Sports: 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang
Veterans, comeback kids and the big question marks in mixed doubles curling: A snapshot look at some of Canada’s top medal prospects at the Winter Games in South Korea
By Bev Wake
1. TED-JAN BLOEMEN, Speed Skating
Hometown: Leiderdorp, Netherlands
Born: Aug. 16, 1986
Why you should watch: He holds the world record over 5,000 metres and is ranked No. 1 in the world at both 5,000 and 10,000 metres. While he had disappointing results at the 2017 world single distance championships — finishing fifth in the 5,000 and fourth in the 10,000 — he has not finished off the podium at either distance in World Cup competition this season. In PyeongChang, he’ll also compete in team pursuit, giving him a legitimate shot at three medals.
2. IVANIE BLONDIN, Speed Skating
Born: April 2, 1990
3. JUSTINE DUFOUR-LAPOINTE, Moguls
Born: March 25, 1994
Why you should watch: She’s had some ups and downs since standing atop the Olympic podium in Sochi, hand-in-hand with her sister Chloe, who finished second. But the thing Dufour-Lapointe seems to possess is the ability to win when she wants it the most. At No. 6 in the World Cup standings, she’s four spots behind Canadian teammate Andi Naude. But she has two podium finishes at home this year: a win at Tremblant on Jan. 20 and a bronze in Calgary on Jan. 6. She finished third at the 2017 world championships, after winning gold in 2015, and was second at the Olympic test event in PyeongChang. She was third in the moguls season standings in 2017, after finishing second from 2012-2016.
4. ALEX GOUGH, Luge
Born: May 12, 1987
Why you should watch: The best luger in Canadian history, Gough just missed the podium twice four years ago in Sochi, finishing fourth in both the women’s and team events. Canada has never won an Olympic medal in this sport, and she gives the country its best chance at breaking the drought. She heads to PyeongChang ranked fourth in the World Cup women’s standings — with two second-place finishes — and third as part of the relay team. She’s reached the world championship podium twice in women’s singles (bronze in 2013, 2011) and four times in the relay (bronze in 2016, 2015, 2012 and silver in 2013).
5. CHARLES HAMELIN, Short Track
Hometown: Levis, Que.
Born: April 14, 1984
Why you should watch: He won gold in the 1,500-metre race in Sochi, giving him four Olympic medals for his career. With one more medal in South Korea, he could tie Marc Gagnon and Francois-Louis Tremblay for most career Olympic medals by a Canadian short tracker. With two, he’d equal the record six by a Canadian in any sport, shared by Cindy Klassen and Clara Hughes. His best medal chances come in the 1,500-metre race — where he’s won gold and bronze on the World Cup circuit this year — and with the men’s 5,000-metre relay team, which is ranked No. 1 in the world.
With one more medal in South Korea, Charles Hamelin could tie Marc Gagnon and Francois-Louis Tremblay for most career Olympic medals by a Canadian short tracker.
6. ALEX HARVEY, Cross-Country
Hometown: Saint-Ferreol-les-Neiges, Que.
Born: Sept. 7, 1988
Why you should watch: No Canadian man has ever won an Olympic medal in cross-country skiing. Alex Harvey has come close, finishing fourth in team sprint in 2010, and heads to PyeongChang better than ever. He’s ranked No. 4 overall on the World Cup circuit — and third in the distance events — and won gold in the 50-km freestyle mass start at the 2017 world championships. He was third in the 2017-18 Tour de Ski behind Dario Cologna of Switzerland and Martin Johnsrud of Norway.
7. KAILLIE HUMPHRIES, Bobsleigh
Born: Sept. 4, 1985
Why you should watch: One of the most dominant female athletes in Canadian history, she’s the two-time reigning Olympic champion with Heather Moyse. She’ll have a different brakeman in PyeongChang, but the change hasn’t hurt her in the leadup to the Games: she won her fourth overall World Cup crown this season, after posting three wins, two seconds, two fourths and a ninth.
8. MIKAEL KINGSBURY, Moguls
Hometown: Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts, Que.
Born: July 24, 1992
Why you should watch: During his record-setting career, he has won everything but an Olympic gold medal, finishing second to Canadian teammate Alex Bilodeau in Sochi. The world No. 1 has won both the moguls and freestyle overall Crystal Globe for six straight seasons and heads to South Korea with just one loss on the World Cup circuit since Jan. 28, 2017. He finished second on Jan. 20 to Ikuma Horishima of Japan. He owns the record for career men’s World Cup moguls victories with 48.
