SOCHI, Russia Feb 6 (Reuters) - Canada’s Olympians are trading their world famous politeness for some cocksure trash-talking in Sochi, targeting top spot in the medals and calling out American snowboarding star Shaun White for withdrawing from an event over safety fears.
While head of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) Marcel Aubut laid out Canada’s ambitious plans on the eve of the Winter Games opening ceremony, the country’s slopestylers were raising the heat in the mountains, mocking double-Olympic champion White for his decision to skip the snowboard slopestyle.
Sebastien Toutant and Maxence Parrot, in a break form Olympic protocol took to Twitter to poke fun at White, one of winter sport’s biggest drawcards, for withdrawing from the competition after criticizing the course as dangerous.
“Shaun knows he won’t be able to win the slopes, that’s why he pulled out. He’s scared!” tweeted Parrot.
“It’s easy to find excuses to pull out of a contest when you think you can’t win,” chirped Toutant.
Canada chef de mission Steve Podborski swiftly stepped in to defuse the situation. “If I look at it from the sidelines I see a culture in that world that can be described generously as trash-talk,” he said.
“Is it something we would endorse? No.
“Is it something that happens in this world? Yes.
“They’re big boys and I think they are going to be fine at the end of the day. We have a great team that doesn’t need to trash-talk.”
With slopestyle making its Olympic debut in Sochi, Podborski, a former Olympian and the first North American to claim the World Cup overall downhill title, was willing to cut the free-spirited newcomers a bit of slack saying they may not have yet grasped the Olympic ideals.
“There are Olympic standards and then there is getting on the team. It’s not easy,” said Podborski. “So yes, each day you have to learn how to be better at your sport and how to be a better Olympian.
“We have Olympic preparation seminars, we gather the athletes together so they know each other, learn the rules and how to play nice with everybody else.
“This team I assure you is a fine group of people.”
The Canadians have high hopes for them.
Emboldened by capturing 14 gold medals on home snow at Vancouver 2010 — a record for a Winter Games — the COC arrived in Russia with even bigger plans of claiming more overall medals than any other of the 88 nationalities competing in Sochi.
A record 87 National Olympic Committees are represented in Sochi, plus Indian athletes are competing under the Olympic flag due to an IOC ban.
“Canada is here to compete and win,” said Aubut. “Our aim is to contend for the number one spot in overall medals won.
“We Canadians like it this way. This is how Canadians are built. Canadians are looking for the highest, the best, it is what they want us to be.
“We are not her to participate, we are here to win. Canada is ready.”
Canada won 14 gold medals in Vancouver but finished third in the overall medal tally with 26, behind the United States (37) and Germany (30).
After a slow start at the Vancouver Games, freestyle moguls skier Alexandre Bilodeau got the ball rolling, giving Canada its first gold on the second day of competition but the country may not have to wait as long to celebrate in Sochi.
Men’s slopestyle snowboard and women’s moguls will hand out medals on the first day and Canada has athletes who are contenders in both.
“We are ready,” declared Podborski. “We will strive to be number one. We expect great in Canada.
“We may not win the medal count this time, we may not win it next time but one day we will, because we are striving to be number one in the medal count.
“We have already won more gold medals than any country ever has, that’s an amazing success.” (Editing by Ossian Shine)