Canada talk tough but U.S. show more mettle and medals

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By Janet Guttsman

VANCOUVER, Feb 20 - United States athletes are fulfilling their pledge to steal the podium from the Canadians who are spending tens of millions on "owning it" but the home country at the Winter Games was not yet waving the white flag on Saturday.

"We still aim to be first in the medal count at the end of the games," an optimistic Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, told a news conference at the February 12-28 Vancouver Games.

After he spoke, the U.S. added another medal with bronze in the women's Alpine skiing super-G won by Lindsey Vonn taking their overall tally to 21.

Canada is spending about C$47 million annually on its "Own the Podium" programme aimed at improving results at both the Winter and Summer Games.

Canadian athletes have picked up four gold medals, as well as three silver and one bronze, so far, breaking the curse of hosting two previous Olympics (Montreal 1976 and Calgary 1988) without winning gold in them.

But half-way through the competition days, they are only fourth in the medals table, with no wins in Alpine skiing.

"The members of Canada's Olympic alpine team, men and women? They choked. Or panicked. Or somehow failed to ski to their potential through four Olympic events," Michael Grange of the Globe and Mail newspaper wrote in an online posting.

Outside experts see the Canadian team climbing one notch up the medals table but a No. 1 slot remains a big stretch.

Luciano Barra, a former Italian Olympic Committee official who tracks international results and issues regular medal projections, sees Canada ending the games with 27 medals, compared to 34 for the United States and 29 for Germany.

Reuters ranks the countries on the number of golds rather than total number of medals they win.

(Reporting by Janet Guttsman, editing by Jon Bramley)