9. JUSTIN KRIPPS, Bobsleigh
Hometown: Summerland, B.C.
Born: Jan. 6, 1987
Why you should watch: He won the Crystal Globe as overall champion on the World Cup, where his worst finish this season was a fourth. He had a win in Altenberg on Jan. 6, three second-place finishes and three fourths. His lone third-place finish came in the final pre-Olympic race on Jan. 20. He won silver at the 2017 world championships, behind Germans Francesco Friedrich and Thorsten Margis.
10. MARK McMORRIS, Snowboard Slopestyle, Big Air
Born: Dec. 9, 1993
Why you should watch: He won a bronze medal in Sochi just a couple of weeks after breaking a rib at the Winter X-Games. His journey to PyeongChang has been even more challenging, as he’s had to recover from two serious accidents: a broken femur in 2016 and a devastating backcountry crash near Whistler last year that left him with a broken jaw, a fractured left arm, ruptured spleen, pelvic fracture, rib fractures and a collapsed left lung. He went on to win the first Big Air World Cup he entered post-crash and, at the 2018 Winter X Games last month, he finished third in slopestyle and fourth in Big Air.
11. JOHN MORRIS-KAITLYN LAWES, Mixed Doubles Curling
Hometowns: Calgary / Winnipeg
Born: Dec. 16, 1978 / Dec. 16, 1988
Why you should watch: No country comes close to approaching Canada’s success in Olympic curling, with 10 medals in 10 tries: five gold, three silver and two bronze. With Rachel Homan and Kevin Koe medal favourites in the women’s and men’s events this year, the mixed doubles entry is the big question mark. New to the Olympic programme, teams of two will play six stones per end (instead of eight), with two stones pre-positioned. Canada has never won a world mixed doubles title, with the best finish a silver in 2017 by Joanne Courtney and Reid Carruthers, but Morris and Lawes both have Olympic experience. Lawes won gold with Jennifer Jones in 2014, while Morris won gold with Kevin Martin in Vancouver.
12. DENNY MORRISON, Speed Skating
Hometown: Fort St. John, B.C.
Born: Sept. 8, 1985
Why you should watch: The only member of Canada’s speed skating team to reach the podium at the Sochi Olympics, he was second over 1,000 metres and third over 1,500. He has four Olympic medals in total — he also won gold (2010) and silver (2006) in team pursuit — and 11 world championship medals. But what makes his skates in South Korea more impressive is what it took to get there. He missed most of the last two seasons after a devastating motorcycle crash and stroke, but rejoined the national team last fall and was part of the men’s pursuit team that set a new Canadian record in December. He finished fifth over 1,500 metres at a World Cup in December, and his best time over the distance has him ranked No. 6 in the world. The Canadian pursuit team has a win, a fourth and a DQ this season, and finished .08 seconds out of the bronze-medal spot at the 2017 world championships.
Denny Morrison missed most of the last two seasons after a devastating motorcycle crash and stroke, but rejoined the national team last fall and was part of the men’s pursuit team that set a new Canadian record in December.
13. KAETLYN OSMOND, Figure Skating
Hometown: Sherwood Park, Alta.
Born: Dec. 5, 1995
Why you should watch: The silver medallist at the 2017 world championships behind Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia, she’s a beautiful skater and storyteller who can also land her jumps. She reached the podium in both of her Grand Prix events this season, winning gold at Skate Canada and bronze at the Internationaux de France. She also finished third at the Grand Prix Final, behind Russians Alina Zagitova and Maria Sotskova, and was second behind Canadian teammate Gabrielle Daleman at nationals. She heads to the Olympics ranked No. 2 in the ISU world standings.
14. MAX PARROT, Snowboard Big Air/Slopestyle
Hometown: Bromont, Que.
Born: June 6, 1994
Why you should watch: Big Air should impress big time as it makes its Olympic debut in PyeongChang. It’s similar to slopestyle, but instead of featuring multiple jumps, rails and other obstacles, it features just one big jump — allowing, in theory, for bigger more complicated tricks. Because of the similarities between the events, most athletes compete in both slopestyle and Big Air, which is the case with Parrot. But his best bet for a medal comes in Big Air, where no one has been more consistent than he has over the past four years. A four-time Winter X Games champion, he won gold in 2018, 2017, 2016 and 2014, with a silver in 2015, and is ranked No. 1 on the World Snowboard Points list. He won silver at the Olympic test event in South Korea.
