By Duncan Mackay in Vancouver

February 23 - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's victory in the ice dance at the Olympics here has helped stem some of the criticism growing in Canada over the team's failure to fulfil expectations that they would challenge for the top spot in the medals table.

The controversial Own The Podium (OTP) programme, in which Canada invested $120 million (£73 million) to prepare for these Games, was supposed to see them finish top of the medals table.

But they have been swept aside by the United States juggernaut, which by the end of last night had seen their neighbours establish a clear lead over Canada.

They had won 24 medals, including seven gold, which has led to plenty of comments at Canada's expense, the most memorable of which was, "Canada may own the podium but we are renting it for the month".

Michael Chambers, the President of the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC), admitted that it would be hard for the home country to close the gap on the US but still claimed that they were having a successful Games with nine medals, including four gold, so far.

He said: "This may have been the US's week - the week coming up will be Canada's week.

"If we knew what the Americans were doing, we'd be doing it.

"The Americans themselves probably aren't sure why the gods are smiling on them.

"They're having a terrific Games.

"It will be tough for us to finish first.

"[But] our goal is still to be the first in the medals table.

"We're going to have more medals won by Canadians than ever before in the Olympic Winter Games, following these particular Games, I truly believe that."

Canada's previous best performance was a third-place finish at Turin 2006 with 24 medals, including seven gold.

Caroline Assalian, the COC's executive director of Olympic preparation and Games, said: "It's the last four days of competition where [we have] our best medal chances.

"We're looking at 11 to 13 medals.

"There are great, great things to happen."

The performance of Virtue and Moir in the Pacific Coliseum certainly gave the home crowd a massive lift.

Ahead following the first two components of the competition, Virtue and Moir's interpretation of Mahler's Symphony No 5 wowed the home crowd and also found favour with the judges.

The duo were awarded 110.42 points for a total score of 221.57 to spark wild celebrations on the day after the US had pulled off a shock victory over Canada's men's ice hockey team.

Americans Charlie White and Meryl Davies had to settle for silver while Russian pair Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin secured the bronze.

The Canadians' flawless final routine led to comparisons with British legends Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, leading Moir to state afterwards: "It's a very flattering comparison, but I don't think we have that kind of resume yet.

"We were well trained and we were ready.

"But to have that moment with the home crowd and with each other, and to have all that hard work pay off, is just amazing."

Virtue said: "It wasn't right away that we thought we'd come to Vancouver and compete at the Olympic Games, let alone win a medal, and let alone go for the gold medal."

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