Canada’s astonishing medal pace in the first half of the London Olympics shows the country is getting its summer sport act together.
The team hit the midway point with 10 medals, including a trampoline gold Saturday from Rosannagh MacLennan of King City, Ont.
It took until Day 8 for Canada to win a medal in Beijing. At the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, the first seven days produced one bronze en route to a total of 12.
Canada’s objective of a top-12 finish in the overall medal count among the 204 countries remains in play with eight days of competition remaining. Canada enters the second half in 11th place in the overall medal standings, three behind Italy and two ahead of the Netherlands.
The schedule had a hand in Canada’s medal haul so far. With diving, rowing and trampoline in the first half, chances were good Canada wouldn’t get shut out. But it was up to the athletes to deliver.
The sport revolution that began with Canada winning the bid for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics has spun off to summer athletes.
While the country’s winter athletes were the primary beneficiaries of the changes, the operational model is the same for summer athletes.
Sports that produce athletes with medal potential get money from Own The Podium to pay for training and travel costs, equipment and health services. The federal government funnels approximately $35 million per year to Own The Podium for summer sport.
“One of the main things is money,” said Cochrane. “The government has seen potential in our athletes. Own The Podium has done a fantastic job of making sure athletes have everything they need to be world-class. It was a rough first week in Beijing. I remember we got a bit crucified for it.”
Sport federations are required to have high performance directors oversee athletes’ needs and plot long-term strategy. There’s a new emphasis on coaching, sport science and the importance of an athlete’s medical support team.
“We’re investing in sports that are at the Olympic Games that have had medal possibility and those sports are converting when it counts, which is terrific to see,” Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewksbury said Saturday at Canada Olympic House.
There is a 2010 effect at work in the athletes’ heads as well. Several said prior to these Games they believed they could win medals because they saw their winter counterparts collect a record 14 gold and 26 medals overall in Vancouver and Whistler.
The Canadian Olympic Committee conducted an exit survey on the athletes after 2010. One of the top-three difference-makers for them, said Tewksbury, was “we felt part of one Team Canada that was unified.”
“We knew that in the summer, we had to create that same kind of environment,” he said. “There’s no silos on this team.”
A synchronized dive bronze from Emilie Heymans of St-Lambert, Que., and Jennifer Abel of Laval, Que., on Day 2 opened the pressure valve for the Canadian team.
Athletes considered “medal hopefuls” rather than “medal favourites” then delivered. Weightlifter Christine Girard of White Rock, B.C., and the synchro dive team of Montreal’s Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion of Laval, Que., fell into that first category.
On the same Day 4 those women produced bronze medals, Antoine Valois-Fortier of Quebec City gave Canada an unexpected bronze in judo.
“We always said we’d hoped we have a dark horse early in the Games that came through,” Tewksbury. “That was definitely electrifying.
“That was one you could tell really touched people. Everybody hopes that can happen to them. When you see it happen, it becomes a reality.”
Brent Hayden of Mission, B.C., won freestyle bronze and the men’s rowing eight silver on Day 5, with the women’s eight repeating silver Day 6.
MacLennan ensured Canada had that precious gold coming out of the first half Saturday. The women’s track cycling team of Edmonton’s Tara Whitten, Jasmin Glaesser of Coquitlam, B.C., and Victoria’s Gillian Carleton added bronze in the team pursuit while swimmer Ryan Cochrane of Victoria capped Day 8 with a silver in the 1,500-metre freestyle.
There were medal misses in the opening eight days. Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., fell into the “medal favourite” category, yet didn’t throw close to his personal best in shot put to finish fifth.
Rowing pair Dave Calder of Victoria and Scott Frandsen of Kelowna, B.C., couldn’t repeat their medal-winning performance of four years ago. The lightweight women’s double sculls team of Victoria’s Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee, world silver medallists last year, didn’t make the final.
Rowing finished with two medals when four was achievable. The team wanted to have crews in five or six finals, but only made three.
“I just need to go do some reflection with the coaches and the athletes and find out what really happened here,” said Rowing Canada high-performance director Peter Cookson. “Everything’s up for review. We’re going to look at everything.”
The swim team intended to swim in well over 10 finals, but only made seven. A silver medallist in Beijing, Jason Burnett of Nobleton, Ont., crashed out of the men’s trampoline final early with a miss on his second element.
In the second half, mountain biker Catharine Pendrel of Harvey Station, N.B., and kayaker Adam van Koeverden of Oakville, Ont., are contenders for gold.
Canada’s other medal hopefuls include canoeist Mark Oldershaw of Burlington, Ont., wrestlers Carol Huynh of Hazelton, B.C., and Tonya Verbeek of Thorold, Ont., track cyclists Zach Bell of North Vancouver, B.C., and Whitten in omnium, open-water swimmer Richard Weinberger of Surrey, B.C., and Karine Sergerie of Sainte-Catherine, Que., in taekwondo.
Abel and Heymans will go for their own medals Sunday in individual women’s springboard. Alex Despatie, also of Laval, is more of longshot for a third Olympic medal in men’s springboard because of a head injury a few weeks ago.
The women’s soccer team will play for a medal of some colour. They face the U.S. in Monday’s semifinal at Old Trafford. The women’s basketball team meets Australia in Sunday’s quarter-final.
Mary Spencer of Wiarton, Ont., opens her bid Sunday for one of the first medals awarded in women’s boxing.
“We’re halfway through. It’s a long way to go, ” said Tewksbury. “We’ve got to find ways to keep the spirit and momentum going.”
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