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Here are some medal predictions for the most unpredictable Olympics

CBC Sports' daily newsletter looks at a set of forecasts for Tokyo, where the only certainty might be women propping up Canada's medal count.

One thing looks certain: Women will carry Team Canada

Reigning women's beach volleyball world champions Sarah Pavan, left, and Melissa Humana-Paredes are projected to win Olympic gold for Canada. (Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

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The Olympics look more unpredictable than ever — but we can try

Forecasting Olympic medals is an inexact science in the best of times. No one, for instance, envisioned 16-year-old Penny Oleksiak winning four of them in Rio. It's even tougher for the Tokyo Olympics, which open exactly 100 days from today.

Since the Games were postponed a little over a year ago, most athletes have had very few (if any) opportunities to compete against top opponents. So the usual predictive tools — results from recent world championships, World Cups, Grands Prix and other high-end international events — either don't exist or are far less useful this time.

That's the big caveat for the newest round of Tokyo medal projections released by Gracenote, a data company whose statistical model usually gives us a decent idea of which Canadians should make the podium and where Canada will land in the final medal table. Due to the relative lack of key competitions since the last Summer Games, Tokyo is "likely to be the most unpredictable Olympics ever," Gracenote says. As a result, its projections contain "more uncertainty than usual."

Another potential source of chaos they didn't mention: dropouts. It seems possible that several athletes — maybe even whole countries — will end up skipping the Olympics over coronavirus concerns. So far, only North Korea (a relative minnow on the Olympic stage) has said it's not going. But, with the virus currently experiencing a resurgence in many parts of the world, others might be compelled to make the same decision.

Having said all that, here are some takeaways from the medal projections:

The United States will dominate (again). The world's richest and most powerful country has topped the medal standings at five of the last six Summer Olympics (China beat the U.S. when it hosted in 2008). There's little reason to believe that run won't continue as the American sports system remains a force of nature and the country is among the world leaders in coronavirus vaccination. Gracenote forecasts the U.S. will top second-place China in both gold medals (43-38) and total medals (114-85).

Canada will stay about the same. Gracenote's model has Canada winning four gold medals — same as it won in 2016 — and 20 overall — exactly the country's average over the last three Summer Olympics but two less than Canada took home from Rio. The Canadian team places 18th in Gracenote's projected medal table — up two spots from where it finished in 2016.

95 per cent of Canada's medals will be won by women. This is the most eye-catching forecast. Gracenote's only projected male medal winner from Canada is Damian Warner, who's pegged for a silver in the decathlon. All four of Canada's projected gold medals are by women: swimmer Kylie Masse in the 100-metre backstroke, canoeist Laurence Vincent Lapointe in both the singles event and the doubles with Katie Vincent, and the beach volleyball duo of Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes. Other notable predictions for Canadian athletes include: divers Meaghan Benfeito and Jennifer Abel each win two medals (one individual, one synchro with a separate partner), Rosie MacLennan falls just short of her third consecutive trampoline title with a silver, Ellie Black becomes the first Canadian woman to win a medal in traditional gymnastics by taking bronze in the marquee all-around event, and 2016 wrestling gold medallist Erica Wiebe lands silver.

A few places where the Canadian projections might be off: No medals for Andre De Grasse? He's a proven big-race sprinter who's reached the podium in all five individual events he's entered at the world championships or Olympics, and he's also picked up a relay medal on both of those stages. And no swimming relay medals? Canada won three of them at the last world championships, in 2019, and boasts a deep women's roster that includes reigning individual world champions Masse and Maggie Mac Neil, individual medal contender Sydney Pickrem, and Oleksiak, who was part of all three relay medal winners at the last worlds. On the flip side, Gracenote's model might be too optimistic about Vincent Lapointe. Not long ago, she was the most dominant women's canoe athlete in the world. But a provisional doping suspension in 2019 (later overturned) derailed her career, and she lost the race for Canada's only Olympic women's singles spot to Vincent. Also, Canada does not currently have a berth in the doubles event, partly due to Vincent Lapointe's provisional suspension causing her to miss the 2019 worlds. Given that the ban was overturned, Canoe Kayak Canada is petitioning for a spot in the doubles, which would also grant the country another singles entry. But all that remains up in the air. Read more about how Canadian athletes are preparing for this most unusual Olympics in this piece by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux.

