Summer Sports·Analysis

Canada's best Summer Olympics ever might be just the start

The Tokyo Games are over. But Canadian athletes should be delivering plenty more memorable moments in the weeks, months and years to come.

After so many thrilling moments in Tokyo, the future looks bright

Christine Sinclair and Julia Grosso helped deliver one of the biggest victories in Canadian Olympic history. And they weren't alone. (Francois Nel/Getty Images)

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They arrived a year late, under dark clouds of doubt and anxiety over whether they should take place with a global pandemic still burning. No fans were allowed to watch them in person. No one could be sure they wouldn't end in disaster. But, thanks to the tremendous efforts and determination of thousands of athletes, coaches, officials, volunteers, organizers and everyone else involved, the Tokyo Olympic Games happened. Safely. And aren't you glad they did?

Some closing thoughts on these wild, weird, wonderful — and extremely memorable — Games:

Canada had its best Summer Olympics ever

Track cyclist Kelsey Mitchell's surprising gold last night in one of the last events gave Canada its 24th medal. If you don't count the boycotted 1984 Games in Los Angeles, that's the most ever by this country at a Summer Olympics — breaking the record of 22 shared by the 1996 and 2016 teams. Canada's seven gold medals is also a national high for a non-boycotted Games, matching the number won in 1992.

OK, there are more events (and more podium opportunities) in the Olympics now than back in the day. And Canada sent its largest team — 371 athletes — since those L.A. Games. But they exceeded almost everyone's expectations. Oddsmakers, for instance, set the over-under for the country's total medals at 21.5, and gold medals at 4.5. Canada blew past those numbers.

It wasn't just quantity, either. The quality of these medals was exceptional. Canadians shined in swimming and track and field — the Summer Olympics' two traditional marquee sports. Penny Oleksiak kicked things off on Day 2 with her blistering anchor leg to win silver for Canada in a women's relay, then went on to capture her sixth and seventh Olympic medal — a new record for a Canadian Olympian. Maggie Mac Neil, who won Canada's first gold in Tokyo, and Kylie Masse also swam to three of Canada's six medals in the pool. After the focus shifted to the track last weekend, Andre De Grasse took over, sprinting to his first gold medal (in the 200m) and repeating as bronze medallist in both the 100 and 4x100 to complete his second consecutive Olympic podium triple. Damian Warner won the decathlon — considered the ultimate test of all-around athleticism — with an Olympic-record score and was chosen to carry the Canadian flag at the closing ceremony. Moh Ahmed ran to silver in the men's 5,000m — Canada's first Olympic medal at that distance or longer. Evan Dunfee took bronze in the men's 50km race walk — the longest foot race in the Olympics.

Two other gold medals came in time-honoured competitions: the women's eight rowing team pulled off a thrilling upset to win their sport's most revered race, while Maude Charron prevailed in the ancient sport of weightlifting.

Plus, in the signature Canadian moment of these Games, the country won its first Olympic gold in the world's most popular sport when the women's soccer team shocked Sweden in a heart-stopping penalty shootout on Friday.

Canadian athletes also delivered in another important category: not a single one of them tested positive for COVID-19 in Tokyo. That doesn't happen by accident either.

Women carried the Canadian team — again

The IOC touted Tokyo 2020 as "the first gender-equal Olympic Games." But, in many ways, Canada is ahead of the curve. Eighteen of its 24 medals — three quarters — came in women's events, including five of the seven gold. This was no surprise. Nor was it new. At Rio 2016, women accounted for 16 of Canada's 22 medals, and three of the four gold. Women are the strength of Canada's Summer Olympic team.

The country is noticing. Penny Oleksiak's races were appointment viewing. The women's eight's surprising gold-medal victory electrified the nation that evening. And the women's soccer team's improbable and incredible gold-medal victory on Friday was the most-watched event in Canada, drawing 4.4 million viewers on TV alone.

Canadian women made a difference outside the lines too. Before the Games started, boxer Mandy Bujold fought — and won — a legal battle to ensure she wouldn't be denied a spot in the Olympics just because she'd been pregnant or recently given birth when her qualifying events took place. Basketball player Kim Gaucher persuaded organizers to relax their pandemic-time rules barring friends and family from Tokyo so that she and other athlete-moms could breastfeed their children.

The future is bright

Witnessing something as thrilling as Julia Grosso scoring the golden goal in the soccer shootout, or De Grasse sprinting to his first Olympic title, or Penny burning up the last lap of the pool to become the most decorated Canadian Olympian of all time is its own reward. We'll be replaying this stuff in our heads, and on YouTube, forever.

But these moments can have a lasting impact too. How many Canadian boys (and girls) will take up sprinting because of De Grasse? How many girls (and boys) will learn how to swim because of Penny? How many kids will try kicking a soccer ball like Grosso or Jessie Fleming or Deanne Rose after watching them score clutch goals in that shootout? How many of us, no matter our age or what we do, will resolve to tackle our next pressure situation with the confidence and tenacity of Steph Labbé?

And make no mistake: this current generation of Canadian Olympic athletes is not done. De Grasse is only 26. Penny is still just 21, somehow. Soccer icon Christine Sinclair is in the twilight of her career at 38, but she hasn't closed the door on another Olympics. Even if it's not in the cards, her younger teammates showed they're ready to step up.

The next Summer Olympics, in Paris, are only three years away — an accidental benefit of Tokyo being delayed by a year. But we don't even have to look that far ahead. The 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing are just six months away, if you can believe it. Right now, 128 Canadian athletes are preparing for the Tokyo Paralympic Games, which open in two weeks.

And so, this is the end. But also maybe just the beginning.

A note about this newsletter

The Buzzer is taking a much-needed week off before returning Aug. 16 — a week before the Paralympic Games begin. We'll continue to keep you in the know about Canada's Summer and Winter Olympic athletes, plus all the other sports Canadians care about. So, if you enjoyed our daily Tokyo 2020 updates, stay subscribed and look for us every weekday in your inbox.

Something else to check out

Want to continue following your favourite Olympic athletes beyond Tokyo 2020? Watch the Olympic Channel, a 24-hour digital livestream giving you up-close access to the greatest moments from Olympic sports. Programming resumes on CBC Gem starting Aug. 16.

Bye for now. Talk to you soon.

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