Feature photo: Jason Burnett celebrates his silver medal-winning routine at Beijing 2008 (Andre Forget)
It’s now or never for some of Canada’s top gymnasts to secure spots at Rio 2016.
The final Olympic qualifier for all three disciplines (artistic, trampoline, rhythmic) starts Saturday at the Rio Olympic Arena. Doubling as the official test event, it runs through April 22.
Here’s the lowdown on the Canadians in action:
Saturday April 16 – Men’s Qualification and Final Team Results
Sunday April 17 – Women’s Qualification and Final Team Results
Monday April 18 – Apparatus Finals
The focus for Canada is squarely on the men, namely Rene Cournoyer, Scott Morgan, Anderson Loran, Hugh Smith, Jackson Payne, Ken Ikeda and Sam Zakutney. They’re looking to claim one of the four team berths available to be won, which would give Canada a full Olympic squad of five, joining the women who qualified a complete contingent with their sixth place finish at the world championships in October.
The men’s teams competing in the final qualifier were all placed ninth to 16th at the 2015 Worlds, including Canada, which finished 15th behind Germany, France, Netherlands, Ukraine, Spain and Romania, but ahead of Belarus. The top four among those countries will join the already-qualified Japan, China, Great Britain, Russia, United States, Switzerland, Brazil and South Korea at Rio 2016. If the Canadian team doesn’t finish in the top four, the best the country can hope to earn is a single individual spot. Because it is also the test event, the Canadian women will be represented by Isabela Onyshko and Victoria-Kayen Woo, giving them some more international experience and a chance to familiarize themselves with the Olympic venue.
Tuesday April 19 – Men’s and Women’s Qualification and Finals
Again, the Canadian focus will be on the men’s event and Jason Burnett, who’s looking to book a trip to his third Olympic Games. With 13 competitors vying for Olympic berths, the Beijing 2008 silver medallist will need to finish in the top five to join the eight men who had qualified at the world championships in November. Reigning Olympic champion Rosie MacLennan already locked up Canada’s spot in the women’s event with her fourth place finish at the 2015 Worlds.
Burnett competed at both the Pan Am Games and the world championships after undergoing surgery for torn ACL, MCL and meniscus in October 2014. That meant he didn’t start jumping on his feet until March 2015. A full year later, he’s ready to show better than his 18th place finish at the world championships where he placed behind trampolinists from New Zealand, United States, Australia, Ukraine, Switzerland and Great Britain, who will all be at the test event. If there’s anyone who can persevere through the pressure, it’s Burnett. He had to go through the same last-chance process to earn his spot at London 2012.
Thursday April 21 – Individual Qualification
Friday April 22 – Individual All-Around Final
Canada’s rhythmic gymnastics hopes for Rio 2016 lie with Patricia Bezzoubenko, who will need to finish in the top six in the individual all-around to earn an Olympic berth.
Having placed 31st at the world championships in September, she comes into the event as the ninth-ranked non-qualified gymnast, behind competitors from Uzbekistan (2), Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Austria, Finland and China. If she can hit clean routines on all four apparatus, there is reason to be optimistic about her chances of Olympic qualification. In 2014 Bezzoubenko was among the 24 gymnasts who advanced to the world championship all-around final.