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Posted: Feb 27, 6:57p ET | Updated: Feb 27, 9:15p ET

Canada wins gold chase at Vancouver Games

"Own the Podium" campaign ultimately pays off for host nation

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) -- With a surge of victories down the home stretch, Canada assured itself of winning the most gold medals at the Vancouver Olympics and set a record for most golds by any host of a Winter Games.

Its brash pre-Olympic prediction of winning the most medals overall, on the strength of a program called Own The Podium, won't come true. The U.S. will win that title.

But three victories on Saturday -- by the men's pursuit speedskating team, by slalom snowboarder Jasey Jay Anderson, and by the men's curling rink -- gave Canada 13 golds. With only two events still undecided before the games end Sunday, and with the finalists already set in one of them, no other country could catch up.

Canada has a team in that remaining finals: men's hockey, so it could break the all-time record for most gold medals at a Winter Games -- 13 by the Soviet Union in 1976 and Norway in 2002. It already has broken the host-nation mark of 10 shared by the United States in Salt Lake City in 2002 and Norway in Lillehammer in 1994.

It also marks the most gold medals Canada has won at any Olympics -- winter or summer. Its previous high was 10 at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, which were boycotted by the Soviet Union and its allies.

The surge of triumphs over the past four days was a remarkable turnaround for Canada, which won no golds at all in the two previous Olympics it hosted -- the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary.

And it's been a huge relief for Canadian Olympic officials, who entered these games predicting that their five-year, $117 million Own The Podium program would enable it to win the most medals overall. They conceded the overall title several days ago to United States, but are now poised for a different kind of glory.

"We have come on strong," said Chris Rudge, CEO of the Canadian Olympic Committee. "It's gratifying from our side to see that things we thought would happen over these last few days indeed are rolling out as we anticipated."

Rudge said the games have been a "rollercoaster of emotion" for him -- and that would apply to many Canadians as the fortunes of their Olympians fluctuated dramatically over the past two weeks before the late burst of successes.

The very concept of Own The Podium sparked vigorous debate across the country, with some Canadians suggesting it smacked of arrogance to predict a medals victory and many others hailing it as a sign of self-confidence and national pride.

Rudge called it a "very healthy debate."

"What it's done is caused Canada to look within itself in a unique way, beyond just sport -- a debate about who we are and what we value," he said. "If we continue this kind of debate, it makes us a richer, stronger and healthier country."

Fittingly, the pursuit speedskating team, which won Canada's 11th gold, was emblematic of how these Olympics have brought together a nation that is perennially challenged by linguistic and geographic divisions.

Its members were Denny Morrison from the Pacific Coast province of British Columbia, Lucas Makowsky from the prairie province of Saskatchewan and Mathieu Giroux from French-speaking Quebec in the east.

Assured of no worse than silver medals in men's hockey, Canada will likely finish these games with 26 medals overall -- beating its previous mark of 24 set at Turin in 2006.

The United States had 36 medals overall though Saturday, with another -- gold or silver -- coming in Sunday's hockey final against Canada. Tickets for that game are being offered on Internet marketplaces such as Craigslist for several thousand dollars apiece.

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