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Manitoba athletes set to shine

Province has history of over-delivering

The United Nations flag flies between Olympic flags and the flags of nations participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in the Athletes Village in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony for the games will be on Feb. 7.

ANTONIN THUILLIER / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

The United Nations flag flies between Olympic flags and the flags of nations participating in the 2014 Winter Olympics, Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, in the Athletes Village in Sochi, Russia. The opening ceremony for the games will be on Feb. 7.

Canada's Olympic slogan "We are Winter" might just apply to this province more than any other.

Certainly the weather the last couple of months has supported this premise and now our athletes will get the chance to show Manitobans embrace the cold temperatures. Hey, we've got to live here so why not figure out how to do things on ice and snow a little better than the average dog.

Canada is chasing its last total of 14 gold medals from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and if we are to best that number, Manitobans will play a key role in the accomplishment.

When Canadian chef de mission Steve Podborski gets out his pad and paper and doodles up some mock results and makes his best guess on where those gold medals will come from he'll be counting on Manitobans for at least four.

Jonathan Toews in men's hockey, Jocelyne Larocque in women's hockey, Team Jennifer Jones in women's curling and Ryan Fry in men's curling are all favourites to win gold in their sports. Throw in speedskater Brittany Schussler, who will have a strong chance at gold in team pursuit, and maybe their will be five gold medals making their way back to Manitoba.

It's unlikely one of our athletes will be the star of these Games as Cindy Klassen was in 2006. But once again our province will punch above it's weight at the Olympics considering our athletes will make up a little less than five per cent of the 221-member team. What we lack for in numbers we make up for in quality.

Manitobans have long displayed their love of curling and hockey and the focus of our province will likely be on the rinks. Sort of like our everyday lives.

From parents taking their boys and girls to hockey practice or families spending their weekends together at curling bonspiels, we spend a lot of time on ice here in Manitoba. Not to mention all the slipping and sliding we do on our roads.

There will be high moments and perhaps some lows during this Olympics and maybe some surprises.

Can Falcon Lake's Megan Imrie surprise and find a way to the podium in the biathlon? Will the glory of gold achieved in men's and women's hockey in 2010 turn into disappointment?

No doubt there is drama awaiting in Sochi and lots of reasons for Canadians and Manitobans to turn their attention to the Olympics while the NHL shuts down for a few weeks.

And if this is the last time we see NHLers in the Olympics, the winning country will carry bragging rights for some time into the future. Surely there will still be hockey in the Olympics for years from now but if the best players in the world are sitting out, the lustre of the medals will be lacking.

Don't think Sidney Crosby et al aren't aware this could be their last chance to earn an Olympic gold medal and complete the collection they started in Vancouver. Two golds would look a lot shinier than a gold and a silver or, perish the thought, a bronze.

Just as intent will be the Sedins of Sweden and Russia's Alex Ovechkin.

This could be the tournament to end all tournaments from an NHL perspective.

Maybe the Olympic ideal is dead. And maybe the legacy of these Olympics will be about money spent and money misdirected. But at least for the better part of the next three weeks we can hope the focus will be on sport.

Here in Manitoba we can hope our athletes have the performances of their lives and we can revel altogether in their glory and achievement.

Manitoba. We are Winter. Just watch us.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

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