15. MIKE RIDDLE, Freestyle Halfpipe
Born: June 17, 1986
Why you should watch: Although snowboarders have competed on the Olympic halfpipe since 1998, freestyle halfpipe was only added to the program in Sochi. The sport — which sees athletes perform tricks in the air while skiing from one side of a semi-circular pipe to another — was thrilling to watch for Canadians, particularly when Mike Riddle landed on the second step of the podium. He’ll compete in South Korea as the reigning Olympic and world silver medallist, and is coming off a fourth-place finish at the 2018 Winter X Games last month.
16. KELSEY SERWA, Ski Cross
Hometown: Kelowna, B.C.
Born: Sept. 1, 1989
Why you should watch: Canada has won half the medals handed out in women’s ski cross, including both gold, since it became an Olympic sport in 2010. Aside from national pride, watching four athletes race down a steep course at the same time — navigating bumps, jumps, turns and each other — is exhilarating. Serwa won silver in Sochi, behind Canadian teammate Marielle Thompson, and will be hoping to upgrade in 2018. The 2016 Winter X Games champion, she sits sixth in the World Cup standings with one podium appearance (a third) this season. Thompson, the 2017 World Cup overall ski-cross champion, will also compete in South Korea, but sat out the season after rupturing her ACL and MCL during a training run in October.
Canada has won half the medals handed out in women’s ski cross, including both gold, since it became an Olympic sport in 2010. Aside from national pride, watching four athletes race down a steep course at the same time — navigating bumps, jumps, turns and each other — is exhilarating.
17. CASSIE SHARPE, Freestyle Halfpipe
Hometown: Comox, B.C.
Born: Sept. 14, 1992
Why you should watch: A bronze medallist in ski superpipe at the 2018 Winter X Games in Aspen last month, she heads to PyeongChang at No. 2 in the AFP world rankings. She’s twice won gold on the World Cup circuit this season, and is third in points. A silver medallist at the 2015 world championships, she won the Dew Tour Breckenridge event in December.
18. MARIANNE ST-GELAIS, Short Track
Hometown: Saint-Felicien, Que.
Born: Feb. 17, 1990
Why you should watch: Best known, perhaps, for those kisses she shared with teammate and boyfriend Charles Hamelin after he won gold medals in Vancouver and Sochi, she’s become one of the biggest threats on Canada’s always competitive short-track team. She’s ranked No. 4 in the world over 500 metres, No. 5 at 1,500 and No. 8 at 1,000, but she tends to shine brightest when the stage is biggest. She won silver medals in all three events at the 2017 world championships, plus the overall silver medal. She owns three Olympic silver medals: 500 (2010) and 3,000-metre relay (2014, 2010). On the World Cup circuit this year, she’s won five medals and finished fourth four times.
19. ELISABETH VATHJE, Skeleton
Born: March 17, 1994
Why you should watch: Canada’s most consistent skeleton racer, she hasn’t finished outside the top 10 on the World Cup circuit this season. She finished second three times and third once, finishing the season No. 3 in the standings. A winner of 10 World Cup medals over the last four years (three gold, six silver, one bronze), she was sixth at both the 2017 and 2016 world championships, after finishing third in 2015.
20. TESSA VIRTUE and SCOTT MOIR, Ice Dance
Hometowns: London, Ont. / Ilderton, Ont.
Born: May 17, 1989 / Sept. 2, 1987
Why you should watch: If you saw them win the Canadian championships in January you know why. After revamping their free skate, they set new personal bests for their short dance (85.12), free dance (a perfect score of 124.70) and total score (209.83). If scores at nationals counted for world records — they don’t — they would have established three. They were runners-up to Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France at the Grand Prix Final, but if they skate in Korea like they did at nationals, they’ll be almost impossible to beat. This will be the final Olympics for the 2010 champions and 2014 silver medallists, who took a break after Sochi but returned in 2017 for one last try at gold. They won their third world title that year.
The Ex-Press is happy and proud to welcome veteran sports writer Bev Wake, who brings a wealth of knowledge and years of Olympic experience. Check in with The Ex-Press regularly to follow her continuing coverage of this year’s Winter Games in PyeongChang.
THE EX-PRESS, February 5, 2018