Road To The Olympic Games

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Canadian women's teams make statement at Olympics

Almost 60 per cent of Team Canada's Olympic team is made of up women. On Saturday, a quarter of those women, lifted by their own expectations, gave us a striking glimpse of their intent at these Games. Simply put, they came to play.

Canada's relay team wins bronze; rugby, soccer, basketball squads all winners

Canada's 4x100-metre freestyle relay team ended a 20-year women's Olympic swimming drought by winning bronze on Saturday in Rio. (Lars Baron/Getty Images)

By Callum Ng, CBC Sports

Prior to the opening day of the Olympic Games, Team Canada's 314 athletes were just numbers on a page. 

The majority are women  — almost 60 per cent — and on Saturday a quarter of those women, burdened by outside theories of achievement and lifted by their own anticipation, gave us a striking glimpse of their intent at these Games. 

Simply put, they came to play.

Almost routinely, the women's 4x100-metre freestyle relay team lowered the Canadian record by nearly four-seconds in one day en route to a bronze medal. 

It was Canada's first medal of these Games, and more important for the sport, the first women's swimming medal in 20 years.

Sandrine Mainville led off, Chantal Van Landeghem held the pace, before two 16-year-olds in Taylor Ruck then Penny Oleksiak became the present and future of Canadian swimming with one leg each of poised racing. 

The result may surprise some yet this re-surging women's team seemed to know it all along. 

"I think we could see a couple medals honestly, from this women's team," said Van Landeghem, back in April. In the same month her coach Ben Titley, the architect of the relay said, "If they can swim to their maximum on that day in Rio, on day one of the swimming we will be in the hunt for medals."  

The big teams showed up

The pool drama followed an earnest morning at the rugby pitch with the women having waited well over four years to run out for an Olympic rugby game. 

Ghislaine Landry waited only 29 seconds to run past the try-line for Canada's first score against Japan.

It was a breath-taking charge. The 28-year-old obliterated a 10-metre head start to beat defending Yume Okuroda. A short kick of the loose ball and it was over.

Introducing Ghislaine Landry, the overall points leader on the Women's Sevens Series this season.

After their first two games the rugby women outscored Japan and Brazil 83-0. It was expected and blowouts are not uncommon in pool play, but there was a resoluteness to Canada's mood. 

"Australia and Canada both came out very direct with a job to do," said Andrea Burk, former national team player and CBC rugby analyst. 

For the record, Australia didn't allow a point either.

Canada plays Great Britain on Sunday to finish their pool play. 

"Given the results from today I'm expecting to see Canada come out strong with a solid win over Great Britain," said Burk.  

Pool matches are only 14-minutes long, and Burk said momentum can change in a blink, so focus is paramount. 

"Canada is good enough. No doubt about it, Canada is here to medal," she said.

Basketball and soccer shine

Next door to Deodoro Stadium is the Youth Arena where Canada's women's basketball kicked off its tournament against China.

Lisa Thomaidis' squad won 90-68, prompting this from the coach. 

"A great way to start, I couldn't be happier," she said.

It was perhaps a dose of encouraging praise from the typically reserved coach. This is a team cloaked in the glory of a dramatic Pan Am Games gold medal from last summer, where it overturned the world champion Americans. 

It was the first of five Group B games for Canada, which includes another battle with the U.S. set for next Friday.  

If basketball is the new kid on the block, it could learn something from Canada's soccer team, which has also been trying to live up to the hype.

Yet it's that London bronze from four years ago which amplify the Olympic expectations.

"In a way what happened in 2012 was a wonderful moment for Canadian sport but it also raised the bar in terms of expectation," said CBC soccer commentator Nigel Reed.

Like their national sisters on the rugby pitch, the soccer women have also been quick to strike in their two wins over Australia and Zimbabwe. And they have appeared powerful.

"It's always a huge danger to start looking too far ahead," said Reed.

The proof is recent. Canada exited its home World Cup after a quarter-final loss to England last summer. It was a disappointment or about where the team should've landed, depending on who you ask.

The Olympic Games are a lot of things to those who watch, yet Saturday crystallized that the goal is much simpler for the athletes.

"Canada came to play this entire week, not just in swimming but in all sports. We belong here and we belong on that podium," said Van Landeghem with a bronze around her neck.

On Day 1 at least, the Canadian women backed that up. 


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