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COC president Marcel Aubut says Canadian athletes taking aim at the top of the medal table at 2014 Sochi Olympics

Jim Morris
Eh Game

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Just because something is difficult doesn't make it impossible.

The head of the Canadian Olympic Committee admits Canada's athletes have a tough act to follow at the Sochi Winter Olympics, which open in just one year. But Marcel Aubut says the goal for Canada will be the same in 2014 as it was at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics - finish with the most medals of any country.

"We are always ambitious," Aubut told Yahoo! Canada in a telephone interview from Sochi. "We don't like the easy goal. We are very ambitious in our objectives. That is the way to build champions."

A well-trained and amply funded Canadian team aimed high in Vancouver but still finished third in the overall standings with 26 medals. On a golden note, the country's 14 gold medals was the most won by any nation at a single Winter Games.

Sochi is a different Games in a different continent, but the expectations haven't changed.

"That is the goal," Aubut said when asked about topping the medal table.

"We are not different this time by saying we are going to be a very strong contender for first place. We are not changing our philosophy about being ambitious."

[Slideshow: Sochi a year away from the start of 2014 Winter Olympics]

If Aubut sounds like someone doing some wishful thinking, his confidence has received some backing. Infostrada Sports Group in the Netherlands has predicted Canada will lead all countries in Sochi with 17 gold medals and place third overall with 32 podium finishes.

The United States had the most medals in Vancouver with 37 (nine gold, 15 silver, 13 bronze). Germany was next with 30 (10-13-7). Canada added seven silver and five bronze to its haul of gold.

Russia won only 15 medals in 2010. Just three of them were gold.

One of the key ingredients for Canada's success in Vancouver was the Own the Podium program that directs funding to athletes with the best chance of winning medals.

The federal government is spending $40 million on Canada's winter athletes in 2012-13. That includes $31 million in direct funding to 11 winter sport organizations, plus another $6.9 million to athletes through the athletes' assistance program.

[Watch: Russia exploiting workers at Olympic venue - report]

"When you taste what it's all about to win, you really like that taste," said Aubut. "There is an incredible appetite from the Canadian athletes about doing it again."

The Russian government has adopted its own version of OTP, and even hired away some Canadians to work on the program.

"They have stolen some of our best people. That was their first move," Aubut laughed. "They have adopted something that looks like it."

The list of Canadian medallists who retired after Vancouver include long-track speed skaters Kristina Groves and Clara Hughes; ski-cross racer Ashleigh McIvor; and freestyle mogul skier Jennifer Heil.

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If everyone stays healthy Canada will still field a strong team in Russia, including medal hopefuls like Patrick Chan in figure skating; Erik Guay in Alpine skiing; Kailie Humphries in bobsled; Alex Harvey in cross-country skiing; Alex Gough in luge; plus the men's and women's teams in curling and hockey.

The Sochi Games, which will run from Feb. 7 to Feb. 23, will also include new sports like women's ski jumping plus slopestyle snowboarding and skiing.

Roz Groenewoud will be a medal contender in the women's ski halfpipe while Mark McMorris will challenge in the snowboard slopestyle.

Sochi is a resort city on the Black Sea, about 1,300 kilometres south of Moscow. The Games have become a point of national pride for President Vladimir Putin.

"The project is under his permanent control and we enjoy the full government support,” Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the Sochi organizing committee, told AP. "This really is his Games because he recognizes the power of these Games, the greatest ever catalyst to accelerate positive change.”

The Games budget is an eye-popping $51-billion, making it the most expensive Olympics in history. The costs are so high because almost all the venues had to be built from scratch.

[Video: A look inside Sochi, Russia]

Aubut, who has made three trips to Sochi, is impressed with the work that has been completed.

"The Russians, this country, won't miss the opportunity to be in front of the whole world to show what they have accomplished," he said. "They are putting in 24 hours a day of work here.

"The changes I saw compared to the first two times I came here are enormous. Twelve months from now they are going to be perfectly on time."

Russian officials travelled to Vancouver during and after the 2010 Games.

"They really tried to get every bit of information possible," said Aubut. "I don't see anything here copying Vancouver because the environment is very different."

Sochi is best known as a summer sea resort with temperatures hovering around 14 C in February. Indoor sports like figure skating, speed skating, hockey and curling will be held in the city.

"It's going to be something special to feel like you are in Florida during the Winter Games," said Aubut.

The mountains above the city have been have been transformed into a modern ski resort complete with cable cars, chalets and new hotels.

There has been some grumbling among Russian citizens about the cost of the Games, but Aubut expects the Olympics to stir national pride.

"They have their own ways sometimes. They have tradition and culture," he said.

"I feel they are going to deliver the goods."

More on the 2014 Winter Olympics on Yahoo! Canada Sports:
Construction continues as frustration grows among Sochi residents
Organizers pledge there will be enough snow for competition in Sochi
A look at some facts about Olympic host city Sochi, Russia
Let the speculation on Canada's hockey team begin

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