London 2012: Seven Canadians To Watch

Yesterday I gave a look at some Olympians to watch from around the world. Today I focus on Canadians. Canada ranks seventeenth on the all-time list of total Summer Olympic Medals with a total of 260 including 58 gold. Our most medaled Summer Olympics, both in golds and total, is the 1984 Los Angeles Games which was boosted by the boycott of Soviet-allied nations and allowed the team to take home 44 medals including 10 gold. In terms of fully-contested Olympics, our most medaled are the 1996 Atlanta Games with 22 and our most golden are the 1992 Barcelona Games with 7. Here in London, Canada has sent a team of 277 athletes in 24 sports. Canada has strong expectations for the team in London and the athletes have their own personal expectations. Sports Illustrated even predicted for Canada to win seventeen medals including two golds. Here are six Canadian athletes and one team to keep an eye on in London:
 -Adam van Koeverden – Canoeing: Kayakers are not necessarily Canada’s most celebrated athletes. Adam van Koeverden is one of the few. Interestingly enough he trains at a retreat with no plumbing or electricity. It must be doing something right. Back at the 2004 Olympics nothing was expected of him but he came away with a gold and a bronze. His medal wins were an upper for the Canadian team as they experienced a lot of disappointment in Athens. By 2008 he was the reigning 500m World Championships and was heavily favored to win both solo kayaking events for men. He was even Canada’s flag bearer for the opening ceremonies. The pressure must have got to him because he finished 8th in the 1000m and won silver in the 500m. 2011 saw him return to the title of World Champion, in the 1000m. Will he be all there at Dorney Lake? It will all be decided August 8th.
-Alexandre Despatie – Diving: Seems like just yesterday he was the 13 year-old prodigy that won the tower event at the 1998 Commonwealth Games or the 15 year-old from Sydney 2000 who finished fourth. Twelve years later he’s now a three-time World Champion, a two-time Olympic silver medalist and nearing the twilight of his career. However things took a turn for the scarier in June as he hit his head on the springboard while practicing an inward 3 1/2. He has since healed up and even reattempted that dive in practice two weeks ago with success. Already Sports Illustrated has him as diving’s underdog story. Does he have one last hurrah for us in London? Stay tuned.
-Jennifer Abel – Diving: As one Canadian diver’s legacy appears to be coming to an end, another appears to be starting. Jennifer Abel actually made her Olympic debut in Beijing just before her 17th birthday but her diving career has taken off greatly. She won two golds and a silver in the springboard events at the 2010 Commonwealth Games. She also won silver in 3m synchro teamed up with Canadian vet Emilie Heymans and bronze in 3m solo at the 2011 World Championships. Come London she will face challenges from China’s diver He Zi and Wu Minxia who both finished ahead of her in both events. But no matter where she finishes in London, it will all be to her advantage as the best of her is still yet to come.
-Mary Spencer – Boxing: Women’s boxing has gone from the sleazy novelty of ‘foxy boxing’ to a serious sport in the last decade. Here in London will be the first time women boxers will compete for Olympic medals. Canada’s best hopes rest on former World Champion Mary Spencer. The 27 year-old southpaw who’s of Ojibway heritage won her first World Middleweight Championship in 2005 at the age of 20. She has since won the World Champion title twice again in 2008 and 2010. However she lost in the Round of 32 at this year’s Worlds. London is the best place for her to regain her supremacy. Will she do it? Only time will tell.
-Catharine Pendrel – Mountain Biking: It seems like ever since Mountain Biking has been added to the Olympic program back in 1996, there’s always been one Canadian woman after another amongst the best in the world. It all started with Allison Sydor winning silver in 1996, then Marie-Helene Premont winning silver in 2004. Now the torch has been passed to Catharine Pendrel and she has quite a resume. She finished 4th back in Beijing but her career has taken off ever since with winning the 2010 World Cup series and last year’s World Championships. She recently won the Olympic test event at Essex’s Hadleigh Farm. Sports Illustrated even predicted her as the one to win the Olympic Mountain Biking event. Will she do it? August 11th is the day for her to deliver.
-Carol Huynh – Wrestling: Carol was the first Canadian to win gold at the Beijing Olympics and she could do it again here. She has won World Championship medals since 2000 and she has won gold at the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games. However she missed out on the medals at last year’s Worlds. Nevertheless she has been preparing well and is confident her knee injury has healed. Sports Illustrated preditcted three Canadian women to win medals in wrestling and she’s one of them. Mark your calendar August 8th.
-Canada’s Track and Field team: Canada is not known as a track and field country. In fact it was even pointed in a recent news article that there are many third world countries that have bigger fanfare and a bigger investment in the sport than Canada and even better overall showings at World Championships. Nevertheless Canada has consistently produced Olympic medalists, Olympic champions and even greats like sprinters Percy Williams and Donovan Bailey. Who does Canada have for this year? Canada’s best chances for the men come from shot putter Dylan Armstrong who won the silver at last year’s Worlds. However his best put this season has been surpassed by seven other putters. He will have to throw a seasonal best if he wants to win a medal. Canada’s best chances for the women come from heptathlete Jessica Zelinka. She has also qualified for the 100m hurdles event but it’s the heptathlon that she specializes in. She finished 5thback in Beijing and at this year’s Olympic trials she delivered a personal best total that’s currently the 4th best in the World. If she’s on the ball in London, she could win a medal. And don’t count out any of the lesser-favored Canadians. Anything can happen in the heat of Olympic competition.
And there you have it. Six athletes and one team from Canada to look out for in London. When the Games begin the night of Friday July 27th, there will be seventeen days of thrilling moments, national pride and history in the making. An event like this that only comes around every four years is definitely worth being a part of.