Devin Heroux discusses the mindset inside Japan with Olympic Games on the horizon

6 months ago
4:08
CBC Sports' Devin Heroux spoke to Heather Hiscox about the feelings surrounding the Tokyo Olympics, and the logistics behind hosting the Games during a pandemic. 4:08

Bernie Madoff died in prison today — but the Bobby Bonilla deal lives on

Before he became infamous for building the largest Ponzi scheme in history, Madoff had a hand in one of the most famous contracts in sports. Every July 1, Bonilla receives a cheque for nearly $1.2 million US from the New York Mets, even though he hasn't stepped to a major-league plate in two decades now. The payments began in 2011 (10 years after Bonilla retired) and will continue until 2035. By the time they're done, they'll total about $30 million — far above the $5.9 million left on Bonilla's contract when the team agreed to the buyout in 2000.

This sweet deal is the result of Bonilla's agent negotiating an 8 per cent annual interest rate in exchange for deferring payments for 10 years. Most investors would kill for that big a return — especially over multiple decades with zero risk of volatility. So why would the Mets agree to it? A big reason was that the Wilpon family, which then owned the team, believed back in 2000 that it was earning much more than 8 per cent from its investments with Madoff. So deferring the $5.9 million owed to Bonilla freed up more cash to hand Madoff, who (they figured) would continue to grow it at a phenomenal rate.

The bet went bust a few years later when, as some suspected, Madoff's returns were too good to be true and his operation was exposed as a Ponzi scheme. According to a settlement between the Wilpons and a trustee recovering money for Madoff's victims, the Wilpons lost $178 million in certain Madoff investments but made $162 million from others. As part of an agreement that saw Madoff victims get back close to 60 cents for every dollar of principle they lost, the Wilpons ended up owing the trustee about $58 million. And they were still on the hook for that $30 million to Bonilla.

As for Madoff, he was arrested in December 2008 and sentenced to 150 years in prison on June 29, 2009 — two years and two days before Bonilla received the first of his 25 annual payments from the Mets.

Quickly...

The Canadian women's soccer team earned another encouraging pre-Olympic win. After beating Wales 3-0 last week, Canada swept its two-friendly trip to the U.K. by blanking England 2-0 yesterday. The latter result is especially impressive considering the English are ranked sixth in the world (two spots ahead of Canada) and the Canadians were without captain Christine Sinclair (minor injury) and key defender Kadeisha Buchanan (sidelined due to a coronavirus outbreak on her French club team). Despite missing two of its best players, Canada snapped its 10-match winless drought vs. top-10 opponents. Read more about the victories over Wales and England and what they say about Canada's chances of winning a third consecutive Olympic medal in this analysis piece by CBC Sports' Signa Butler.

John Furlong wants to bring the Winter Olympics back to B.C. The head organizer of the Vancouver 2010 Games is pitching a pan-provincial bid for 2030. He thinks the legacy venues and know-how from that event can be the foundation for an Olympics that involves more of B.C. than just the Lower Mainland and the ski resort town of Whistler, which hosted the competitions last time. And he claims it can be cost effective. Read more about Furlong's plan here.

And finally...

Lu Dort's timing is impeccable. Just hours after Canadian basketball fans learned that star guard Jamal Murray was lost for this summer's Olympic push due to a season-ending knee injury, Dort supplied a much-needed ray of sunshine. The second-year NBAer from Montreal scored a career-high 42 points in Oklahoma City's 106-96 loss to Utah. Dort is a high-energy player who does his best work at the defensive end and is also capable of offence bursts. Though his shooting efficiency needs improvement, Dort is averaging 13.3 points per game this season — close to double what he managed in his rookie year. Read more about Dort's big game here.

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