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Is the Olympic success Canada found in Vancouver translating to medals in London?

Andrew Bucholtz
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Has the success athletes like Jon Montgomery found in Vancouver helped inspire Canada's summer Olympians?

There's a lot of optimism about Canada's Olympic performance in London thus far, and some of it's for good reasons; while the rowers weren't as dominant as they were in Beijing and the swimmers only grabbed two medals, other sports have been stepping up. Canada's currently in 11th place in the medal standings by total medals, on track for the top-12 finish predicted by the Canadian Olympic Committee, and that's led to bold declarations that "Canada's astonishing medal pace in the first half of the London Olympics shows the country is getting its summer sport act together." That lede, from Donna Spencer of The Canadian Press, may be going too far at the moment: yes, Canada has way more medals at this point than in Beijing, where Canadians didn't win a medal until Day 8, but a lot of that may owe more to changes in Olympic scheduling (including rowing going from last-week-focused to first-week-focused), and there's still a long way to go to maintain the top-12 goal. Still, Spencer makes one really interesting point later in that piece, and that's her suggestion that the impressive Canadian performance in the Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympics has helped Canada's summer athletes.

[Slideshow: Camera tricks at the London Games]

On the surface, that argument seems somewhat counterintuitive. The Winter and Summer Games feature a completely different range of sports, and the only athlete who's crossed over from the 2010 Winter Olympics to this summer's team is speed skater/cyclist Clara Hughes. However, when explored a little deeper, there might be some logic to this. For one thing, the 2010 Olympics helped boost government and private-sector funding to Canadian athletes through programs like Own The Podium and B2ten, and much of that funding has gone to help summer Olympians as well as winter ones. The dividends of those programs in Vancouver, where Canada won an Olympics-high 14 gold medals and finished third in total medals with 26, certainly helped convince government, businesses and individuals to continue to invest in sport as well. The 2010 Games definitely showed what Canadian athletes were capable of and how much popular interest there is in Canadian athletes' success, and both of those aspects are crucial from a funding standpoint.

Beyond the tangible dollars-and-cents, there also may be some intangible factors at play here, with winter Olympians' success inspiring summer athletes. Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewksbury thinks so, at least. Here's what he told Spencer:

There is a 2010 effect at work in the athletes' heads as well. Several said prior to these Games they believed they could win medals because they saw their winter counterparts collect a record 14 gold and 26 medals overall in Vancouver and Whistler.

The Canadian Olympic Committee conducted an exit survey on the athletes after 2010. One of the top-three difference-makers for them, said Tewksbury, was "we felt part of one Team Canada that was unified."

"We knew that in the summer, we had to create that same kind of environment," he said. "There's no silos on this team."

[Related: Is this Adam van Koeverden's last Olympics?]

Tewksbury and his staff have gone to great efforts to make Canadian athletes in London feel at home and part of a team, and those efforts could be valuable. The inspirational showings at the Vancouver Games and the prominent support of Winter Olympians like Jon Montgomery may play a role as well; in the Olympics, top-level competitors tend to be so close that any little edge can make a difference, and mental factors like experience can come into play, so support from the rest of a team (or lack of it) can definitely make a difference. It's really yet to be determined if Canada's final London performance will be all that astonishing, but the success Canadians found in Vancouver certainly may have helped improve it.

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