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Dylan Armstrong (KAI PFAFFENBACH/Reuters)
Dylan Armstrong (KAI PFAFFENBACH/Reuters)

Olympics

Six months from London, Canada's top athletes focused on day-to-day work Add to ...

As the countdown clock for the London Olympics prepared to hit six months Friday, Canada's top athletes weren't counting.

They had more pressing matters on their minds — namely their next workouts. And the fact that neither Dylan Armstrong, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep nor Catharine Pendrel were even aware of the notable date, let alone planning to mark the occasion, was welcome news to Mark Tewksbury.

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Their focus, said the former swim star and the Canadian team's chef de mission for London, is exactly where it should be.

“I think the athletes right now, there's so many things in their world between this day and the actual Olympic Games, I can totally understand (their focus),” Tewksbury said. “That's great, good to hear.”

Armstrong, the world's top-ranked shot putter last season, has been training in Scottsdale, Ariz., since November and makes sure not to get caught up in the Olympic hype. London, he said, is rarely even mentioned in training.

“It is the Olympics, but the Olympics is just a name, and you can't get caught up in it,” Armstrong said in a phone interview. “I just keep my head down, I've obviously got to try to achieve some big things, but right now I'm focusing on the task at hand and that is to train hard and stay healthy and get my results up as much as I can.”

The 31-year-old Armstrong will be a top medal hope on a Canadian team gunning to top the 18 medals captured four years ago in Beijing, and with an eye on a top-12 finish among the some-200 countries competing.

Pendrel, the reigning world champion in cross-country mountain biking, is in La Quinta, Calif., gearing up for a season of racing that will keep her busy well before the eyes of the world turn to London for the opening ceremonies July 27 at Olympic Stadium.

“That's kind of exciting,” Pendrel said, on being six months out. “But there's still a lot of racing and training to go on before then.

“Obviously I'm anxiously anticipating (London), but not necessarily to the day and every landmark.”

Lopes-Schliep, who won bronze in the 100-metre hurdles in 2008, recently arrived home in Toronto after a few weeks of warm-weather training St. Kitts.

“I'm staying cool as a cucumber and just working hard and pushing myself,” said Lopes-Schliep, who took last season off to have a baby. “I'm taking it day by day and getting through each practice, being efficient and positive, and staying focused and not veering away from that.”

The 29-year-old said closer to London, for added motivation, she might have the Olympic rings as her screensaver on her phone and laptop — right now she has a picture of daughter Nataliya, who's four months old.

“I also have sayings, ‘Dream big, work hard,' little things like that I have around as a daily motivators,” she said. “Once the time comes closer I'll have little notes in my workout book, little things that motivate me.”

Lopes-Schliep said the next six months will surely fly by.

“I thought nine months of pregnancy would have been long, but they went by like the snap of a finger,” she said.

The focus for many Canadian athletes over the next six months will first be on qualifying for London. The fate of the women's soccer team will be determined Friday night in its semifinal game against Mexico at the CONCONCAF qualifying tournament in Vancouver. A victory guarantees Canada an Olympic berth.

“That's the interesting thing with women's soccer. You have two pretty down years where there isn't much going on, and then it's — bam, bam — World Cup, Olympics,” said Canada's captain Christine Sinclair. “It does creep up on you. It comes fast and sooner or later it's over and it's another two years (of down time).”

The men's CONCACAF qualifying tournament is March 22 to April 2 in the U.S. Several other teams — men's and women's field hockey, men's and women's water polo, and women's basketball — have second-chance Olympic qualifying tournaments in the coming months.

The field hockey qualifying tournaments are Feb. 18-26 in Delhi, men's water polo is April 1-8 in Edmonton while the women's water polo tournament is April 15-22 in Trieste, Italy. The women's basketball qualifier is June 25-July 1 in Turkey.

Tewksbury said his job, and that of the Canadian Olympic Committee, is to ensure the athletes can remain focused on training. They'll take care of everything else.

Representatives from every sport will travel to London next month to tour the venues and athletes village.

“The biggest surprise is just what it takes to stage an Olympic Games, when you think of all the different sports and somehow they make this work where everyone descends for 17 days and sport usually goes off very well,” said Tewksbury, who claimed gold in the 100-metre backstroke at the Barcelona Olympics.

The 43-year-old said COC staff faces a massive undertaking, from the outfitting of the team — some 600 athletes and coaches will receive their full gear in London — to transporting equipment.

“Oh my god, just think about it, you've got to get the right visas for all the horses, then you've got the (kayak) shells and the rowing boats, bicycles, javelins, bows and guns. . . It's really mind-boggling when you stop to really think about it,” he said.

Tewksbury, whose position as the team's chef de mission is on a volunteer basis, said the work is increasingly picking up as the Games draw closer.

“It's incredibly huge so of course the Olympic Committee in Canada is full-steam,” he said. “This is the same energy that it is for the athletes, where it gets busier, same thing for the organizers and volunteers behind the scenes.”

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