February 24, 2006


Last week I made the claim that the Winter Olympics were slippery and very, very fast. Of course there is an important exception to that rule. The last two days have featured the medal games in curling, the slowest sport in the Winter Olympics.

I honestly do not mean that as an insult; curling is one of my favourite winter sports. Personally, I get more thrills from watching curling than from freestyle skiing and snowboarding put together.

The four medal games offered plenty of drama. The women's gold-medal game went to eleven ends; the men's bronze-medal game was decided on a last-shot draw in the tenth. The men's gold-medal game was a close affair until Canada blew it open with six in the sixth, following an incredible run-back take-out by third Mark Nichols.

There have been plenty of reports about how curling has captured the imagination of the television audience at these games. Why should this be so surprising? After all, curling is enormously popular in Canada, a nation otherwise obsessed with ice hockey; there is no reason why it cannot find its audience in other countries as well.

Figure 1

Canadian medal prediction, 2006

Figure 1 — Updated probability distribution for Canada's 2006 winter Olympic medal total (click to enlarge). Prediction is based on the probability assessment here, updated as events are decided.


My medal prediction for Canada (see inset) currently sits at 23 medals, which means that they have somewhat exceeded my expectations to this point. The final outcome will be decided on Day 15, because there are only two events being contested on Day 16; the men's hockey final, and the men's 50 km mass start in cross country. Canadians have no chance of winning a medal in either event.

Saturday (Day 15) will see six events that can impact the medal total for Canada:

  • Speed Skating, Women's 5000 m. Kristina Groves, Clara Hughes, and Cindy Klassen will race for Canada. All three have already won medals at these Olympics. Klassen and Hughes will start in the last two pairs.
  • Short Track Speed Skating, Men's 500 m. Canadians Eric Bédard and Francois-Louis Tremblay advanced out of the qualifying round with fourteen other athletes.
  • Short Track Speed Skating, Women's 1000 m. Canadians Tania Vicent and Amanda Overland advanced out of the qualifying round with fourteen other athletes.
  • Short Track Speed Skating, Men's 5000 m relay. The Canadian team has advanced to a five-team final.
  • Alpine Skiing, Men's Slalom. Four Canadians will race. Thomas Grandi has an outside chance at a medal.
  • Bobsleigh, Men's third and fourth heats. Canada-1, captained by Pierre Leuders, is fourth after the first two heats, and is a tenth of a second out of a medal.

I should point out that no matter what happens tomorrow, the Canadian Olympic team has already won more medals than ever before. Incidentally Sports Illustrated, who made picks for every medal winner in every event, had Canada down for 21, and the Associated Press came up with 24 using the same strategy. Tomorrow will tell.

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