Rio Olympic 2016

Why Canada's medal tally is already on par with London 2012

With days to go until the closing ceremony in Rio, Canada has already matched its medal total from London 2012, quadrupled its number of gold medals, and is poised to reach the goal set our by Own The Podium for Rio 2016.

Team Canada is 1 medal shy of reaching Own The Podium goal for Rio

Clockwise from top left, Penny Oleksiak, Rosie MacLennan, Derek Drouin, and Erica Wiebe . (Getty Images)

By Nick Murray, CBC Sports

The Rio Games have yet to come to a close, but Canada has already matched its medal total from London 2012, and quadrupled its number of gold medals.

Andre De Grasse's silver medal in Thursday's 200-metre final brings Canada's tally to 18 medals, one shy of the goal set out by Own The Podium (OTP) coming into Rio.

The big change since London 2012 was OTP moved toward funding programs that had the best shot at winning a medal.

The two biggest standouts these Games have undoubtedly been the swim and athletics teams, both of which have already surpassed their own respective medal totals from London — and that's not by accident.

With help from OTP, both programs — which are among the highest funded summer sports —  hired new high-performance directors in 2013 in John Atkinson and Scott MacDonald, who respectively revamped their programs.

"The dramatic improvement in those two sports is really a testament to the leadership of those two high-performance directors," said Own The Podium CEO Anne Merklinger.

"For those two organizations to have the kind of change that they have within their sport, that's hard. Change is hard. And both organizations implemented important changes that are definitely impacting the performance here."

Swimming, for example, had a conscious effort to grow a medal-winning relay team, and in the process it sprouted some individual results ahead of schedule.

"It was a very deliberate strategy for Swimming Canada to look at those particular athletes who could contribute to podium performances in the relay. The younger athletes that swam so well in Rio, they were brought in to be part of that relay strategy," Merklinger said.

"Some of those athletes were tracking for individual performances for 2020. But the way it works, as we often see in the Olympic Games, they won a medal in the 4x100 metre relay on Day 1, and they grew with confidence."

And the results are paying off. Not only has Canada doubled its swimming medal total from London 2012 – all thanks to the women swimmers, who were kept off the podium four years ago — but the pool of swimmers is deep, young, talented, and subsequently well-funded.

Closing in on a Canadian Olympic record

Sharing the headlines with the swim and athletics team has been Canada's women themselves, who've not only owned the podium, they've dominated it.

The Canadian women have earned 14 of the country's medals so far – five more than the female athletes combined for in London – and are closing in on Canada's record for most medals won by Canadian women in a single Summer Games.

That benchmark was set at the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, where Canada's female athletes reached the podium 16 times, including four gold medals.

Merklinger said they knew going into Rio the women would likely have a larger piece of the medal pie than the men. That too, she said, wasn't by accident.

"As a technical agency, one of our responsibilities is to look at where there are some strategic opportunities, and women's events at the Olympic Games are some of those," Merklinger said.

"It was a very deliberate, collaborative discussion with the national sport organizations to say [figure out] we need to invest [in], and what technical support [they] need to take those athletes that are finishing in top-eight and accelerate their progression so they're on or near the podium."


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