VANCOUVER – Ahead of the Vancouver Games, the Canadian Olympic Committee launched the ambitious "Own the Podium" program with the explicit goal to "place first in the total medal count at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games."
Even though the Canadian government and corporate sponsors spent a record $112 million over four years on training through the program, near the end of competition Friday, the Canadians were far short of their goal to win the most medals in Vancouver – the United States had 34 medals, with Canada in third place with 21 medals.
|Tony Gentile / Reuters|
|Gold medalists Canada's Kaillie Humphries, left, and Heather Moyse, right, celebrate after winning the women's bobsleigh on Feb. 24.|
But despite all the money aimed at athletes of both genders, the women may own the podium after all. So far, the Canadian women have accounted for about 70 percent of the national medal haul.
But this isn't the first time the Canadian women have done so. The tide started to turn for Canada just after the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, when men scored eight medals and women won seven. Then, in Salt Lake City in 2002, the women took home nine medals and the men seven. The women started to pick up the pace at Torino in 2006, winning two-thirds of the medals.
Still, members of the Canadian Olympic Committee proudly boasted about the female athletes' latest achievement at a presser on Thursday.
"Canada was way ahead of the game in giving women access to sport," said Nathalie Lambert, a Canadian Olympic medalist in short-track speed skating and the chef de mission of the podium program.
Lambert said the support that Canada gives its female athletes and its promotion of gender equity has created a snowball effect. She believes that the more female role models are created, the more young women are more likely to aim for the same goals their role models achieved.
Looking at numbers provided by the U.S. Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee, Germany appears to be the only country among the top medal winners that comes close to the Canadians in rate of success by female athletes. Even for the United States, female athletes lag behind the men in the Vancouver medal count, by 11 to 21.
Men's competition 'unfathomably hard'
Still, speed skater Clara Hughes, at 37 the most decorated Canadian Olympian and the fourth athlete in history who has medaled in both the Winter and Summer Games, reasoned that some of the women's dominance had to be chalked up to the
strength of men's sports.
"There is, and I hate to say this as a female, but there is a lot more depth in men's sports, especially in endurance sports," she said during the press conference on Thursday. "It takes a lot more resources and time for men to develop. In my sport, speed skating and also in cycling, when you get a top-10 result as a male, it's something out of this world coming from North America. Sports at this level are unfathomably hard and difficult."
Nevertheless, Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge said the women's rising medal count "speaks wonderfully of the gender equity out there."
But in the end, he added, "It's not about men and women, it's about supporting the best athlete."