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Smilin' Stephen reflects Canada's gold-medal giddiness

Fourth-Place Medal

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Not even a majority government would make Stephen Harper this happy.

The famously stoic prime minister of Canada was about as giddy he gets while bouncing from one venue in Vancouver to another over the greatest 24-hour stretch in the country's Olympic history. Between Charles Hamelin, a Quebecer, winning the men's 500 in short-track speedskating late Friday and an Albertan, Kevin Martin, finishing off a wire-to-wire win in men's curling, the country's athletes won five gold medals to tie the Winter Games record of 13.

Now, does three golds on Saturday and a record for the most golds by a Winter Games host push that all-important gold-medal hockey game vs. the United States to the back seat? You know, that hockey tournament that our whole self-worth was supposedly staked?

There is a distinct possibility it might. That all-hockey all-the-time Canada, which has always been more of a marketing tool, was pushed out by a Canada that showed it could get behind speedskaters, a snowboarder and curlers. Any of the federal parties should have such a big tent. Harper, a professed puckhead, kind of reflected that, representing the country in a way it's hard for any PM to do politically these days. He had to be noncommittal about funding -- keeping options open, you know -- but he sure enjoyed himself.

While Canada's moment seemed to come "in a way nobody anticipated," in The Canadian Press' phrasing, it was exactly what "Own The Podium" head Roger Jackson said would happen.

Jackson became a punching bag for being "irrationally exuberant" about Canada's medal chances. People say the damnedest things when they're out on the ledge.

Jackson, among others, kept up a brave front even as the media was swooping in to lecture about biting off more than Canada could chew and U.S. columnists were downgrading the country's chances of matching its 24-medal output from Turin. For the record, it's now 26, counting that gold or silver in hockey.

There was a method to it, something a lot of Canada's signature events being later in the Games and how the scheduling made the Americans' big early lead seem more impressive than in actual reality.

It started to pick up mid-week. In reality, one athlete's result might have little to do with another, but Ashleigh McIvor won women's ski cross Tuesday. That led into Women's Wednesday, which gave way to signature moments for the women's hockey team and Joannie Rochette on Thursday. Friday's short-track victories were a lead-in to gold medals barely 10 minutes apart, the team pursuit in men's speedskating seguing into Jasey-Jay Anderson in snowboarding. Martin brought it home.

You might say, "Who knew?" No one knew, but do not lose sight more than a few people saw what was bubbling below the surface, both in the athletes and the nation supporting them.

One would hope people commit to memory what went into all this and don't take it for granted. Canada now has the gold medal count sewn up much more securely than the three-goal lead the men's hockey team almost blew against Slovakia on Friday.

The hockey game will be followed intensely as all get out, but it's not a do-or-die. What happens Sunday afternoon will feel more like a cherry on the sundae. We're free to take what comes on the ice.

Meantime, "Own The Podium" was validated. Don't be surprised if Harper runs into Roger Jackson wearing a T-shirt saying, "I Told You So" instead of "Believe."

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