Canada's Olympics? Medal haul rolling in early

After two previous Olympics in which Canada was virtually shut out of the medals during the first week, these London Games are decidedly different.
Canada's men's eight rowing team members Gabriel Bergen, left to right Douglas Csima, Rob Gibson, Conlin McCabe, Malcolm Howard, Andrew Byrnes, Jeremiah Brown, Will Crothers, and cox Brian Price celebrate their silver medal at Eton Dorney during the 2012 Summer Olympics in Dorney, England on Wednesday, August 1, 2012. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

If you're cheering for Canada at the London Olympics this is probably the time to kick it up a notch, as our athletes certainly are. 

For Canada's Olympic team, first came hat-trick Tuesday with its three bronze medals. Then Wednesday brought a gritty silver on the water, a bronze in a marquee swimming event and a starring role in a bizarre badminton controversy that offered two Canadian athletes the chance of a lifetime.

It was also — though maybe we shouldn't say this too loudly — finally the time to throw aside the curse of the slow start.

Brent Hayden earns a bronze in the 100-m freestyle, the first time a Canadian made the finals since 1960. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

In Beijing four years ago, it took Canada eight days to win its first Olympic medal, with the country collectively wringing its hands the entire time. Four years earlier in Athens we only had one in the first week of competition.

But now, five days into the London Games, Canada has six medals — a silver and five bronzes (three of them from Tuesday) — and has a decent shot at as many as five others over the next two days alone.

It is too early to say, of course, that this will be a record year. We had 18 medals in 2008, a vast improvement over Athens in 2004 but still down from a high of 22 in 1996. But at least the groundwork has been laid.

On Wednesday, the silver came first. Canada's rowers were defending their title as Olympic champions in the men's eight.

The race pitted a rebuilt Canadian team against a powerful German squad, which won in the end, and a British team driven on by a wildly cheering hometown crowd.

The Canadian team is exceeding medal expectations through Day 5, and should add more hardware tomorrow in the women's 8 final. Today's Hot Sheet breaks down our surprising medal haul so far, plus notes on how Canada is capitalizing on the Great Badminton Scandal, CBC's return to Olympic broadcasting, and more.

For Canadian rower Robert Gibson, crossing the finish line – even in second place – was an emotional experience.

"It was a pretty special feeling, really," he says. "You know we've worked so hard for this for so long, three times a day, six times a week, all year long.

"But I mean it's all worth it in the end really."

There would be more good news for Canada before the day was out. 

Canadian swimmer Brent Hayden stunned the competition in the men's 100-metre freestyle, taking the bronze and edging out French star Yannick Agnel, who already has two golds from these Games.

Hayden was the first Canadian to reach the freestyle final since Dick Pound did it at the 1960 Games in Rome. Pound, now a member of the International Olympic Committee was on hand to present Hayden with his medal.

As the day went on, there would be disappointment for Canada. Cyclist Clara Hughes — a woman who seems made of iron — finished fifth in her individual time trial, ending her dream of earning a seventh career medal.

Hughes is already Canada's most decorated Olympian, a title she shares with former teammate Cindy Klassen, with four medals in speedskating over the past three Winter Games and two in cycling.

She was hoping to win one more. But it was not to be.

In the pool, the dive team of Alex Despatie, battling back from a head injury in a training accident in June, and Reuben Ross also finished out of the medal in sixth place in their three-metre synchronized event.

But for all the ups and downs of the day, nothing could match the strange situation that Canada's women's double badminton team found itself in.

Eliminated from competition earlier after losing all three games in their round-robin group, Michele Li and Alex Bruce thought their Olympics were over.

Canada's Alex Bruce, left, and Michele Li celebrate after beating their Australian rivals on Wednesday, and advancing to the medal round. (Andres Leighton / Associated Press)

But then, today, their coach shocked them with news they were back in. A match-fixing scandal left eight players from China, South Korea and Indonesia disqualified.

That left Canada facing Australia in a quarter-final match, which they won, meaning they will play in Thursday's semi-final. The team's coach, Ram Nayyar, says that, to his knowledge, this is the furthest any Canadian badminton player has ever advanced in the Olympics.

"We have absolutely nothing to lose," he says. "And we should go for it. And I hope that they can."

If the Canadians win against Japan today, they're guaranteed at least a silver medal. If they lose, they'll play for the bronze.

Canada's women's rowers will also be in action Thursday. The women's eights will be trying to get back to the podium after falling short by 0.79 seconds in Beijing.

British fans also had reason to cheer Wednesday, as the wait for gold is over. 

Britain's female rowers swept to gold in the pairs event.

While cyclist Bradley Wiggin, the Tour de France champion, cemented his position as a national sports legend, winning his country's second gold medal of the day in the time trials.

Sports fans were glued to televisions across the country, keeping track of the day's events.

Five days into the Olympics, British papers had begun fretting about a slower than expected start for Britain's Olympic squad, something Canadians have been all too familiar with.