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2010 Winter Olympics: Own the podium? That wouldn't be Canada

VANCOUVER — Losing a hockey game to the United States was embarrassing enough. Now Canada is raising the white flag — giving up on its brash goal of winning the most medals at the Vancouver Games.

The U.S. remains on course for a historic medal haul, with a chance to take home the most hardware at the Winter Games for the first time in almost 80 years.

But Canada's Own the Podium program is in tatters. And a surprising, demoralizing loss to a young American team in ice hockey — a sport Canada invented — is only making the pain deeper.

"Woe Canada: U.S. sticks stake in our hearts," read the headline in Monday's Vancouver Sun.

"It was very disappointing," said George Assaf, a Vancouver firefighter who was wearing a Canada hockey jersey as he took photos of the Olympic cauldron Monday. "The Canadians didn't play up to their standards. But I'm still hopeful we'll pull it out in the end."

After the 10th day of competition Monday, the U.S. led the overall medal count with 25 — four more than Germany. The U.S. and Germany were tied for the most golds, seven each.

Canada had just five golds and 10 medals overall, a disappointment for a country that spent $117 million over five years to give extra support to contending athletes and dominate the medals stand.

On Monday, they conceded defeat.

"We'd be living in a fool's paradise if we said we're going to catch the Americans and win," said Chris Rudge, chief executive of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

The USOC has been careful not to make medal forecasts, boast about the success so far or take pleasure from Canada's failed attempt at medal supremacy.

The United States hasn't topped the medals table — gold or overall — at a Winter Olympics since the 1932 Games in Lake Placid. The Americans could also challenge their record of 34 total medals from the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

"Certainly it would be a bonus, but we're not focused on that outcome," said Mike English, the U.S. Olympic Committee's director of sports performance. "We're focused on the athletes' performance, not medals."

The USOC spent less than half what Canada did — $55 million over the past four years — to boost its medal hopes in Vancouver. English said the Americans were never fazed by Canada's slogan.

"We didn't take that as a threat or anything," he said. "It's something that every host nation prepares for, and we certainly have done it with our own games. I think it's part of the business going forward."

The medals race shapes up as a fight between the U.S. and Germany until the close of the Games Sunday.

Luciano Barra, a former Italian Olympic official who tracks winter sports results and issues regular medal projections, now forecasts the U.S. will finish with 32 medals, 11 of them gold, with Germany taking home 31 and nine.

As for Canada, critics already have another name for the medals initiative — Blown the Podium.