The sunny, cloudless early Vancouver Sunday morning took on a gloomy overtone for the Canadian Olympic team when it was learned figure skater Joannie Rochette's 55-year-old mother, Therese, had been rushed to Vancouver General overnight where she was pronounced dead of an apparent heart attack.
Mrs. Rochette and her husband, Normand, had just arrived in Vancouver Saturday to watch their daughter, the reigning world silver medallist, skate the short program Tuesday and long program Thursday at Pacific Coliseum.
Suddenly, triple axels and medal counts and best-ever finishes didn't seem all that important, anymore.
But despite the tragedy, Rochette still intends to skate, said Skate Canada CEO William Thompson.
"Honestly, I think she'll skate," he said. "She intends to compete at the Games. She is very determined."
While the death of Rochette's mother might have deflected some attention away from Canada's lofty expectations at these Vancouver Olympics, there was no denying it doesn't appear Canada will not 'Own the Podium' as predicted.
What originally had been little more than a juicy quote for reporters - "They can take that thing home," said U.S. snowboarder Nate Holland, with perhaps the best passage of the Games, "we're just going to rent it for a month." - was turning prophetic.
As the higher-ups of the Canadian Olympic Committee - from president Michael Chambers to president-elect Marcel Aubut to chef de mission Nathalie Lambert - met with reporters for a mid-Games briefing (never mind it's Day 10 of the 17-day Olympic Games), they tried their best to put on a smiley face, or at least when they weren't talking about Rochette and her burden.
One hundred and 17 million dollars has been spent on this Own the Podium program, designed to provide funding and training for potential medallists. Canadians want results. Politicians. Heads of companies who ponied up dough to help fund the program. Joe Fan.
And the COC was predicting medals. Aubut, before the Games began, stared into the TV cameras and stated, 'We will Own the Podium.'
Hate to be the party-pooper, but it doesn't appear it's going to happen.
While Chambers et al were trying to get everyone to hold their horses, to relax that there was still eight days to go, the medal tote board read the U.S. in front with 23 medals, more than double second-place Germany with 14. Norway was fourth with 11 followed by Korea with nine and Canada with eight (four gold, three silver and a bronze).
"The U.S. is making it very, very tough for us to achieve the goal we have set for ourselves, but that's still our goal," Chambers maintained. "It's not going to be easy in any way shape or form. Do you know what the Americans are doing? If you knew, you'd be doing it.
"Our analysis from the outset was fourth place. We're in fifth, out one medal."
Still, Chambers gave a hint of a change in attitude amongst the COC, when he added: "We're still very confident our team will win more medals at these Games than any other Games."
So are we talking the best, or personal best?
Nobody will say it, but there are some Canadian medal hopefuls who, well, didn't pan out. Skeleton racer Melissa Hollingsworth. Short track speed skater Charles Hamelin in the 1,000 metres. There was a hope Patrick Chan would do a bit better than fifth.
But the Canadians are clinging to their pre-Olympics analysis - and hope - that the second half of the Games will provide a surplus of gold, silver and bronze.
Great expectations have been placed on the men's and women's hockey and curling teams, on speed skaters Christine Nesbitt and Kristina Groves, on the skicross team.
"This is the week we always planned to make a move," Chambers said.
Added Caroline Assalian, the COC's Executive Director, Olympic Preparation and Games: "Great, great things are happening. The athletes are in the bubble, they're ready to compete."
Unfounded criticism by Morrison?
Meantime, Chambers said criticism of the Own the Podium program by speedskater Denny Morrison was unfounded and, frankly, incorrect.
After finishing ninth in the 1,500 metres, Morrison suggested that by not training with American great Shani Davis in Calgary, the Canadian's training had suffered. Since the Own the Podium program went into affect, Davis is not allowed to train in Calgary.
"I just think it would have been nice to train with Shani and be able to have him push me or pull me," Morrison told reporters. "There was a time back in the day when we used to push each other in practice every day."
Chambers said while Own the Podium provides funding to sports programs, the decision on how the money is spent and how national sports organizations design their programs is entirely up to them.
"The sports make their own decisions ," Chambers said. "Those (speed skating) decisions were not OTP decisions. That's just the fact."