Commonwealth Games·Preview

See thee rise: Canada is sending big names and new stars to Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games may not carry the prestige of an Olympics, but it remains an important marker in every Canadian athlete's schedule. It's the perfect setting for young athletes to show what they're made of as they travel the road to the next Summer Games.

272 Canadian athletes will compete in 18 sports and 5 Para sports

Canada's Josh Liendo, shown in this file photo, will be among the 276 Canadian athletes looking to climb the podium at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England. (File/Getty Images)

The Commonwealth Games may not carry the prestige of an Olympics, or even a world championship.

But it remains an important marker in every Canadian athlete's schedule — a lower-level test at a multi-sport competition that doubles as a barometer for when the stakes are a little higher.

Diving Canada's high-performance director Mitch Geller said there's much to be learned from the Commonwealth Games.

"It has been such an unveiling of future stars," he said.

Still, Geller said the Games are treated as a destination — not just part of the journey.

"We're hunting for as many medals as possible. We don't look at it just as a stepping stone, even though it can serve as that. We treat it as if it's not that different than an Olympic Games."

Canada is sending 272 athletes to compete in 18 sports and five Para sports from July 28 to Aug. 8 in Birmingham, England.

Daily live coverage will be available on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem, with 10 hours of additional weekend broadcast coverage hosted by Scott Russell and Andi Petrillo.

From new faces to big names, here are some Canadian athletes to watch:

Mia Vallée, diving

Vallée, of Beaconsfield, Que., burst onto the scene at the world aquatics championships, where she earned a pair of medals, including three-metre springboard silver and 1m springboard bronze.

Geller said Vallée, 21, can improve to gold in Birmingham.

"Keep it as pure as possible and just focus on the activity itself rather than the sort of competitive side of it, meaning going in and really trying to display each and every individual component to the best of her ability," he said.

It'll be Vallée's first Commonwealth Games. She's never been to the Olympics.

Josh Liendo, swimming

Speaking of breakout aquatics stars, Liendo broke through in Budapest when he won three medals, including bronze in the individual 100 freestyle and 100 butterfly and as the lead racer in the mixed 4x100 freestyle relay.

In doing so, the 19-year-old from Toronto became the first Black Canadian swimmer to ever climb the podium in an individual event at worlds.

Canada's Josh Liendo competes in the men's 100m butterfly heats at the 2022 FINA world championships on June 23, 2022, in Budapest, Hungary. (File/Getty Images)

Liendo also competed at Tokyo 2020, where his best finish came as part of the national-record-setting 4x100 men's freestyle relay team.

Perhaps more than any other Canadian athlete, the Commonwealth Games can be that "stepping stone" for Liendo.

Summer McIntosh, swimming

For McIntosh, it'll be more about retaining her perch than climbing the ladder.

The Torontonian is emerging from a world championships that saw her walk away with a whopping four medals, including gold in the 200 butterfly and 400 individual medley.

Canada's Summer McIntosh reacts after taking gold in the women's 400m medley finals during the Budapest 2022 World Aquatics Championships on June 25, 2022.
Canada's Summer McIntosh reacts after taking gold in the women's 400m medley finals during the Budapest 2022 World Aquatics Championships on June 25, 2022. (File/AFP via Getty Images)

It was announced Wednesday that due to the busy summer schedule, McIntosh would not compete in the 200 butterfly at Commonwealth.

Her challenge in Birmingham, then, is to maintain the focus that led to so much success and prove it's repeatable.

If she does it, any whisper of doubt over who Canada's next Olympic superstar may be will be put to rest.

Kylie Masse, swimming

And then there's the relative veteran in 26-year-old backstroke specialist Kylie Masse.

The La Salle, Ont., native's decorated career already includes four Olympic medals, eight world championship medals and four more Commonwealth Games podium appearances.

Birmingham is simply one more chance for Masse to go up against some of the world's best swimmer.

Penny Oleksiak, Canada's most decorated Olympian, won't compete in England while Tokyo 2020 Olympic gold medallist Maggie Mac Neil is only racing relays.

Aurélie Rivard, Para swimming

Count 'em: Rivard owns 10 Paralympics medals, reached the podium another 14 times at worlds and added an eye-popping seven at the 2018 Pan Pacs.

Oddly, though, Rivard has just one Commonwealth Games medal — a solitary silver in 2018.

