Tuesday marked exactly seven months to the Opening Ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, yet a complete picture of who will be marching into Maracana Stadium in Brazil on August 5 for Canada has yet to emerge.
The qualification process for many sports are complicated (some would say needlessly so) and we will be touching on more of them in future articles, but until then, here are 16 stories to follow ahead of Rio 2016.
What will they wear in Rio?
The Sochi 2014 Hudson’s Bay Team Canada kit gained international attention during its launch thanks to images of athletes unveiling the clothes being broadcast to the world via live stream and social media. A few months later, on the ground in Russia, the impact of its popularity was felt when locals stopped Canadians to barter for toques, jackets or the iconic Red Mittens. This spring, another Olympic kit will be revealed, this time for Rio 2016 with Hudson’s Bay dressing summer Olympians before they jet off to spend 16 days in the tropical climate of Rio de Janeiro.
The flag bearer will be…
Your guess is as good as ours. At London 2012 it was the indomitable Simon Whitfield who carried Canada’s colours. Highly decorated Adam van Koeverden did it four years earlier at Beijing 2008. At the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games Mark Oldershaw led the country out in the Opening Ceremony just up the highway from his hometown. Heading to Rio 2016 Canada has three world champions – Mark de Jonge, Derek Drouin and Shawn Barber – who all have to be considered. Also in the running will be lone returning Olympic gold medallist, Rosie MacLennan, along with other long-standing favourites Christine Sinclair, Ian Millar and Ryan Cochrane.
Canada’s athletics resurgence
A record eight medals were won by Canadians in Beijing during the 2015 IAAF World Championships, a feat that has the country salivating at the possibilities for Rio. Canada has transformed from struggling at the elite level of world track and field for nearly two decades to becoming a comfortable middle power behind only the likes of United States, Jamaica and Kenya. Canada’s medal haul in Beijing was one more than Great Britain and a single podium place behind China. The number of athletes to keep an eye on ahead of Rio is too many to list and the national trials in Edmonton this summer will be highly competitive. In the ultimate Olympic glamour event – the men’s 100-metre final – Canada can legitimately expect to have a medal contender in Andre De Grasse.
Will tennis stars bounce back?
In 2014 Canadian tennis hit new highs that the country had never seen before but 2015 was not quite as nice to Canada’s tennis stars. The season started well for Milos Raonic, with his first victory over Rafael Nadal helping move him to a career-best fourth in the world. However, nagging foot and back injuries soon derailed the successful start and Raonic opens 2016 ranked 14th. Eugenie Bouchard also dealt with a down year in 2015 that ended with a concussion. In an Olympic year, the form of Raonic, Bouchard, Vasek Pospisil and Sydney 2000 doubles champ Daniel Nestor are all mandatory following for Canadian tennis fans leading up to Rio 2016.
Golf’s Olympic return
After a 112-year hiatus, golf will be returning to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016 and Canada will be defending the gold medal that George Lyon won in the Individual event at St Louis 1904. While Graham DeLaet and David Hearn take on the task of reclaiming the men’s gold medal, it’s teenager Brooke Henderson who will carry Canada’s highest hope of hitting the podium. Henderson, 18, had an amazing LPGA debut in 2015, becoming the first Canadian to win on tour since Lori Kane did it in 2001. Henderson is hoping to keep the momentum going in 2016, with a chance to be the first Canadian woman to win Olympic gold in golf.
Track cyclists in top form
It’s a summer Olympic sport that has its prime competitive season in the winter. The third and final World Cup stop of the track cycling season will take place in Hong Kong, January 15-17. That will be followed by the UCI World Championships in London, March 2-6, after which the number of Olympic quota spots earned by each nation will be known. Canada’s stars to watch include the women’s team pursuit, which finished first and second at the first two World Cups and has been on the world championship podium dating back to 2012. Individually, Allison Beveridge surprised many with an omnium victory in New Zealand where Monique Sullivan led the sprint squad with a bronze in the keirin.
Beach breakthrough beckons
Canada has long been known as world-class on ice, but breakthroughs in Rio could make it synonymous with the beach as well. Perhaps thanks to the effects of global warming creating longer playing seasons, or just determination and hard work, Canada is reaching new heights in beach volleyball. At London 2012, Canada was well out of medal contention, but come Rio 2016 could very well have three top-ranked teams competing for the podium. On the women’s side, Canada currently has two of the world’s best teams, with Heather Bansley and Sarah Pavan ranked fourth and Jamie Broder and Kristina Valjas sitting eighth. Both teams should qualify for Rio. One men’s team – Ben Saxton and Chaim Schalk – is in an automatic Olympic qualification spot ranked ninth in the world, while Josh Binstock and Sam Schachter will also be looking to smash their way to the Olympic Games.
Swimming trials revisit Pan Am pool
This spring Canada’s top swimmers will return to the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre from April 5 to 10 to fight for a spot on this year’s Olympic team. In the simplest terms, to be selected to the squad athletes must obtain Swimming Canada’s Olympic standard ( FINA’s A standard) and finish top two in an event at the national trials. With Rio 2016 on the line, fans can expect an exciting competition. Make sure to keep an eye on the progress of Ryan Cochrane, Santo Condorelli and Emily Overholt leading to Brazil.
Ian Millar to an 11th Olympic Games?
When it comes to competing at the Olympic Games, there’s no one more experienced than equestrian Ian Millar. Having competed in more Olympic Games than any athlete in the world, Millar will look to increase his record to 11 at Rio 2016. Although the equestrian teams are still to be selected, it looks promising for Millar who helped Canada win team gold at Toronto 2015, qualifying them for Rio.
