Olympic countdown: 8 Canadian storylines to follow
A lot can happen in 365 days.
Athletes can emerge, or disappear. Teams will begin to know their fate, whether they’ve qualified or will be missing out on the trip.
With eight being a lucky number in the Japanese culture signifying prosperity, we took a look at eight Canadian storylines to keep an eye on in the lead-up to the Games:
Can Rio Olympics stars return to form?
In 2016, Andre De Grasse and Penny Oleksiak captured the hearts and minds of not only Canada, but the world.
Oleksiak emerged as the athlete of the Games for Canada, earning four medals, including gold in the 100-metre freestyle. She was then chosen flag-bearer for the closing ceremony. De Grasse went toe-to-toe with Usain Bolt, and ended up capturing three medals (silver in the 200 metres silver, bronze in 100 and bronze in 4×100 relay).
Since then? Neither have been on the top of the world stage on a consistent basis. Both have dealt with injuries and uneven performances. There have been more questions than answers regarding the Olympic stars.
De Grasse recently ran his first sub-10 second 100 since the Olympics, clocking in at 9.99 at the London Diamond League. Oleksiak is currently competing at the world aquatics championships in South Korea.
To a lesser extent, the same questions surround Rosie MacLennan, and the women’s soccer team. MacLennan is the two-time defending Olympic trampoline champion, but she suffered a broken ankle in May. Canada’s women’s soccer team has won bronze at each of the last two Olympics, but had a disappointing showing at last month’s World Cup, where it lost in the Round of 16.
WATCH | Andre De Grasse cracks 10 seconds:
Canada’s Andre De Grasse finishes 5th at the Muller Anniversary Games with a time of 9.99 seconds. 2:51
Canada’s new wave of talent
While De Grasse and Oleksiak haven’t exactly lit the world on fire since Rio 2016, Canada’s next crop of track and swimming athletes have emerged, and could make an impact in Tokyo.
Aaron Brown was part of the 4×100 bronze relay team in Rio, but now he’s winning on the world stage, beating De Grasse at the Shanghai Diamond League in May in the 200. Brown also dominated at last summer’s Canadian championships, winning both the 100 and 200 events.
In swimming, Kylie Masse and Taylor Ruck seem to be the names everyone’s talking about. Masse set the 100 backstroke world record at the 2017 worlds, and held that record for just over a year. On Tuesday, she defended her world title in the 100 backstroke, and will be among the Olympic favourites a year from now.
Ruck, who’s only 19, tied an all-time record by winning eight medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. But her more impressive feat came last August, where she became the most-decorated Canadian swimmer at a single Pan Pacific Swimming Championships by capturing five medals — an event featuring significantly more top-level competition.
And now there’s Maggie MacNeil. This previously unknown 19-year-old shocked the world on Monday by upsetting Olympic champion Sarah Sjostrom at the world championships to win gold in the 100 butterfly.
WATCH | Maggie MacNeil swims to stunning gold medal:
Canadian teen Maggie MacNeil posts a Canadian-record time of 55.83 seconds at the world aquatics championships. 2:56
How good will the men’s basketball team be?
The team’s first major test comes at the World Cup of basketball, which begins on Aug. 31 in China, and serves as a main qualifying event for the 2020 Games.
Although they still need to qualify for the Olympics, the team is seen as a potential darkhorse to reach the gold-medal match.
They’re coached by Nick Nurse, who just led the Toronto Raptors to their first-ever NBA title, and the team could feature legitimate NBA talent like Jamal Murray (Denver Nuggets), R.J. Barrett (New York Knicks), Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Oklahoma City Thunder), and possibly Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves), who are not on the World Cup roster.
If they don’t qualify at the World Cup, the Canadians next shot would be at the FIBA world Olympic qualifiers next July.
Canadian women expected to carry medal load — again
At the 2016 Rio Games, Canada won 22 medals, 16 of which were won by women. Next year’s Games will probably be more of the same, especially with the talent on the women’s swim team, and the strength of the Canadian teams as a whole.
The soccer team is still a medal hopeful, the rugby sevens squad is ranked No. 3 in the world, and beach volleyball offers two teams battling for world supremacy.
The Canadian duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes recently won the world title and are clear gold-medal hopefuls. Canada’s other team of Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson were ranked No.1 in the world just a few months ago.
An all-Canadian beach volleyball final would be something, wouldn’t it?
Add in divers like Jennifer Abel and Meaghan Benfeito, along with canoers like Katie Vincent and Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, and the talent on the women’s side becomes more evident.
WATCH | Pavan, Humana-Paredes win world title:
Melissa Humana-Paredes and Sarah Pavan defeated USA’s April Ross and Alix Klineman to win FIVB Beach Volleyball World Championship gold in Hamburg, Germany. 2:27
Men’s team finally showing life at Olympic level
A few of the teams haven’t — and may not — qualify for the Olympics, but there’s more buzz than there’s been in years.
The rugby sevens team has already booked a spot, which will be its first Olympic appearance (the event was introduced in 2016).
The men’s basketball team, which has not qualified since the Sydney Games in 2000, could be medal hopefuls. In fact, the Canadians only have one Olympic medal ever, a silver in 1936. Like we talked about above, they still need to qualify.
The men’s soccer team isn’t a medal favourite, and even qualifying would be considered an upset. But there’s at least some noise. Men’s soccer at the Olympics is an under-23 tournament, and Canada boasts major young talent such as Alphonso Davis (18) and Jonathan David (19).
The Canadians haven’t qualified for an Olympics since 1984, and only two teams from North America will be granted spots at the Games. The CONCACAF Olympic qualifiers will be played in October.
WATCH | 10 athletes to watch ahead of Toyo 2020:
With just a year to go until the Tokyo Olympic Games, here are the Canadians currently at the top of their game. 1:05
Gender equality in events getting closer
The 2020 Games will be the closest the IOC has ever gotten to true gender equality at the Olympics.
Female participation at the Games will rise to a projected 48.8 per cent, the highest number ever. For comparison, it was 45.2 per cent at the Rio Games in 2016, and in 1988 at Seoul, it was just 26.1 per cent, according to the IOC.
One of the ways women’s participation has increased is by doubling the amount of mixed events compared to 2016, and any new event being added must include a women’s competition.
They’ve also added women’s disciplines in multiple sports, including two weight categories to boxing, and three races to canoe/kayak (while also dropping three men’s races).
New sports populating the Games
The Olympics are getting a facelift, with five new sports that should attract a younger audience.
Those sports? Surfing, sport climbing, skateboarding, karate, and the return of baseball/softball.
Baseball and softball were last at the Olympics in 2008, where Japan, this year’s host nation, won gold in softball and finished fourth in baseball.
Surfing will feature one category, and sport climbing — which is essentially artificial controlled rock climbing — will include three disciplines. Skateboarding will have two categories (park and street), and karate will have disciplines kumite and kata.
There’s also a new basketball category, as 3-on-3 will debut at the Games.
Canada has a shot at golf glory
Next year will mark the fourth time golf has taken part at the Olympics, and only the second time in a century.
Golf reappeared in Rio after a 112-year absence, and Canada actually has a gold medallist in the event, with George Lyon winning at the 1904 St. Louis Games.
Canada has a legitimate contender on the women’s side in Brooke Henderson. She already holds the Canadian record for most professional golf titles with nine, and she’s only 21 years old.