Team Canada the largest ever 

Canada will be represented by 206 athletes when the 2010 Olympic Winter Games get underway Saturday


Being the host country has its advantages. For example, Canada is guaranteed at least one athlete in every event, providing they meet the minimum qualification standards set out by the international governing body for the sport.

Then there's the home field advantage, which in 2010 meant getting all of the venues complete at least two years in advance so athletes would have a chance to learn the twists and turns of the sliding track, downhill course, and so on.

But this year Canada wasn't taking any changes. After being denied gold medals in the Montreal Olympics in 1976 and the Calgary Games in 1988, Canada has invested in its athletes at an unprecedented level. Not only did general funding for sports and athletes increase, the Own The Podium program contributed an extra $110 million towards winter sports organizations over the past five years. The money went towards coaches, training, technology and other forms of support for athletes and teams - and it's widely credited for raising Canada's profile in winter sports.

In the world championships last season Canada won 28 medals, more than any other nation. Germany and the U.S. each won 27 medals.

In combination, Canadian athletes brought home 157 medals in the 2008-09 season - 27 fewer medals than the previous record season, but it was expected given injuries to top athletes in sports like speed skating and freestyle skiing. Canada still placed fourth overall for medals, behind Germany, Austria and the U.S., with 207, 161 and 159 medals respectively.

Now, heading into the 2010 Games, Canada is favoured to win more medals than any other nation, based on our world championship performance, our performance at home test events, the increase in funding and the fact that we have top-ranked athletes in a wider range of events than most other countries. For example, while Germany is expected to win a lot of medals in events like luge, biathlon and ski jumping they don't have as big a presence in hockey, curling or freestyle skiing.

The Canadian team is comprised of 206 athletes, the largest team Canada has ever fielded for a Winter Olympics. We have maxed out our quota spots in snowboarding, alpine, freestyle and speed skating, as well as in skeleton and bobsleigh.

Clara Hughes of Manitoba will carry the flag for Team Canada at the opening ceremonies on Friday, Feb. 12, in recognition of the fact that she remains the only athlete in the world to win multiple medals in both Summer and Winter Games. In 1996 she won two bronze medals as a road cyclist, then switched over to speed skating where she earned three medals - including gold in the 5,000 metre event - in the 2002 and 2006 Games.

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