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Ricker, McMorris will lead Canadian snowboarders to Sochi

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The Canadian Press
1/3/2014 7:38:02 PM
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VANCOUVER -- Canada has set a goal of finishing first in the overall medal standings at the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Snowboarders will in all likelihood have to play a key role if there's any chance of meeting that lofty target.

The first five members of the Canadian contingent heading to Sochi next month were unveiled Friday, led by a three-time Olympian and an unlikely superstar from the Prairies.

"We definitely have an amazing group and an amazing team and to be a part of it is great," said Maelle Ricker, who won gold in snowboard cross at the 2010 Olympics. "We have strong athletes in all the disciplines and I'm very honoured and excited."

Sochi will be Ricker's third Games, but at age 35, the West Vancouver, B.C., native is still seen as a favourite in her event where competitors race down a course side-by-side.

"I would love to perform at my best (again)," she said after Friday's news conference. "Definitely every time I put my snowboard on that's what I'm aiming to do and hopefully we get some good results because of it."

Apart from Ricker, another Canadian expected to contend for a medal is Mark McMorris.

The 20-year-old from Regina is the two-time defending Winter X Games champion in slopestyle, an acrobatic snowboard discipline set to make its Olympic debut in Sochi.

"It feels amazing," McMorris said of being named to the Canadian team. "It's going to be a fun time. I've been preparing like a mad man and I think I'm ready."

Other rookie Olympians named to Canada's squad were Sebastien Toutant of L'Assomption, Que., Spencer O'Brien of Courtenay, B.C., and Calgary's Chris Robanske.

Toutant and O'Brien will compete in slopestyle, while Robanske is entered in snowboard cross. The rest of the team will be named Jan. 21.

Canada won 26 medals -- including three in snowboard -- at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, good for third behind the United States (37) and Germany (30).

An even bigger performance will be required in Russia to accomplish the Canadian Olympic Committee's goal of finishing first.

"If we say we don't want to be No. 1, we're striving for mediocrity and we're not going to do that. We will strive to be the best," said Canadian chef de mission Steve Podborski, who won bronze in men's downhill skiing at the 1980 Olympics. "When we went into (the 2006 Games), we had no notion that we could strive to be No. 1 and now we are looking at that.

"So why not? It's going to be tough, maybe impossible, but you strive for impossible dreams."

The laid-back McMorris doesn't put any added emphasis on his own performance when overall team goals are mentioned.

"Whenever anybody looks at you to win there's pressure," he said. "I've been able to have a lot of success over the last three years and consistently podium or win events.

"I'm in one event and my goal is to win a gold medal and if I do so, that will be a big help."

With the Olympics set to begin Feb. 7, O'Brien said she's looking forward to being part of a team after competing for years as an individual.

"There's definitely a lot of expectations, especially on me, Mark, Seb, Maelle, everyone that's been performing so well these last of couple years," said the 25-year-old. "I think it's really special. It's a unique experience to have your country behind you."

O'Brien won gold in women's slopestyle at last year's world championship, but added the Games are on another level.

"An Olympic medal, you're winning it for your country, you're not just winning it for yourself," she said. "It's such a special opportunity and I'd like nothing more than to bring one back to Canada."

The Olympics weren't even on the 21-year-old Toutant's radar until it was announced that slopestyle would be included at Sochi.

"We're used to competing in front of a lot of people and a lot of cameras, but we compete for sponsors and we compete for ourselves," he said. "To be able to compete for your country is huge.

"The world is going to be watching."

Podborski said there will be "enormous challenges" facing athletes in Sochi, but stressed the level of Canadian sport has come a long way since he competed more than three decades ago.

"These athletes are the finest our country can produce," he said. "These are sophisticated, world-class athletes and I expect them to do very, very well."

Mark McMorris (Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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