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Canada’s Olympic summer sports success ceded to a new generation

For far too long, Canada’s hopes of summer Games glory rested on the shoulders of only a few.

But at Rio 2016, as the likes of Ryan Cochrane and Adam van Koeverden grow closer to the ends of their illustrious Olympic careers, we’ve seen the arrival of a new generation ready to lead the charge for Canada.

Ryan Cochrane gets set for the 1500m free at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto.

Ryan Cochrane won two Olympic swimming medals for Canada, one each in Beijing and London, at a time the country won just three medals in the pool at the two Games combined.

And most encouraging of all is the breadth of this generation’s talent, putting Team Canada at the forefront of events where a lot of Olympic success hasn’t been had in years – or, in some cases, ever.

The straightest line can be drawn between Cochrane and the massive success enjoyed by Canadians in the pool last week. Cochrane carried Canada through the aquatic wilderness, as the only swimmer to medal at Beijing 2008 and one of just two to do so in the pool at London 2012 after no Canadian swimmers hit the podium at Athens 2004.

Now, the cupboard is full of Canadian swimmers with shots at success at Tokyo 2020 and beyond. And it’s not just four-time medallist Penny Oleksiak, but also fellow 16-year-old and double medallist Taylor Ruck, 18-year-old Emily Overholt, 20-year-old Kylie Masse and 21-year-old Santo Condorelli.

Adam van Koeverden

Adam van Koeverden won four Olympic kayak medals for Canada encompassing the Games in Athens, Beijing and London.

Out on the track, there was another clear instance of the torch being passed. Andre De Grasse became the first Canadian in 20 years to reach the 100m final, and earned a bronze medal behind two of the most accomplished of all time, Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin.

With Bolt and Gatlin likely competing in their final Olympics, many are already looking ahead to De Grasse doing at Tokyo 2020 what Donovan Bailey did at Atlanta 1996 – claiming the title of “world’s fastest man”.

But it’s not only De Grasse excelling in athletics. In Rio, Brianne Theisen-Eaton won Canada’s first ever medal in heptathlon and the first in a combined event since Seoul 1988. And while Shawn Barber came up short in his attempt to be Canada’s first Olympic pole vault medallist in 104 years, he did arrive in Rio as the reigning world champion.

Canada's Katerine Savard, Taylor Ruck, Brittany Maclean and Penny Oleksiak, from left, hold up their bronze medals during the women's 4 x 200-meter freestyle relay medals ceremony during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Canada’s (L-R) Katerine Savard, Taylor Ruck, Brittany Maclean and Penny Oleksiak, from left, hold up their Olympic 4x200m swimming bronze medals. Ruck and Oleksiak are both 16-years-old.  (Photo/JasonRansom)

Newly crowned Olympic champion Derek Drouin (high jump) has already increased Canada’s medal haul, and Damian Warner (decathlon) is also a strong contender to hit the podium before all is said and done in Rio. Four years ago it was Drouin who kept Canadian track and field from going medal-less in London.

Elsewhere at the Games, team sports are once again turning into a potential source of summer hardware for Canada, after a drought of more than 70 years.

The bronze in women’s soccer at London 2012 was the nation’s first summer medal in a traditional team sport since silver in men’s basketball at Berlin 1936.

Usain Bolt (left) and Andre De Grasse after their 100m final race at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016.

Jamaica’s Usain Bolt (left) and Andre De Grasse congratulate each other after their 100m final race at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 14, 2016. Bolt won gold, De Grasse (who is 21) took bronze and is being likened to the sprint legend.

In Rio, the women’s soccer team will challenge for a medal yet again, with a talented young core that includes the likes of 21-year-old Janine Beckie, 20-year-old Kadeisha Buchanan, 18-year-old Jessie Fleming and 17-year-old Deanne Rose.

Canada has already made the most of the addition of rugby sevens to the Olympic program, winning the first-ever bronze medal on the women’s side to inspire untold numbers of young rugby players across the country.

On the basketball court, 20-year-old Kia Nurse emerged as a star in Olympic qualifying. While Canada fell short of a medal, losing to France in the quarterfinals, Nurse, 21-year-old Nirra Fields and 22-year-old Natalie Achonwa will look to meet that challenge.

Kia Nurse against Serbia in Olympic women's basketball on August 8, 2016.

Kia Nurse (in white) is 20-year-old and is quickly becoming one of the most dominant women’s basketball players on earth.

Canada also broke a drought on the volleyball court this year, qualifying its indoor men’s team for the first time since Barcelona 1992. The team went on to post upset wins over the United States and Italy, en route to their first appearance in the Olympic quarterfinals since Los Angeles 1984.

Volleyball Canada also sent four teams in beach volleyball for the first time ever, with the duo of Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley finishing in fifth place.

With golf now in the Olympic Games, Canada can also boast 18-year-old LPGA superstar Brooke Henderson, who won her first major ahead of Olympic competition.

So although the likes of Cochrane and van Koeverden may not have gotten the results they’d hoped for in Rio, they can rest assured that Canadian summer sports are being left in many good hands.