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Olympics2012Damian Warner, athletics team provide hope for Rio

Posted: Wednesday, August 8, 2012 | 09:08 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Damian Warner takes a throw in the shot put decathlon during Day 1 of the competition on Wednesday, putting himself into medal contention for the final day. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press) Damian Warner takes a throw in the shot put decathlon during Day 1 of the competition on Wednesday, putting himself into medal contention for the final day. (Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

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As the likes of Despatie, Hayden and Whitfield come towards the end of their Olympic career, Canada will need some younger faces to step up to prominence pointing to Rio and the 2016 Games.
One thing becomes abundantly clear as you follow the Canadian Olympic Team at the London 2012 Games.
 
There is about to be a changing of the guard.
 
It's high time that the next generation of summer athletes emerged. What's more, for the team that proudly wears the Maple Leaf, there needs to be a breakthrough star to build something around.
 
There have been plenty of headliners in summer sport in this country and while they don't garner the same kind of attention that hockey players do, they have connected with the national consciousness on a certain level.
 
One thinks of triathlon's Simon Whitfield, kayaker Adam van Koeverden, Clara Hughes, a six time medal winner in both the summer and winter Games, divers Emilie Heymans and Alexandre Despatie, Carol Huynh of wrestling and swimmer Brent Hayden to name a few.
 
There are a number of others.
 
These athletes are all tremendously accomplished and the winners of high profile medals but most of them are also looking at their last Olympic competition here in London. Soon they'll be moving on to new careers and for the majority, Rio De Janeiro will mean competing past their best due date.
 
Van Koeverden hints he'll be gearing up for his fourth Games in Brazil.
 
Nevertheless it suggests that new stars need to step up, and in the case of Canada, they need to perform in high profile sports in order to capture the national imagination. That involves a great swimmer or track and field athlete moving to the forefront of the international scene.
 
There are more than a few candidates.
 
Ryan Cochrane of Victoria, who has already won two medals in his Olympic career, is just 23 years of age. He's committed himself to Rio in 2016 and is the kind of workhorse that Swimming Canada can hang its hat on.
 
In the words of his coach Randy Bennett, "...he lives to race and I've never seen someone work that hard."
 
It's the kind of endorsement that means something.
 
Supported by young talent like 23-year-old Martha McCabe and teenager Sinead Russell, who both made finals here, Swimming Canada might have the pillars of a strong program over the next quadrennial.
 
But the pool isn't as deep as they'd like it to be. On the men's side, if you don't count the medley relay team, only Brent Hayden and Cochrane had a chance to swim for medals. Both succeeded but only Cochrane will push through to Rio and perhaps beyond.
 
There was a significant breakthrough in one of the Games' marquee sports which is women's artistic gymnastics. A fifth place finish by the Canadians in the team event was built on youth, in particular 15-year-old Victoria Moors and 16-year-old Ellie Black. It will mean more funding for Gymnastics Canada and perhaps athletes from this country can become consistent contenders in one of the World's most difficult disciplines in the Olympic family.
 
Rosie MacLennan came through with a gold medal in trampoline and at only 23 years of age, she'll become the team's anchor for years to come. Still, trampoline isn't likely to become the premier sport for the Canadian Olympic movement.
 
That means track and field will have to provide some sizzle to a remodeled team in time for the first Games to be held in South America in 2016.
 
There are indications that might be happening.
 
A pair of 100-metre hurdlers, Phylicia George and Nikkita Holder look promising. They're both in their early to mid-twenties and George is also world class in the 100 metres. The 22-year-old high jumper Derek Drouin, an NCAA champion, produced a bronze medal here. Middle distance man Geoff Harris of Halifax is a rising star and not far off the final in the 800. He's only 25.
 
Cam Levins is only 23 and he's made the 5,000 final, a race, which traditionally requires the voice of experience. It's an indication Levins may have a great future in one of the distance classics.
 
Then there's Brianne Thiesen of Humboldt, Sask., in the heptathlon. She posted a top ten finish at her first Olympics and trains with American phenomenon, decathlete, Ashton Eaton. Thiesen may have as much or more potential than Jessica Zelinka the current Canadian record holder.
 
A good group of young male sprinters is led by 25-year-old Justyn Warner. He ran two personal best times at his first Olympics and seems bound for sub-ten second territory. Dylan Armstrong may be back for another try at shot put but he's going to be in his mid-thirties.
 
Canada is still looking for its breakout performer at London 2012. The team needs an indication right now that the journey to the next Games will have a headliner.
 
There might be one last chance.
 
Keep an eye on 22-year-old Damian Warner in the decathlon. The London, Ont., native is traveling in good company and holding his own against the mighty Eaton in the early going. At time of writing he stood third after the first day of competition and was headed towards an impressive personal best score.
 
If Canada has a man who can compete realistically for the title of world's best athlete it just may have a poster child for the national Olympic movement.
 
No pressure Damian!
 
"I feel great," Warner said after the first five events were over and he'd accumulated 4386 points. "The score and the placing after day one don't surprise me. I have very high expectations of myself."
 
That's the kind of talk everyone likes to hear from a future star facing the most difficult completion of his life at his first Olympics. Then again Simon Whitfield, a senior athlete who made his mark at four Games and is now on the verge of making his exit put it best.
 
"If these sports were easy we wouldn't want to do them," Whitfield said.
 
That's why most young athletes here are eager to come forward when people wonder aloud, "...what happens next?"
 
They understand that Canadians back home are always looking for a definitive answer.

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