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Diver Jennifer Abel of Canada speaks at the Canadian Olympic Team opening news conference in London July 27, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)
Diver Jennifer Abel of Canada speaks at the Canadian Olympic Team opening news conference in London July 27, 2012. (MARK BLINCH/REUTERS)

Canadian team hoping for early success in London Add to ...

Canada coils into the starting blocks in London hoping for quick, smooth first strides.

That hasn’t happened at the last two Summer Olympics.

The first seven days of 2008 produced zero medals. The men’s rowing pair and wrestler Carol Huynh ended the drought on Day 8 in Beijing with silver and gold respectively. Wrestler Tonya Verbeek also added a bronze that day.

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A bronze medal in synchronized diving from Blythe Hartley and Emilie Heymans was the lone medal of the opening seven days in Athens. Canada finished with 18 medals in Beijing and a dozen in Athens.

Canada’s London objective is to finish among the top-12 countries. The Canadian Olympic Committee wasn’t putting a hard medal target up Friday at a news conference to kick off the Games. A top-12 result required 24 medals in Beijing.

Whatever that number turns out to be, Canada has to win some and a few early on would help.

“The only thing important here is we did everything to get prepared,” COC president Marcel Aubut said. “The moment we are going to win one is going to be a great moment.

“Of course, we all hope to have that as soon as possible, but we cannot do more than we did, turning every stone and being ready for any moment we have a chance. It’s going to be a great moment when that will happen and tough to predict.”

There are medals on the table for Canada in the first week of competition in rowing, trampoline, diving and track and field. There’s potential in swimming as well.

“Typically Canada, we’re a very strong second-week team, but there’s tons of opportunity this time in the first week,” chef de mission Mark Tewksbury said. “Regardless of a medal on the first, second, third, fourth, sixth day, these guys are going to perform, right?

“The analysts and the pundits are more concerned for those first few days but of course, a medal early can electrify a team and as chef, that’s what I would love to see happen. Especially if it’s not on the radar, that’s the one I’m most hoping for. Someone who we don’t know comes through.”

Almost half of the 277 athletes are first-time Olympians. The team includes 93 coaches. They’re accompanied by approximately 300 support staff. Ian Millar will compete in Olympic equestrian for the 10th time in his career, setting a record for most appearances by an athlete at an Olympic Games.

The women’s basketball team made it to the Games for the first time since the 2000 Games in Sydney, Australia. Canadian coach Allison McNeill revealed all her computer passwords the last four years had “2012” in it.

“The euphoria of getting here is amazing,” she said. “It’s darn hard to get here.”

While Ryan Cochrane could win Canada’s first medal in Saturday’s 400-metre freestyle, the Victoria swimmer’s bread-and-butter race is the 1,500 a week later. Nevertheless, his coach Randy Bennett demands a strong performance in the 400. Cochrane was fifth in the world championships last year after swimming third at the halfway mark of the race.

“I expect him to swim really well,” Bennett said. “He’s swimming quite well in training. He’s done a great job this year. He’s been a proven competitor. Everything is showing that he’s better than he was last year.”

Heymans, from St. Lambert, Que., and Jennifer Abel of Laval, Que., are a better wager in synchronized springboard Sunday. They won silver at last year’s world championship. Heymans, also a silver medallist in the tower in 2008, is a seasoned Olympian.

“We have a good potential of medalling,” Abel said. “Emilie and I are together for two years now. It’s really easy for us to synchronize our dives. We came here in February and were second at the World Cup, so we have a pretty good chance.”

Abel, 20, also took bronze in the individual springboard at the world championship, making her a double-medal candidate here. She finished 13th in Beijing at age 16.

“This Olympics will be my second one,” she said. “With all the experience I have, I know I can give my everything. I’m really prepared to perform.”

While Canadians are longshots for medals in cycling’s road races on the weekend, the events are of interest because of the riders competing.

Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal of Victoria will be the lone Canadian male Saturday. Clara Hughes of Glen Sutton, Que., returns to Olympic cycling after earning four medals in speedskating. Tied with Cindy Klassen as Canada’s most decorated Olympian, Hughes won a pair of cycling bronze at the 1996 Games.

The women’s soccer team has already played its first preliminary-round game — a 2-1 loss to Japan. Canada faces South Africa on Saturday and Sweden on Tuesday.

After the opening weekend, Julia Wilkinson of Stratford, Ont., is chasing a medal in women’s backstroke Monday. The dive duo of Roseline Filion of Laval, Que., and Montreal’s Meaghan Benfeito have podium potential in women’s tower Tuesday.

Former world champion Brent Hayden of Mission, B.C., races the 100-metre freestyle in the pool and the men’s eights rowing team tries to defend its Olympic title Wednesday. The women’s eight and Toronto swimmer Martha McMcCabe in the 200 breaststroke race Thursday.

Then comes what could be a formidable Friday.

Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., will attempt to end Canada’s century-long drought in Olympic throwing events with a medal in shot put. Jason Burnett’s high-risk, high-reward trampoline routines yielded a silver medal in Beijing. The Nobelton, Ont., athlete is in the hunt for more hardware.

When Canada’s athletes attended a COC summit in Toronto in November, they were asked to come up with five words to describe the Canadian team marching into Olympic Stadium for the opening ceremonies in London.

“I’m reminded of those words on this day,” Tewksbury said. “Those words were proud, relentless, world class, unbreakable and fierce. We’re coming in with a unified team, solid and strong.”

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