Canadian Olympic Committee says "strongest team ever" primed for Pyeongchang

Candian luger Kim McRae, of Calgary, speeds down the track at the Olympic sliding centre prior to the start of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Candian luger Kim McRae, of Calgary, speeds down the track at the Olympic sliding centre prior to the start of the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

PYEONGCHANG, Korea, Republic Of — Confidence is high on Canada's Olympic team in Pyeongchang, South Korea, in the face of doping drama, a flu virus and bone-chilling cold.

"Team Canada is ready," Canadian Olympic Committee president Tricia Smith said Thursday at a news conference.

"We are so excited to be here in Pyeongchang with the strongest, most well-prepared Olympic team Canada has ever sent to the Winter Games."

Competition got underway Thursday with preliminary rounds of mixed doubles curling and ski jumping. The curling duo of Ottawa's John Morris and Winnipeg's Kaitlyn Lawes finished the day 1-1.

Calgary's Mackenzie Boyd-Clowes advanced to the competition phase of the men's normal hill ski jump competition, placing 23rd in qualifying with a score of 114.6.

Figure skating men's and pairs short programs and moguls qualifications start Friday prior to the evening's opening ceremonies.

The first medals will be won Saturday. Canada's best medal chances that day are in short-track speedskating with Charles Hamelin of Sainte-Julie, Que., in the men's 1,500 metres, and also at the long-track oval where Ottawa's Ivanie Blondin toes the start line of the women's 3k.

The country's 225 athletes competing in 15 winter sports have been projected by data analysts to beat Canada's previous high of 26 total medals — 14 gold, seven silver and five bronze — set in 2010.

"We don't talk about numbers of medals, but our technical experts will tell you we've left no stone unturned and this team is as prepared as a team has ever been," Smith said.

Pyeongchang will test that preparation mentally and physically.

These games are predicted to be one of the coldest on record.

Despite icy winds that will push the mercury towards minus -20 C, COC executive director of sport Eric Myles said there will be "quite high number of the team marching" in Friday's opening ceremony. Ice dance stars Tessa Virtue of London, Ont., and Scott Moir of Ilderton, Ont., will carry the Canadian flag.

Bobsled brakeman Cam Stones of Whitby, Ont., is competing in his first Winter Games and vowed to stay for the entire ceremony.

Other athletes, such as the long-track speedskaters, have indicated they'll head for the exits after marching into the open-air Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium.

"We'll for sure be there to attend," said hockey team defenceman Maxim Noreau of Montreal. "I don't know how long, depending I guess on weather, time constraints."

The organizing committee POCOG said in a statement Thursday there were 128 confirmed cases of norovirus — that nasty gastrointestinal bug — in the area.

"We don't have anyone affected at this point," COC chief executive officer Chris Overholt said.

Doping has dominated the days leading into the opening ceremonies.

Friction over Russian participation in these games has created tension at the highest levels of the International Olympic Committee and in a village cafeteria.

Providing few details, Myles confirmed Canada offered a half-apology to the Russian team on Thursday for a verbal spat earlier in the week between unidentified members of each Olympic team.

He indicated the incident sprung from emotions running high about the doping controversy.

"It's an incident, a cafeteria discussion that happened earlier in the week," he said. "This morning we had an opportunity to have a discussion between the two organizations and everything is OK.

"We said 'Hey, if something happened, we're sorry.'"

A memo was also issued to the Canadian team to avoid such confrontations, he said.

The International Olympic Committee is attempting to bar dozens of Russian athletes from these games for alleged doping violations.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport heard a barrage of appeals this week on behalf of Russian athletes trying to gain entry.

CAS is expected to issue a ruling Friday morning on 45 appeals, after dismissing six filed by athletes and seven by support personnel Thursday.

"Our athletes can't control who is going to be next to them in any race," Smith said. "And they don't think about that. They focus on the race they're preparing to perform."

— Neil Davidson and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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