Rio Replay? Canada following similar medal path over first half of Tokyo Olympics

For the second Summer Olympics in a row, a strong opening week has Canada in position to make a run at topping its all-time medal high at a non-boycotted Games.

And just like five years ago in Rio, it’s Canadian women leading the charge.

With the swim team again setting the early tone, Canada entered Sunday’s competition with 12 medals in Tokyo (three gold, four silver, five bronze), all won by women. Canada was on pace to challenge the 22-medal mark set in 1996 at Atlanta and equalled in 2016 at Rio.

“We’ve had a really lovely, steady stream of medals,” Canadian chef de mission Marnie McBean said Saturday. “There’s no seal on the door to the medal podium or the medals room. I think that’s what Team Canada is finding.

“There’s a lot of joy around and a lot of focus.”

In 2016, Canada had 11 medals over the first eight days of competition following the opening ceremonies. Women won 16 of Canada’s 22 medals that year.

Kylie Masse took silver Saturday in the 200-metre backstroke for her second podium appearance in Tokyo, earning Canada its fifth swimming medal. It also marked the second straight Games where women have won the first 12 Canadian medals.

“I think it’s so empowering and inspiring to be surrounded by so many successful and dedicated athletes,” Masse said. “To have them all be female right now, it’s so empowering and so special. Hopefully it’s an inspiration to younger kids in sport, not even just in sport, but in all aspects of their life.

“They can achieve whatever they want as long as they work hard, stick to their process and enjoy it. I think they can do anything they believe.”

McBean said Canada is a nation that “takes inclusion to heart.”

“It’s not just a word, it’s not just a bullet point on the page,” she said. “But our sport system does support women and we value strong competitive women.”

Masse won silver in the 100 backstroke earlier in the Games. Other Canadian swim medallists include Maggie Mac Neil (100 butterfly gold) the 4 x 100 freestyle team (silver) and Penny Oleksiak (200 freestyle bronze).

There have also been several podium near-misses.

In the pool, Oleksiak finished fourth in the 100 free, Summer McIntosh was fourth in the 400 free and two relay teams were fourth. Also just missing a medal were the men’s rowing pair, women’s synchro divers in the 10-metre tower, trampolinist Rosie MacLennan and weightlifter Boady Santavy.

Entering Saturday night, Canada had 25 top-five finishes in Tokyo. Joining Mac Neil at the top of the podium this week were weightlifter Maude Charron and the women’s eight rowing team.

“I’m amazed at the Canadian level of high performance now,” said McBean, a three-time Olympic rowing champion. “We believe that gold medals are ours.”

Canada won 18 medals (2-5-11) at the 2012 Games in London, four years after winning 20 (3-9-8) at Beijing. Canada’s all-time best was 44 (10-18-16) in 1984 at Los Angeles, a Games boycotted by the Soviet Union, East Germany and several other countries.

The Canadian team in Tokyo has 226 women and 145 men on its roster for a total of 371 competitors. There were 315 athletes on the national team in Rio (187 women, 128 men).

There is plenty of medal potential for Canada over the second half of the Games.

Andre De Grasse and Damian Warner are names to watch at the track, Erica Wiebe is a medal threat again in wrestling and the women’s soccer team has reached the semifinals. Canoe/kayak, basketball, boxing, sport climbing and track cycling are some of the many sports featured on the back half of the schedule.

“We’ve got a team here that feels that they are ready to perform because the Canadian sport system is on their side,” McBean said. “They are coming here and they’re feeling proud about their preparation and are ready to go.”

Competition continues through Aug. 8.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2021.

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