Canada's Aurelie Rivard looks on after competing in the women's 400m freestyle S10 final at the 2022 World Para Swimming Championships on June 14, 2022 in Funchal, Madeira, Portugal. (File/Getty Images)

The St-Jean-Sur-Richelieu, Que., native, who was born with an underdeveloped left hand, is a solid bet to increase that total in England.

Camryn Rogers, athletics

The hammer thrower arrives in Birmingham fresh off a silver medal at the world championships, where she became the first Canadian woman ever to reach the podium in a field event.

Rogers, the 23-year-old from Richmond, B.C., also owns the Canadian and U.S. collegiate records in hammer throw and stands as a three-time NCAA champion.

She placed fifth in Tokyo, signalling that she was close to contention. Another podium appearance in England would confirm that status.

Another notable Canadian thrower, Sarah Mitton, who holds the national record in shot put amid a career year, is also on the Commonwealth Games team.

Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes, beach volleyball

The 2019 world champions haven't quite maintained their fastball in the following years, missing out on the podium at both Tokyo 2020 and the 2022 worlds.

But the flashes of brilliance remain for the duo, which blends Pavan's force with Humana-Paredes' finesse.

Canadian duo Sarah Pavan, left, and Melissa Humana-Paredes, right, react as they compete at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Shiokaze Park on Aug. 3, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (File/Getty Images)

The duo snapped a title drought dating back to 2019 when it won the Latvia Elite 16 event in June, running the table against five Brazilian opponents. Brazil, though, isn't a Commonwealth competitor, which could potentially clear the slate for the Canadians even further.

The newly formed Canadian pair of Brandie Wilkerson and Sophie Bukovec, the reigning world silver medallists, won't compete in England.

Tammara Thibeault, boxing

Thibeault narrowly missed out on becoming the first Canadian woman to stand on the Olympic boxing podium in Tokyo when she lost her quarter-final bout.

It seems to have provided fuel: the 25-year-old Regina native bounced back by winning middleweight gold at the world championships in May.

In Birmingham, Thibeault will attempt to upgrade her 2018 Commonwealth Games bronze medal while showing the world that her recent gold was no fluke.

Kelsey Mitchell, track cycling

Known to teammates as "Quadzilla" for her bulging leg muscles, Mitchell collected Canada's final gold medal of the Tokyo Olympics when she won the sprint event.

The converted soccer player then followed it up by grabbing keirin gold and sprint silver at the Nations Cup in May in Milton, Ont.

A smiling female cyclist rides a bike on an indoor track, clutching a Canadian flag to her chest.
Canada's Kelsey Mitchell celebrates winning the gold medal in women's sprint while holding the flag at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Izu Velodrome on Aug. 8, 2021 in Izu, Shizuoka, Japan. (File/Getty Images)

Mitchell, the 28-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alta., only picked up cycling in 2017 when she was discovered by RBC Training Ground, a program introduced for young athletes to help build Canada's Olympic teams.

Birmingham will mark her first Commonwealth Games.

Bianca Farella, rugby 7s

Montreal's Farella is the lone remaining member of Canada's women's rugby sevens team from Rio 2016, when the squad claimed bronze.

It was a different story in Tokyo, however, with the women placing ninth and the men eighth.

There's been turnover and turmoil aplenty since last summer alone, with accusations of abuse followed by a review which revealed a dysfunctional organization "in a constant state of crisis."

Coupled with a spate of retirements, including captain Ghislaine Landry, Canada's once-mighty women's rugby sevens team now finds itself essentially starting over again.

It'll be partially up to Farella to help lead the next generation.

Maude Charron, weightlifting

Charron may have been Canada's most unexpected Tokyo gold medallist, taking top spot in the in the 64-kilogram division by lifting a combined total of 236kg.

The flag she'll carry into the opening ceremony, as she leads Team Canada alongside wheelchair racer Josh Cassidy, won't quite be so heavy.

The Rimouski, Que., native is looking to defend gold after she set a Commonwealth record in the clean and jerk (122 kg) in 2018.

Charron said after her Tokyo triumph that she hopes to show Canadian women across the country that weightlifting isn't just a men's sport.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Canada's Maude Charron competes in the women's 64kg weightlifting competition during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo on July 27, 2021. Charron captured gold in the event. (File/AFP via Getty Images)

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