BC welcomes World Rugby Sevens
Canadian passions will be ignited once again at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games host city March 12-13, as Vancouver hosts the World Rugby Sevens Series. The two-day tournament will bring sixteen of the world’s top men’s rugby sevens teams to Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium just ahead of the Olympic Games qualifications in June. A month later, the Women’s Sevens Series will return to Langford, BC. The Canadian women have already qualified for Rio 2016 and will use this event to test themselves against world powers.
Paddlers and rowers face crunch time
Over one week in May, Canadian paddlers and rowers will get one last chance to secure spots in Rio. From May 19 to 22 at the Pan American Championships in Gainesville, Georgia (following the national trials), the canoeists and kayakers will be trying to increase the size of the Olympic team from the two boats (men’s K-1 200m and women’s K-1 500m) that qualified at the world championships. Among those trying to get back to the Games are Olympic medallists Adam van Koeverden and Mark Oldershaw. Then from May 22 to 25 the rowers will be in Lucerne, Switzerland for their final Olympic qualification regatta, hoping to add to the six boats that were qualified at the world championships. Among the events in which Canada came up short there were the women’s double sculls and the men’s quad sculls.
A lot of rules in fight club
Among the sports in which Canada still has to lock up Olympic quota spots are the combat sports (boxing, judo, taekwondo, wrestling). For the boxers, the first opportunity is the continental qualifier in Buenos Aires, March 8-20. Pan Am Games medallists Mandy Bujold (51kg), Caroline Veyre (60kg) and Ariane Fortin (75kg) also have the AIBA Women’s World Championships ahead of them in May.
In judo, the world ranking list closes on May 30, at which time the top 22 men and the top 14 women in each weight class will earn their tickets to Rio. At number three and number six, respectively, Antoine Valois-Fortier (81kg) and Kelita Zupancic (70kg) are well-positioned.
In taekwondo, the continental qualifier in Mexico, March 10-11, is the main event with two Olympic berths available per weight class. Maxime Potvin is ranked 10th in the world at 68kg.
While Canada has already claimed two women’s wrestling spots (Jasmine Mian 48kg, Danielle Lappage 63kg), the country is looking for more at the continental qualifier March 4-6 in Frisco, Texas or the two global qualifiers that follow in April and May.
Triathletes race against time
It would be incredible timing for Canada’s triathletes if 2016 is when they can get themselves back to full health. Among them is Kirsten Sweetland, currently Canada’s top-ranked woman on the ITU Olympic Qualification List. After career breakthroughs in 2014, including her first World Triathlon Series podium and a silver medal at the Commonwealth Games, Sweetland looked like she was past the six years of injuries and illnesses that had put her career in jeopardy. But an ongoing battle with a bacterial infection sidelined her for much of 2015. She’ll need that resilience as the World Triathlon Series begins again March 4-5 and features four events before the Olympic qualification window closes on May 15. Canada is poised to earn the maximum three women’s berths for Rio.
Rio test events as Olympic qualifiers
Venues are still being finished in Rio, which means there are still test events to be held. Some of them are doubly important as they are also last-chance Olympic qualifiers. Among the notables:
- Diving – The FINA World Cup runs February 19-24 at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. There are four Olympic berths available to be won in each synchro event (Canada has already qualified in women’s 3m and 10m) and 18 Olympic spots up for grabs in each individual event (Canada has qualified two women’s 3m and one women’s 10m).
- Synchronized swimming – The Olympic qualification tournament runs March 2-6, also at the Maria Lenk Aquatics Centre. While Canada has already qualified in the duet event, the country is looking to lock up one of three Olympic berths available in the team event.
- Gymnastics – From April 16 to 24, all three gymnastics disciplines will be contested at the Rio Olympic Arena. Of note for Canada are the five Olympic berths available in the men’s trampoline event and the four men’s team spots to be awarded in men’s artistic gymnastics.
Last chance for teams
In team sports, while a handful of squads have already qualified for Rio 2016 (women’s basketball, men’s field hockey and women’s rugby), many are still looking to book their ticket:
- Men’s volleyball – The team will have home court advantage as they attempt to win the NORCECA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Edmonton in early January. If they fail to win, but finish second or third, then they will have another shot at the World Olympic Qualification Tournament.
- Women’s volleyball – Same qualification criteria as the men with their tournament taking place simultaneously in Nebraska.
- Men’s basketball – They will need to win a FIBA Olympic Qualifying tournament in July to secure their place.
- Men’s rugby – The team will need to win the Final Olympic Qualification Tournament in June to qualify for Rio.
- Women’s soccer – Canada needs a top two finish at the CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championship to assure their spot in Rio.
- Men’s and women’s water polo – World qualification tournaments are in late March for women and early April for men.
Potential Rio absentees
The Olympic Games are the ultimate showcase of who’s who in sport, but part of the story in Rio might be who’s not there. The All-Russia Athletic Federation is currently suspended by the IAAF for doping. A taskforce will visit the country January 10-11 as it tries to meet the criteria for reinstatement. The Court of Arbitration for Sport is expected to make a ruling by the end of the month regarding Bulgaria’s appeal against a ban on its weightlifters after eight men and three women tested positive for stanozolol last March. Meanwhile, the IOC suspended the Kuwait Olympic Committee in late October to protect the Olympic movement from undue government influence there.