Does a home advantage mean more medals?

VANCOUVER (CUP) — Playing at home may not be advantageous for our Canadian Olympians, suggests Doug Clement, a UBC professor emeritus and B.C. Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

Expectations were high for Canadians five years ago when Canada began its $110-million “Own the Podium” program to be the “top medal-winning nation” while hosting the 2010 Winter Games. But as of early Thursday evening, with only four more days left in the Games, Canada was fourth in the medal count with seven gold, six silver and two bronze medals.

“I don’t think they are doing as well as they may have in Torino at this point,” Clement said on Monday. The 2006 Games in Torino Olympics saw Canada take home 24 medals, just one medal away from placing second in the world ranking.

According to Clement, the overwhelming pressure from the home crowd may cause Canadian athletes to do worse in their Games. “I think it’s part of the game,” he said. “I think it’s inherent in playing for the home crowd that there is a greater interest and, sort of, intent on their part, to have their favorites win. . . . That puts pressure on them.”

Clement also said the home team no longer has that advantage of using home facilities, as many athletes around the world try to duplicate the conditions that exist at competition sites. Athletes, he said, are doing “all sorts of manoeuvers trying to improve their performance in the site where the competition will occur.”

“Sleeping in controlled-altitude tents that reduce the air pressure and oxygen content while they are sleeping, for example.”

However, Nancy Wilson, head coach of UBC’s women’s ice hockey team, said it all depends on the athlete. “There are athletes that don’t play as well in front of their family and friends, but there are other athletes that really don’t play well if their family and friends aren’t in the stands,” she said.

Wilson said most of the athletes she’s worked with prefer playing at home, where family and friends can “cheer on.”

Canadian Olympic snowboarder and UBC alumna Alexa Loo falls into that category.

“I am proud and excited to be competing in front of a home crowd. It is great to be able to share my sport and the experience of the Games with all of my friends and family here at home,” she said. The 2008 and 2009 North American champion for parallel slalom will be the first Canadian women’s athlete to compete in the parallel giant slalom event on Friday.

“It is a huge advantage having a home game. I have more people than ever sharing my Olympic journey with me as well as more resources to help me to achieve the best performance that I can,” Loo said.

But Loo accepts that there is a lot of pressure involved. “With more support comes more expectations for performance. I would prefer to have more support, and I accept the greater expectations.”

“Olympics: there is no greater pressure in sport.”

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