There's no looking back now.
We're in an Olympic year, and already the rush is on to the London 2012 Games. Canadian summer athletes are facing the inevitable "do or die" scenarios right out of the gate, even as winter deepens in the land of ice and snow.
The artistic gymnasts are embroiled in a last-ditch attempt to qualify early next week at North Greenwich Arena on the outskirts of the Olympic city. If they're successful on both the men's and women's fronts, they'll qualify full teams of six for the real deal at the very same venue in August.
Olympic gold medallist Kyle Shewfelt is accompanying the Canadian team on its English odyssey and knows full well that making the Olympic grade in one of the most high-profile sports at the Games is essential to the long-term health of gymnastics in Canada.
"The future of gymnastics in Canada will be decided right here," said Shewfelt from the Canadian training camp in England. "This competition is ridiculously crucial. It's undoubtedly the most important time for them in the entire Olympic cycle - kind of like the seventh game in the Stanley Cup final."
After his victory in Athens in 2004, enrolment spiked remarkably at gymnastics clubs across the country. There was no doubt that in Shewfelt Canadian youngsters had finally found a champion to emulate.Women's soccer team embraces 2nd chance
Back home in mid-January, CONCACAF Olympic qualifying takes place in women's soccer. Vancouver's B.C. Place Stadium will be familiar turf for the Canadians who are favoured to claim one of the two spots available for the Olympic tourney in London. Captain Christine Sinclair and her teammates are, however, coming off a brutal FIFA Women's World Cup in Germany, which saw them fail to claim a result and score only one goal.
The good news is they have a new coach in John Herdman, who comes over having worked wonders in New Zealand. In addition, the Canadians played inspired football to win the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Guadalajara. Still, the women from the United States are the reigning Olympic champions and you can bet they'll return to defend their title in London. Mexico is also a very good side and the Canadians will have to be ultra-organized in order to get their spot.
Once again, there's a lot riding on the success of the Canadians with regard to their Olympic aspirations. After the failure at the World Cup, and because Canada is hosting the next World Cup in 2015, there's a sense of urgency to keep the fastest-growing sport in the country in the spotlight. Failure to make the Olympic cut would be a real setback to women's soccer across the nation.
As the calendar continues turning, there will be hundreds of seminal moments to come in the careers of so many Canadian hopefuls. They all know that just to get to the Olympics is a victory in itself. But most who will wear the Maple Leaf at the next Games are also aware that just getting there isn't good enough. In this day and age, Canadian athletes are expected to perform and to contend. The Canadian Olympic Committee has targeted a top-12 finish for London 2012, and that means winning more than the 18 medals, including three gold, Canada claimed in Beijing nearly four years ago.
Veteran diver and two-time Olympic silver medallist Alexandre Despatie knows that reaching that goal will be tough. He's aspiring to make his fourth Olympic appearance this summer.
"Everyone is at the height of their abilities. Everyone is after the same thing and that's to be the best," Despatie said of the Olympic challenge. "It's always the feeling of wanting to be better than the time before. But it's the Olympics and there is this undeniable energy. There's something in the air."
Yes, there is something in the air, and in spite of the mid-winter frost Canadian athletes can most certainly sense it - they can even hear it.
There's no question that in early January an Olympic journey to London in July is calling out to them.
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