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Olympics2012Olympic Hot Sheet: Be fair to Dylan Armstrong

Posted: Thursday, August 2, 2012 | 06:17 PM

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Canada's Dylan Armstrong is in the mix for a shot put medal, but are his chances being overstated? (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images) Canada's Dylan Armstrong is in the mix for a shot put medal, but are his chances being overstated? (Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

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A guide to what happened Thursday, and what to look for Friday, at the Olympic Games in London, including the latest on Canada's quest to win an improbable badminton medal and a plea for more modest expectations for shot putter Dylan Armstrong.
A guide to what happened Thursday, and what to look for Friday, at the Olympic Games in London.

Make it seven

Canada's excellent run of podium performances continued Thursday when the women's eight crew rowed to a silver. The storyline going into the final was similar to Wednesday's men's eight race, in that the favourite (the U.S. in this case, Germany in the men's) was considered nearly unbeatable, leaving everyone else to race for second place. And, like the men's crew a day earlier, the Canadian women maximized their realistic medal potential by "winning" that race to claim the silver.

We covered this in yesterday's Hot Sheet, but it bears repeating: with seven medals through Day 6, Canada is ahead of its expected medal count at this stage. Thankfully, we've been spared those generic "Canada is off to a slow start" stories that seem to arrive every Olympics.

Enter Bruce, Li

Canadian doubles badminton players Alex Bruce and Michele Li lost their shot at playing for gold when they fell to Japan in the semifinals. But Bruce and Li can still take home an improbable medal when they face Russia for bronze on Saturday.

The Canadians are only in the medal rounds, of course, because of the match-throwing scandal that has rocked the sport over the last few days and resulted in four of the world's best women's doubles teams getting booted from the tournament for brazenly trying to lose in order to secure more favourable matchups in the knockout round.

So how does Canada stack up in the bronze-medal showdown against the Russians? Luckily, they played in the same group, so we have quite a bit of data to draw on, both in common opponents and a head-to-head match. Canada went 0-3 and lost all six sets in the group stage, while Russia went 1-2, losing to the disqualified teams from China and South Korea in straight sets before sweeping Canada 21-8, 21-10. So it looks like Bruce and Li are in tough to win Canada's first ever Olympic badminton medal.

Don't give up the throne

Remember on Day 1 when everyone quickly crowned Ryan Lochte the new king of the pool after his 400 IM win over Michael Phelps, who didn't even make the podium? (We preached restraint, for the record). Forgive them for Phelps fatigue after his dominance in Beijing, but the anointing of Lochte may have been a bit hasty when you consider Phelps' heart hasn't really been in the 400 IM since he swore it off after the 2008 Games before changing his mind.

Phelps got his revenge on Thursday by defeating Lochte for gold in the 200 IM (Lochte got silver) in the last of their two head-to-head matchups. With the victory, Phelps extended his all-time Olympic records to 16 gold and 20 total medals.

But if you cut Phelps some slack in the 400 IM, don't you have to do the same here for Lochte, who swam in the 200-metre backstroke half an hour earlier?

Looking ahead...

Friday could be another big day for Canada, which has two strong medal contenders in shot putter Dylan Armstrong and pairs rowers Scott Frandsen and Dave Calder. A little background:

Frandsen and Calder won silver at the 2008 Olympics, and that's about the best they can hope for this time around. The New Zealand pair of Eric Murray and Hamish Bond - winner of the last three world titles - is the heavy favourite, leaving the rest of the field to scrap for silver. Sound familiar? Frandsen and Calder will try to become the third Canadian boat in as many days to claim the runner-up prize behind a virtually unbeatable foe. Race time is 6:50 a.m. ET.

Armstrong's medal odds (and especially his chances for gold) have been overstated in the Canadian media. Even though he won the Diamond League title last year (track and field's equivalent to the NHL's Presidents' Trophy), stands second this year, and took silver at last year's world championships, bookies started him as just the No. 4 favourite for Olympic gold, and he's since dropped to No. 5. And not for nothing: Seven men have thrown farther than Armstrong's best toss in the outdoor season.

The slight betting favourite is American Reese Hoffa (the Diamond League leader and owner of the second, third and fourth best throws of the year) followed by Germany's David Storl (the 22-year-old reigning world champ), American Christian Cantwell (the world leader with a 22.31m throw on July 7) and Poland's Tomasz Majewski (the defending Olympic champ).

We mention all this not to bury Armstrong, but in hopes of creating a more fair expectation for him. If he misses the podium, don't brand him a "choker." He's merely one of five contenders in an extremely competitive field. The final round goes at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Several other Canadian athletes or teams can put themselves in better position for a medal on Friday:

  • Ryan Cochrane swims in the men's 1,500-metre freestyle heats at 5:24 a.m. ET. Cochrane is a contender to repeat as a medallist after taking bronze in 2008.
  • The Canadian women's soccer team plays in the quarter-finals against host Great Britain. The loser is eliminated from medal contention, while the winner advances to the final four and is guaranteed to play for a medal.
  • Canadian track cyclists Tara Whitten, Jasmin Glaesser and Gillian Carleton begin their quest for a medal in the qualifying round of the women's team pursuit. The squad claimed bronze at this year's world championships.
  • Divers Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel are back in action in the women's individual 3m springboard qualifying at 9:30 a.m. ET. They won bronze in the synchro event on Day 2.
  • Jessica Zelinka starts Day 1 of the women's heptathlon with the 100m hurdles event at 5:05 a.m. Zelinka finished fifth in Beijing, and she appears to be peaking at the right time: She set a new national record at the Canadian Track & Field Trials over Canada Day weekend in Calgary, where she also stunned a stacked field to win the 100m hurdles title.
  • Welterweight Custio Clayton fights in the round of 16 at 10 a.m. ET. Clayton already became the first Canadian since 2004 to win an Olympic boxing match, and two more wins will guarantee him a medal. All four semifinalists in boxing get on the podium because there's no bronze-medal bout.

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