No place like home for pressure

Tue Jan 26, 2010 7:46pm EST
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By Steve Keating

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Competing at a home Olympics is a rare opportunity for an athlete, bringing with it weighty expectations that can both inspire and paralyze.

Canadian Olympians have not handled such pressure well in the past and, with the Vancouver Winter Games looming large, must face up to a national reputation for wilting at the big moment.

Canada has hosted the Olympics twice before -- the 1976 Montreal Summer Games and the Calgary Winter Games in 1988 -- but Canadians are still waiting to celebrate a gold-medal win on home ground.

Canada has invested heavily to make sure its athletes are not kept off the top step of the podium on its own territory for a third time.

The government and corporate sponsors have poured $110 million into "Own the Podium," an ambitious program with the stated objective of putting Canada at the top of the Vancouver medals table with a good number of golds.

Millions more have been put into project "Top Secret" a clandestine operation designed to give Canadian athletes a scientific edge over the competition.

With the help of some of the country's top researchers, Canadian snowboarders will have new high-tech composite boards to help them in their chase for medals while downhill racers have used missile-guidance systems to trim fractions of seconds off their times.

As the days tick down to the February 12 opening ceremony the pressure goes up and the way in which athletes deal with the expectations will be key to them realizing their Olympic dreams.   Continued...

<p>Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby celebrates while hoisting the Stanley Cup, June 12, 2009. No athletes competing at the Vancouver Winter Games will be under more pressure than Canada's men's ice hockey team and no player under greater scrutiny than Sidney Crosby. For many residents of the hockey mad Great White North the Olympics will not be success unless it includes the men's hockey gold medal. REUTERS/Shaun Best</p>