Will Canada’s medal count drop in Beijing?

October 27, 2021
Will Canada's medal count drop in Beijing?

This is an excerpt from The Buzzer, which is CBC Sports’ daily email newsletter. Stay up to speed on what’s happening in sports by subscribing here.

The Winter Olympics are coming — here are some predictions

The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics open in exactly 100 days. To mark the occasion, a data company called Nielsen’s Gracenote has released its latest set of medal projections. Predicting podiums is always an inexact science, and this time around there are even more challenges. The pandemic wiped out or otherwise diminished large swaths of the winter Olympic sports calendar for much of the last two years, leaving Gracenote’s model with both fewer and less-reliable inputs. Even when events were allowed to take place, the quality of competition was often reduced due to various pandemic-related restrictions.

Having said all that, these medal projections can still give us an early idea of how Canada might do in Beijing. Here’s a look at the most interesting things the model spit out:

Canada will win far fewer medals than it did in 2018. The 29 podiums Canadian athletes reached in Pyeongchang were a national record for the Winter Olympics. Eleven of those were gold, trailing only the record 14 won in Vancouver in 2010. But Gracenote has Canada winning only four gold and 21 medals overall in Beijing. That would be the country’s lowest total-medal count at the Winter Games since 2002, and the weakest gold haul since 1994. After placing third in the medal standings in 2018, Canada is projected to finish sixth in overall medals and tied for eight in golds.

So what gives? The quick explanation for the drop-off is that Gracenote projects Canada’s medal counts in both figure skating and the sliding sports (bobsleigh, luge, skeleton) to fall from four in 2018 to zero, and its short track speed skating medals to go from five to two. Hard as it might be to admit, the model might be right here. The Canadian figure skating program is in rebuilding mode after the post-Pyeongchang retirements of ice-dance gold medallists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and women’s bronze medallist Kaetlyn Osmond, and the breakup of pairs bronze medallists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford. Patrick Chan, who helped Canada win gold in the team event, also retired. In bobsleigh, ace pilot Kaillie Humphries left for the United States after taking women’s bronze in 2018, while two-man gold medallist Justin Kripps missed the podium at each of the last two world championships. 2018 short track triple medallist Kim Boutin flirted with retirement a couple of years ago and had a rough start to the World Cup season last weekend, though Gracenote still has her leaving Beijing with a bronze medal.

What about hockey? Good news: Gracenote projects both the Canadian men’s and women’s teams to win gold. The women lost the 2018 gold-medal game in a shootout to the U.S., but they took the world title with an overtime win in Calgary this summer. The men settled for bronze in Pyeongchang, but that was without NHL players. They’re back for Beijing, and Canada won gold at the last two Olympics that featured the best players in the world.

Where do the other medals come from? The other two Canadian gold medallists, according to Gracenote’s model, will be freestyle skier Mikael Kingsbury in men’s moguls (his second in a row) and snowboarder Max Parrot in men’s big air. The latter would be a great story. After taking silver in slopestyle in Pyeongchang, Parrot was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which he has since beaten back. Gracenote has two Canadians winning multiple medals: snowboarder Laurie Blouin is projected for bronze in both the women’s big air and slopestyle events, while long track speed skater Ivanie Blondin is tapped for silver in the women’s mass start and bronze in the team pursuit. In addition to the hockey golds, Gracenote has Canada winning seven medals in freestyle skiing, five in snowboarding, five in long track speed skating and two in short track. One of those is a silver for Charles Hamelin. If that happens, it’ll be the 37-year-old’s sixth Olympic medal, tying him with Andre De Grasse for the most ever by a Canadian man.

Hold on — no curling medals?! That’s right, Gracenote predicts Canada will get shut out in the men’s, women’s and mixed doubles events. Seems improbable. But, in the model’s defence, remember that Canada missed the men’s and women’s podiums in 2018 (Rachel Homan’s women’s team didn’t even make the playoffs) and failed to reach the final at either the men’s or women’s world championships earlier this year. Canada’s Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris won the inaugural Olympic mixed doubles gold in 2018, but they’re no longer a team and Canada has never won the world championship in this version of the sport. Still, the computer is probably wrong here. Two of the teams that will vie for Canada’s Olympic mixed doubles spot at the national trials later this year are Homan/Morris and Kerri Einarson/Brad Gushue. There’s not a savvy gambler in the world who wouldn’t put down an even-money bet on either of those super-teams reaching the podium should they make it to Beijing. As for the traditional versions of the game, Ken Pomeroy’s ratings system currently ranks Scotland’s Bruce Mouat and Switzerland’s Silvana Tirinzoni as the top men’s and women’s teams in the world, but Canadian rinks round out the top three on both lists. The rest of the curling world may have caught up to some degree, but it’s tough to envision Canada’s four-person rinks leaving the Olympic empty-handed again.

For more of Gracenote’s medal projections, visit this page on their website. Read about how some top Canadian athletes are preparing for Beijing in this story by CBC Sports’ Devin Heroux. Read about how some are navigating the twin challenges of the ongoing pandemic and talk of a possible Beijing boycott in this story by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter.

Best Canadian Winter Olympic Moments

We are officially 100 days out from Beijing 2022, CBC Sports looks back on some of the Best Canadian Winter Olympic Moments throughout the years. 8:28

The fallout from the Chicago report is probably not over

If you’re still unclear about the story that has shaken the hockey world over the last 24 hours, here are the key points:

An investigation commissioned by Chicago’s NHL team found that, in the spring of 2010, general manager Stan Bowman and other decision-makers were informed that a video coach had allegedly sexually assaulted a player on the team’s “Black Aces” (the name used in hockey for youngsters added to a roster during a playoff run) and chose to do nothing because they wanted to avoid a distraction as Chicago tried to win its first Stanley Cup in 49 years. After Chicago won the Cup a few weeks later, the team allowed the accused coach, Brad Aldrich, to quietly resign. They also gave him a positive performance review, a playoff bonus, a championship ring and his customary day with the Stanley Cup. In the meantime, Aldrich had allegedly made unwanted sexual advances toward a team intern. The dignified way in which he was allowed to leave (and the glowing performance review) helped Aldrich move on to other roles, including one as a volunteer assistant coach with a Michigan high school team. In 2013, he pled guilty to sexually assaulting a 16-year-old high-schooler and served nine months in prison.

Yesterday, shortly after the release of the investigation’s findings, Bowman resigned from his jobs as GM of Chicago and the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team. The NHL also fined Chicago $2 million US for “inadequate procedures and mishandling of the 2010 matter” involving Aldrich. 

The big question now is what will happen to Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and Florida Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville — respectively, Chicago’s assistant GM and head coach in 2010. The investigation found that they were among the decision-makers who were made aware of the allegations against Aldrich and chose not to act. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman will meet with both men over the next few days and said he’ll “reserve judgment” on them in the meantime. Read more about Cheveldayoff’s situation here and more about Bowman’s departure from Chicago after the findings of the investigation were released here.

You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.

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