Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Canada gold drought tied to cauldron jinx?

Canada has a gold medal drought in Sochi, which begs the question: is there a Vancouver cauldron jinx?  

Canada had a quick start at the Winter Games by the Black Sea, with three golds in freestyle skiing and one in short track speedskating. Dara Howell’s win in women’s slopestyle skiing on Feb. 11 was the most-recent. The Canadian Olympic Committee hopes it wasn't the last of these Games. It vowed to meet or beat Canada's 26 medals from Vancouver 2010 (including the host record 14 gold), but may fall short of the 24 medals it won at Turin 2006.

Cauldrons in Montreal (the 1976 summer host) and Calgary (the 1988 winter host) were lit on the day of Sochi's opening ceremony Feb. 7. Canada won no gold medals at Montreal or Calgary. 

Calgary's cauldron has kept burning for the duration of the Games. Vancouver's cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza wasn't turned on until Feb. 12, the fourth anniversary of the opening ceremony, after media and public pressure on B.C. Pavilion Corporation. It was turned off after a couple of hours.

PavCo said, depending on how much anonymous funding it can drum up, it would activate the cauldron at 6 p.m. every night Canada wins gold and on the evening of the closing ceremony. A week has passed since Howell's gold. Are the sports gods frowning on Vancouver again?

You might remember that during the 2011 Stanley Cup final, Premier Christy Clark ordered the cauldron be lit for Canucks’ away games. After the Canucks lost games three and four in Boston, some superstitious Canucks’ fans complained publicly on the Canucks’ website that the cauldron should burn no longer. As Sean Holman reported at the time, the Canucks censored their comments. The Bruins came to Vancouver and beat the Canucks on June 15, 2011 in Game 7. Fires of a different sort were ignited on downtown streets when a riot broke out.

PavCo claimed it would cost $200,000 to keep the cauldron burning for the entire Sochi Games -- when the fuel costs are rather cheap. But the energy use is actually quite high, as I learned via Freedom of Information in 2010

In my 2012-published e-book Red Mittens & Red Ink: The Vancouver Olympics, I wrote: 
The permanent, outdoor Olympic cauldron and the one used at the B.C. Place ceremonies consumed a combined 5,260 gigajoules of natural gas during the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics, which would have heated 65 B.C. households for an entire year.

Good news for Canada is that it still has a chance to win both hockey golds and both curling golds. The slump could be snapped as early as Feb. 19 when pilot Kaillie Humphries and pusher Heather Moyse attempt to defend their two-person bobsled gold medal won at Vancouver 2010.

UPDATE, Feb. 19: Humphries and Moyse successfully defended their gold medal and won the Sochi championship, giving Canada its fifth gold medal and breaking the Vancouver cauldron jinx. 

News and sports journalist Bob Mackin is author of the e-book, Red Mittens & Red Ink: The Vancouver Olympics, the only independent chronicle of how the 2010 Winter Olympics came and went. It includes facts, statistics and anecdotes about the Vancouver 2010 cauldrons and a multitude of even bigger, hotter topics. Available for 21% off via Smashwords through Feb. 23 (enter code CR34F). 

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