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One year to go, Canadian athletes gearing up for 2018 Winter Olympics

Canada preps for Pyeongchang a year out

Athletes hoping to wear the Maple Leaf at the 2018 Winter Olympics have one year to secure a spot on the Canadian team and hone their performance for a shot at a medal.

“It’s definitely on my mind pretty much daily, trying to figure out where you want to be come that day,” snowboarder Spencer O’Brien said. “It’s pretty crazy to put four years into something and relatively for us, it’s four years for 30 seconds.”

The 23rd Winter Olympics open Feb. 9, 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and close 16 days later.

Those who run Canadian sport haven’t yet stated a goal for 2018 after making No. 1 in the overall medal count the target in 2010 and 2014.

Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger said Canadian performances at world championships over the next several weeks must be taken into account before that declaration.

“We really need to wait for those to conclude, so we know where we stand relative to the rest of the world,” she said. “Winning more medals than we won in Sochi will certainly be a primary goal.”

The host team won the most gold with 14, but finished third in the overall with 26 medals at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Four years later in Sochi, Canada’s 25 medals ranked fourth overall and third in gold with 10.

Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith estimates it will take more medals than that to top the overall table in Pyeongchang.

“We want to have a top performance and be contending for number one,” Smith said. “The number of medals in what it takes to be number one changes depending on what all the other nations are doing, so you’re up there in the high 20s or early 30s, but we don’t have a specific target.”

Despite falling short of its ambition in 2010 and 2014, Canada has cemented its position as a world power in winter sport.

In World Cup medals won this season, Canada ranked third (116) behind Germany (163) and the United States (126) as of Monday. Russia was fourth at 109.

The Germans led in gold medals won (64) ahead of the U.S. (45), Canada (41) and France (33).

Freestyle skiers, snowboarders and speedskaters are leading Canada’s charge to Pyeongchang.

For Canadian hockey fans, the burning question is whether NHL players will play in Pyeongchang next year. While many stars say they’re willing, team owners don’t see the benefits.

New Olympic events will continue to be crucial to Canada’s bottom line in 2018

Canadians are medal contenders, of varying degrees, in snowboard big air, speedskating’s mass start, curling’s mixed doubles and the mixed gender alpine relay making their Winter Games debuts.

Of the 36 additional medals available in Sochi because of new sports, Canadians won five.

Two developments emerging post-2014 for Canada are analytics and the crackdown on Russian athletes for alleged state-sponsored doping that country continues to deny.

Canada’s Olympians had analysts crunching data for them for the first time at last year’s Summer Games in Rio.

They focused on swimming, rowing, cycling and track and field, building projections models of the times and scores that would win medals there.

They’ve been doing the same for Pyeongchang, predicting times necessary to win in luge, bobsled, long-track speedskating, biathlon and cross-country skiing, as well as the scores required in figure skating.

They’re also analyzing which athletes are on track to hit those marks.

“Helping identify athletes whose performance trajectory is greater than another athlete, that certainly helps in terms of athlete selection,” Merklinger said.

The banning of some Russian athletes and not others from Rio had little influence on Canada’s medal count.

At the track, for example, Canada’s six medals were in events that didn’t include strong Russian contenders.

But given the host country’s dominance in Sochi — a table-topping 13 gold among 33 medals — any suspensions of top Russian athletes would have more impact on Canada’s medal count in Pyeongchang.

The International Olympic Committee announced Dec. 23 that disciplinary proceedings were underway on 28 Russians who competed in Sochi “for whom there is evidence of manipulation of one or more of their urine sample.” Several of those athletes are currently in various stages of appeal.

“We can’t control who is on the start line,” Merklinger said. “All we can focus on is making sure our athletes are as prepared as they can possibly be going into the Games. That’s what we think about every day. Not, ‘Who is going to be there?'”

Despite the impeachment trial of South Korean president Park Geun-hye amid allegations of corruption, Pyeongchang’s Winter Games preparation appears to be on track.

The venues will be ready, according to COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt.

“I was there a year ago and they were already ahead of the game in my estimation,” he said.

Canadian athletes are currently cycling through Pyeongchang for various test events. The freestyle skiers are there this week for World Cup moguls and aerials.

“I want to win for sure, but I think the most important thing there is to take in as much information about everything,” said Canadian moguls star Mikael Kingsbury.

— With files from Bill Beacon

Follow @DLSpencer10 on Twitter.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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