Road To The Olympic Games

Rio Olympic 2016

Canadian team aims for top-12 finish in medal standings

Canada's Olympic team is hoping for a top-12 finish in medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Chef de mission Curt Harnett believes Canadian athletes will win 19-plus medals in Rio

Canada's chef de mission Curt Harnett says Canada is on pace to reach its goal of a 12th-place finish in Rio. (Ryan Remiorz, The Canadian Press)

Lowi Ewing, The Canadian Press

A Canadian team in "beast mode" will carry lofty ambitions into the Rio Olympics but with plenty of recent success to back it up.

The Canadians ride a wave of momentum into these Games that has included 34 top-five world championship performances in the past year, plus a strong showing at last summer's Pan American Games in Toronto.

The international results, says Canadian chef de mission Curt Harnett, show Canada is on pace to reach its goal of a top-12 finish in the final medal standings.

"Our athletes' performances on the international stage have been incredible, and have kept our athletes on track with this goal," said Harnett, a three-time Olympic cycling medallist. "It has been such an honour to see them in beast mode over the last few months on the road to Rio."

Two days before the curtain comes up on the 31st Games with the opening ceremonies, the Canadian Olympic Committee held its traditional kickoff news conference. The overriding theme was: Canada's ready.

A solid start

The Canadian women's soccer team got the ball rolling with a 2-0 victory over Australia on Wednesday in Sao Paulo.

Harnett believes Canada's 314-member team — 186 women and 128 men — will win in the range of 19-plus medals, which would be one more than the Canadians brought home four years ago from London. Rosie MacLennan's victory in trampoline was the team's only gold, and earned her the honour of carrying Canada's flag in Friday's opening ceremonies at Maracana Stadium.

Topping 20 medals would be a significant accomplishment for Canada — the last time that happened was 1996 (22 medals).

Adversity for the COC

The leadup to these Games has been rife with negative news, both at home and in Brazil.

The COC was left reeling last fall when president Marcel Aubut resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.

The fallout continued when Jean-Luc Brassard quit as chef de mission. Harnett stepped in to reprise his role at last year's Pan American Games in Toronto.

Tricia Smith, an Olympic rowing silver medallist who replaced Aubut, believes the COC is going to "come out of this a stronger and better organization."

"I think we probably have to make sure we regain the trust of Canadians because of what happened last fall, and I think we're really on the road for that," she said. "I think we're a different organization now."

Canadian team not fazed by polluted waterways

In Rio, meanwhile, the plotline has been far from positive as concerns about crime, polluted water, and the Zika virus have cast a pall over the first South American host in Olympic history.

Canada lost a decent medal threat when tennis star Milos Raonic pulled out of the Games over concerns about Zika.

Rio's polluted waterways are also raising alarm bells. An Associated Press study found that days before the Games open, the water is as filthy as ever, contaminated with raw human sewage and teeming with dangerous viruses and bacteria.

The findings prompted a biomedical expert to warn travellers to Rio: "Don't put your head under water."

The COC, however, insisted they've received no negative reports about the water quality. Harnett went so far as to say "Some of the venues are coming back with water qualities in the 'excellent' range."

Canada's medal run, meanwhile, will likely be lead by its mighty track and field team, which made an historic eight marches to the podium at last summer's world championships.