U.S. planning, investment in winter sports is paying off as medals pile up


    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Many Olympians spend their lives preparing for an event that lasts a minute or two but can define them for a lifetime.

    Champions embrace so-called pressure because they
    view the Olympics as an opportunity to display their talent, not as a
    risk of failing, before the millions watching the Games.

    Right now, is there any doubt about the approach the Americans have taken as we move into Week 2 of the 2010 Olympics?


    Entering Tuesday’s events, The USA already has 25 medals, three more than second-place Germany. One more medal and the USA will eclipse its total from the 2006 Games in Turin. Ten more medals and the USA will beat its record of 34 medals set in Salt Lake City in 2002.

    The impressive aspect of the USA’s haul is that the medals aren’t coming just from athletes we expected to dominate their events.

    No one who follows the Winter Games is surprised that Shaun White, Lindsey Vonn, Apolo Ohno and Shani Davis have stood on the medal podium multiple times

    We knew others such as Evan Lysacek and Bode Miller had talent, but who really thought that Lysacek would beat Evgeni
    Plushenko, the 2006 gold medalist and master of the quad, for the gold
    medal in men’s figure skating?

    Or that the 32-year-old Miller, who contemplated retirement, would earn a gold medal in the men’s Super Combined?

    And let’s not even talk about the silver medal in Nordic Combined won by Johnny Spillane, the first American to ever medal in that sport.

    The USA has won 83 medals in the last three Olympiads.

    It’s not a coincidence. Any success begins with amateur programs.

    In 1996, USA Hockey began a national team program that houses the nation’s best juniors and seniors with families in Ann Arbor, Mich., allowing them to face the best competition.

    The program costs nearly $3 million a year, but the USA owns the international titles in the under-17, under-18 and under-20 divisions.

    Then there’s the Maine Winter Sports Center, a non-profit organization that opened in 1999 and focuses on biathlon. Last year, Tim Burke became the first American biathlete to lead the world rankings.

    The sports center also has a Nordic skiing program.

    Ashley Caldwell, 16, an aerial skier, was one of the first people accepted into the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association’s Elite Air Program, among the reasons she’s competing in these Games.

    And to think, the USA has done it without a fancy slogan and marketing campaign such as Canada’s “Own the Podium.”

    Not this time.

    In the last five years, Canada has spent $117 million
    on facilities, coaching and marketing in its quest to rule the medal
    standings in the Vancouver Games after winning a Canadian-record 24
    medals at the 2006 games.

    The slogan seemed full of bravado for a country that
    prides itself on politeness and friendliness. Now, that doesn’t mean
    Canadians don’t compete hard or receive tremendous support.

    They do.

    Maybe that’s the problem. Perhaps Canadian athletes are trying too hard on their home soil.

    Skier Jen Heil looked like she
    wanted to cry after earning a silver medal but failing to become the
    first Canadian to win a gold medal on home soil. Mellisa Hollingsworth, a strong candidate to medal in skeleton, dropped out of contention on her final run.

    Speed skater Denny Morrison initially implied the Own the Podium program hurt his performance in
    the 1,000 meters because it prevented him from training with Team USA’s Davis.

    A day later, he apologized.

    Canada’s 5-3 loss to the USA in men’s hockey Sunday completed a disappointing week.

    Chris Rudge, leader of the Canadian Olympic Committee, delivered a concession speech on Monday because Canada isn’t going to win the medal count. Canada is fifth with 10 medals.

    At least Canada has four gold medals in these Games. Canada had never won a gold medal at home, either in 1988 in Calgary or in the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal.

    So there has been progress.

    Just not enough of it.

    (c) 2010, The Dallas Morning News.

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