockey, curling and speedskating.

"If we have good luck, not bad luck, not a whole bunch of fourths, not a whole bunch of bobsled overturnings, the Canadian team will do extremely well," Jackson said.

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