How many medals will Canada win in Tokyo?
The pandemic makes Olympic predictions even tougher than usual
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OK, on to the Olympic stuff:
How many medals will Canada win? It's extra-hard to say this time
Even in the best of times, predicting Olympic medals is an inexact science. And the Tokyo Games are not taking place in the best of times. A once-in-a-century global pandemic caused the cancellation of countless world championships, World Cups and other major events over the past year and a half or so, rendering many Olympic athletes unable to compete — or even train properly — for a long stretch of time. International competition regained some normalcy over the last few months, but things remained spotty amid all the travel restrictions, safety concerns and other headaches involved with trying to play sports during a worldwide health crisis.
All this has been tough on the athletes — obviously. And it's also made things more difficult for forecasters like Gracenote, a data company that projects the medal winners for every event in the Olympics based on results from "key global and continental competitions" since the last Summer Games. With those competitions in short supply, Gracenote calls the Tokyo Olympics even "more unpredictable than normal."
The biggest black box is China, which has largely stayed away from international competition since the start of the pandemic. Gracenote says that nearly 80 per cent of the Chinese athletes its model ranks in the top eight in their events have not produced any results in the last year and a half. Still, China is projected to finish second in the medal standings with 33 gold (seven behind the United States) and third in the total count with 66 (the U.S. is projected for 96, and the Russian team is second at 68). But the system could be underrating China's podium chances. "No other top nation has so much missing information," says Simon Gleave, the Head of Analytics for Gracenote Sports.
Bring on the cheers
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Despite all those caveats, it's still fun to dive into the projections for an idea of what to expect and who to watch over the next 17 days in Tokyo. Here are the most interesting things the Gracenote model predicts for Canada, along with some places where I think it might be a little off:
Canada's projected medal count looks very familiar. The model likes Canada to win 21 medals. That's one lower than its total from the 2016 Games in Rio, but one higher than its average over the past three Summer Games. Meanwhile, Canadians are projected to win four gold medals — the same amount they took home from Rio. Gracenote's model projects Damian Warner (decathlon), Jessica Klimkait (judo, women's 57kg division), Meaghan Benfeito and Caeli McKay (diving, women's 10m synchronized event), and Laurence Vincent Lapointe and Katie Vincent (canoe, women doubles event) will reach the top of the podium. The betting markets seem to be informed by Gracenote's projections, but, for what's it's worth, they're more or less in line with the model. The current consensus over/under lines for Canada are 4.5 gold medals and 21.5 total.
More than 80 per cent of Canada's medals will be won by women, according to the model. This is actually down from the eye-popping 95 per cent share it predicted in April, but still remarkable. Yet not surprising. Women accounted for just under three quarters of Canada's medals in Rio. Swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak led the way there with four — two individual, two relay. The Gracenote model has her missing the podium in Tokyo, where it likes Vincent Lapointe, Benfeito and fellow diver Jennifer Abel to tie for the Canadian lead with a pair of medals each — one solo, one with a partner. Other notable projections for Canadian female athletes include: Rosie MacLennan falls just short of her third consecutive women's trampoline gold medal, taking silver; Ellie Black becomes the first Canadian woman to win a medal in traditional gymnastics by finishing second in the all-around event, and 2016 wrestling gold medallist Erica Wiebe also lands silver.
A few places where the Canadian projections might be off: On the pessimistic side, Gracenote's concern that its model is underestimating Chinese athletes appears to manifest with the Benfeito/McKay gold-medal pick. China pretty much owns diving: it won seven of the eight gold medals in Rio, with the men's 3m springboard the only miss. Sure enough, the betting markets have China's 10m synchro duo as a huge favourite. On the optimistic side, Vincent Lapointe was the most dominant women's canoe athlete in the world for the better part of the past decade, winning half a dozen world titles in the singles 200m event, which was just added to the Olympics. But a positive doping test in 2019 (later overturned) took her out of competition for a while and caused her to miss the most recent world championships, which could be skewing her projection downward. It's also curious that the model picks Canada to win only two swimming medals after Canadians racked up eight at the most recent world championships. It has two-time and reigning world 100m backstroke champ Kylie Masse settling for silver in her marquee event, and reigning 100m butterfly world champ Maggie Mac Neil missing the podium altogether. On the men's side, sprinter Andre De Grasse always seems to exceed expectations. He won three medals in Rio (100, 200 and 4x100) and has never missed the podium in an individual event he's entered at the Olympics or world championships. But the model has him leaving Tokyo with just a bronze in the 200.
It's the calm before the storm
With the stage being set for the opening ceremony, not a lot in the way of competition is happening tomorrow in Tokyo (that's tonight and tomorrow morning in Canadian time zones). Here are two things you should know about:
The opening ceremony is tomorrow morning. The show starts Friday at 7 a.m. ET, and live coverage begins at 6:30 a.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website. Olympic opening ceremonies have a (deserved) reputation as over-produced, bloated spectacles. But expect a smaller, more muted display as Japan and the rest of the world continue to grapple with the pandemic. Tokyo's Olympic Stadium will be devoid of fans — if you don't count the considerable number of assorted dignitaries who are invited. Only 30-40 of Canada's 371 athletes are expected to take part — including flag-bearers Miranda Ayim (women's basketball) and Nathan Hirayama (men's rugby sevens). The rest are either competing elsewhere in Japan, on the verge of competing or haven't arrived yet (athletes were asked to show up no earlier than five days before their events). The show has already had its share of controversy. Its director was fired over a Holocaust joke he included in a comedy routine in 1998, a composer resigned over comments he made back in the '90s about bullying, and the creative director stepped down after saying a famous heavyset Japanese comedienne could perform as an "Olympig." Read more about what to expect in the ceremony and how to watch it here.
Rowing competition starts tonight. It's just heats on the first day (medal races don't start until Monday night in Canadian time zones), but this is our first look at Canada's largest rowing team since 1996. Ten Canadian boats (same as in Atlanta) are entered in various events. They're unlikely to match the six medals the '96 rowers brought home, but Canada has a few podium contenders. The best is the women's pair crew of Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens. They won gold at the 2018 world championships and bronze in '19 — the last time the worlds were held. Filmer and Janssens are in the water for their heat on Friday night. Tonight, the Canadians in action are Carling Zeeman (women's single sculls), Trevor Jones (men's single sculls), and Gabrielle Smith and Jessica Sevick (women's double sculls). Heats begin at 7:30 p.m. ET and you can stream them live on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website. Read more about the Canadian rowing team's efforts to rebuild from its humbling one-medal showing in Rio here.
Something else to check out
The 4% Rising newsletter. A study done a few years back found that only four per cent of traditional media coverage was devoted to women's sports. Hence the name of this newsletter focused on growing the audience by telling you what, when and where to watch. Starting Friday, they're focusing on the women's events you should catch in the Tokyo Olympics. You can read the latest edition and subscribe here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.