As Canada’s Olympians return home, another crop of athletes is heading to London.
The Canadian Paralympic team was officially named Tuesday during a send-off at Toronto’s Pearson Airport. Some 145 athletes will suit up in 15 sports for Canada, which is aiming for a top-eight finish in the medal standings.
Canada finished seventh four years ago in Beijing with 50 medals, including 19 gold. But chef de mission Gaetan Tardif says with every Games, the competition gets more difficult.
“Some of the very large countries that in the past never embraced Paralympics, Ukraine, Brazil, particularly preparing for Rio, they are making our competition increasingly difficult,” said Tardif. “But in a way that’s great for the Paralympic movement.”
The Canadian team is a mix of veterans and rookies.
“It feels very exciting and very nervous,” said judo athlete Justin Karn of Guelph, Ont. “(It’s) very stressful as I want to do very well for Canada and for myself.”
It will be the 31-year-old’s first Paralympics. The visually impaired athlete won bronze in the 60-kilogram class at the Parapan American Games last fall in Guadalajara, Mexico.
Wheelchair basketball player Tracey Ferguson of Toronto will be one of the leaders of the Canadian team in London as she competes in her sixth Games.
“It never gets old,” the 38-year-old Ferguson said before boarding a plane for London. “If anything it gets more exciting ... It’s a huge sense of pride.”
Ferguson is looking to add to the three gold medals she won in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
Other members of the team include wheelchair racers Josh Cassidy, Michelle Stilwell and Diane Roy. Cassidy won the Boston Marathon last spring while Stilwell is a triple gold medallist and Roy is a five-time medallist.
Wheelchair tennis player Joel Dembe says he was inspired by Canada’s Olympians, who finished the Games on Sunday with 18 medals (one gold, five silver, 12 bronze).
Dembe said he was keeping a particularly close eye on tennis star Milos Raonic, who was eliminated in the second round of the London Games following a marathon loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France.
“He played probably better than people expected,” said Dembe. “And that’s what I’ve got to look at, to play beyond people’s expectation.”
The Olympic tennis tournament was held at the storied Old England Club but wheelchair tennis will be played at Eton Manor in East London.
Some 4,200 athletes from 160 countries will compete at the Aug. 29-Sept. 9 Games, many of them at venues that were used for the Olympics.
“I just arrived from the Olympic Games yesterday,” said Bal Gosal, Canada’s minister of state for sport. “All the venues are ready.”
Brock Richardson, a 19-year-old boccia player who has cerebral palsy, is hoping to improve in his 10th-place in Beijing four years ago.
“I’m pumped and ready to do my second Games,” said the Toronto native. “I expect to better that result and hopefully get on the podium.”