Rio Olympic 2016·Analysis

Rio offers glimpse of Canada's bright Olympic future

The future looks bright for Canadians in the pool, in the field and on the track. But rowers, kayakers and canoeists face big questions in the run up to Tokyo in four years' time.

Many medalists in Rio are young enough and talented enough to go again in 4 years

Canada's Penny Oleksiak came in Rio with big potential and swam away with four medals and Olympic experience that could serve her well in four years' time. (Lee Jin-man/Associated Press)

By Pete Evans, CBC Sports

The Rio Games are barely over, and after a slow start Canadian athletes turned in a strong performance on the medal table. That's an encouraging sign for Canada's prospects four years from now.

While a lot can change between now and the Tokyo Games in 2020, here's an early look at some of the possible contenders.


Sixteen-year-old Penny Oleksiak gave notice to the world that she's a name to be reckoned with in swimming, but the rest of her Canadian teammates made sure that Rio wasn't just the Penny show.

Never mind the six medals — Canada's best Olympic showing in the pool since 1984 — the experience gained by Canadian swimmers will serve them well down the line.

Oleksiak and her teammates Emily Overholt, Taylor Ruck, Sydney Pickrem, Noemie Thomas, Markus Thormeyer, Javier Acevedo and Yuri Kisil all competed in Rio, and all are just 20 years old and under. So you can expect to be seeing some of those names again in four years' time.

Canada seems poised to do well in the pool in Tokyo, but Penny is clearly the odds-on favourite heading in. Consider that she managed to do something that not even Michael Phelps can claim, which was to win a medal at her first Olympics as a teenager. (Phelps swam in Sydney in 2000 as a 15-year-old, but finished off the podium.)


While Canada had a solid medal haul in the water, it was a different story on top of it. Canada is a historic powerhouse in rowing, but Canadians rowed off with just a single medal, a silver, to Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee in women's double sculls. And Canada's kayak and canoe sprint teams were shut out entirely.

After winning two silver medals on the men's and women's side in the eight-person rowing squad in London, Rowing Canada made the controversial decision coming into these Games to split the iconic men's eight team into two — a lightweight four, and a quad — in an attempt to double the medal chances by competing in more events.

But the gamble didn't pay off, as both teams failed to earn a spot on the podium. Rowing Canada received more funding from Own The Podium — $17 million — than any other sport coming into Rio. With the lack of medals, that likely won't be the case in four years' time. 

At 25, Carling Zeeman has the talent to end Canada's 20-year drought in single sculls. On the kayak side, Adam van Koeverden says he won't be around, having already announced his Olympic retirement. So it's an open question what those in charge of rowing and paddling in Canada have up their sleeve to turn their ship around mid-stream. We've got four years to see what they come up with.

Judo and wrestling

They may fall under the radar in terms of media coverage, but Canadians who tuned into combat events were treated to some strong Canadian performances in Rio.

Montreal's Antoine Bouchard fought his way all the way to the bronze medal match before losing in men's 66-kg judo. It was an impressive performance for the 21-year-old judoka, who's coached by former medalist Nicolas Gill. He's likely got one more Olympics in him at least, should he choose to try for it.

At 26, Antoine Valois-Fortier could be young enough for another Games. And his bronze from London and rank as No. 3 in the world in his weight class makes him a name to remember come 2020.

In freestyle wrestling, Erica Wiebe took home the gold for Canada in women's 75-kilogram freestyle. Her teammate Dorothy Yeats went almost as far, losing the bronze medal match on the 69-kg side. At 27 and 23 years old, both are young enough to go again to try to reach the Olympic podium.

All in all, it was a strong showing on the mat for Canadian athletes, and another positive sign for medal potential in four years' time.

Track and field

They were called the deepest track and field team in Canadian history coming into these Games, and boy did they deliver on that promise. Several Canadians entered the Estadio Olimpico Joao Havelange as medal contenders, and ended up on the podium in women's heptathlon, men's decathlon, men's high jump, and of course, on the track.

With apologies to gold medallist high jumper Derek Drouin, sprinter Andre de Grasse was Canada's biggest star in track and field, helping get Canada back on the podium in the 100 metres, 200 metres and the 4x100-metre relay for the first time in 20 years. 

The best news for Canada is likely that of all its medallists are still young enough to come back and compete again in four years' time, should they decide to.

At 22, pole vaulter Shawn Barber, who came in as the defending world champion and finished a disappointing 10th, likely heads the list of medal hopefuls who will be champing at the bit to come back in Tokyo.

New sports

It's hard to forecast what Canadians from Rio may be around again to compete in Tokyo, but it's especially so in a number of new events that are being added to the Olympic schedule.

That could bode well for Canada, as the country has historically done well in first-time events. For a recent example of that, look no further than the women's rugby 7's team that took home bronze in Rio.

Karate, skateboard, sport climbing and surfing will all make their Olympic debuts in four years time, while the 2020 Games will also mark the return of baseball and softball.

Canada is a strong baseball nation, and the team should be in the hunt for a medal in both the men's and women's draws. As for the rest of the new events, look for Canadian champs like Alannah Yip and Sean McColl in sport climbing, and Andy Anderson in skateboarding to be in the hunt.

And Canadians Noah Cohen and Pete Devries have Olympic ambitions in surfing.


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