Canada's track team deepest in years heading into Rio

With the upcoming Canadian Olympic track trials, Canada is looking to field their deepest team in years. But some tough decisions will need to be made when the team is chosen.

60-65 athletes will be taken to the Games, forcing tough decisions

Canadian decathlete Damian Warner headlines the nation's track and field team ahead of the Olympic trials in Edmonton. (Lee Jin-man/The Associated Press)

By Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press

Canadian decathlete Damian Warner was recently scrolling through old photos on his computer from the 2012 London Olympics.

There were pictures of himself, high jumper Derek Drouin, heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton and middle-distance runner Melissa Bishop. All so young at the time, their faces were the future of Canadian track and field.

Four years later, they represent what's expected to be Canada's strongest Olympic track and field squad in decades.

And their success makes for what's sure to be a cut-throat and thrilling Olympic trials this week in Edmonton.

"It's awesome to share the journey with these guys," Warner said of the teammates he's grown up with. "Derek kind of started that back in 2012, winning the medal [Drouin's bronze was Canada's lone track and field medal in London].

"And it's just progressed, it's kind of just building on top of each other, and I think everybody is just inspired by each other because the team is pretty close. [The team's success] has made it easier on everybody, because once you see people having success, everybody wants that and everybody trains harder."

Canada won a record eight medals at last summer's world championships in Beijing, including gold for Drouin and silver for Warner, Theisen-Eaton and Bishop.

Canada has set a conservative goal of two or three medals in Rio.

Tough decisions upcoming

But first the team has to be decided, and it won't be easy. Heartbreak is a given. In arguably the deepest pool of Canadian track athletes ever assembled, 75 athletes have made Olympic qualifying standards. But Canada will only take a team of 60-65 to Rio, up from 42 athletes four years ago.

The top two finishers in Edmonton will automatically make the team, while a third athlete in each event will be a discretionary pick.

Some events are jam-packed. Led by world bronze medallist Andre De Grasse, six men have dipped below the 100-metre standard of 10.17 seconds. On the women's side, six women have achieved the 100-metre hurdles standard, along with five in the 1,500 metres, 400 metres and 3,000-metre steeplechase.

"I think you're going to see one of the best Olympic trials in history and I look forward to all the performances here," said Athletics Canada's head coach Peter Eriksson.

Wednesday morning's opening news conference, held under cloudy skies at Foote Field, also featured reigning world champions Shawn Barber (pole vault) and Guillaume Ouellet (Paralympic 5,000 metres).

An Athletics Canada media official joked that, in years past, it would be tough to find enough decorated athletes to encourage the media to show up. This season is an embarrassment of riches.

Bishop, who's been on a torrid pace this season with two sub 1:59-second 800s already under her belt, said it's special how the team has grown up together.

'It's something really exciting for Canada'

"In 2012, a lot of us that was our first Olympic team, and now in 2016, we've moved up in the ranks together as a team," said the 27-year-old from Eganville, Ont. "And we've done a really good job of staying as a team, these guys are a lot of my really great friends, and we feed off each other's performances and successes.

"You want a piece of it. It's something really exciting for Canada."

In London, Drouin's bronze — in a three-way tie for third — salvaged what would have been a medal-less Olympics for Canada's track team. It came as somewhat of a surprise.

Rio will be a different story.

"It's definitely a different experience than four years ago when we had a handful of 'hopefullys,"' Drouin said. "Heading into Rio, I feel like no matter where you look on the track, you've got a realistic medal opportunity, not some stretch hopefuls.

"It's going to be really cool to watch, and from what people tell me, they're really enjoying watching track and field for the first time in a while, so it's been cool to be a part of that."

The Olympic trials run Thursday through Sunday. The team will be announced Monday.

Canada didn't win a medal at either the 2000 or 2004 Olympics. The team won a pair of gold — by Donovan Bailey in the 100 metres and the 4x100 relay — at the 1996 Games.