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Canada's top medal hopes for the 2012 Olympic Games

Olympic gold medalist Eric Lamaze of Canada will be an important part of Canada's medal hopes at the 2012 London Olympic Games. REUTERS/Todd Korol

Todd Korol/Reuters

ATHLETICS

Besides top-rated shot putter Dylan Armstrong, Own The Podium CEO Alex Baumann points to multiple world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien, 2008 Olympic medalist Priscilla Lopes-Schliep - who is having a baby in September - and heptathlete Jessica Zelinka. Men's glamour sprint events belong to Jamaica and the United States, each with seven sub-10-second runners in the 100, and nine of the top-10 times in the 200 this year. Kenyans, Ethiopians and Sudanese dominate from middle distance onward.

BOXING

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Canada's strength in women's boxing resides with the women. Three-time world champ Mary Spencer (75 kg), Sandra Bizier (60 kg) and Mandy Bujold (52 kg) are Canadian champions who will be at the Pan American Games. Of the 10 men's classes, Russia is strongest going to the 2011 worlds in Azerbaijan with eight medals in 2009, including gold medal heavyweight Egor Mekhontsev and light heavyweight Artur Beterbiyev. Cuba and Uzbekistan each got four medals and one title. The United States, once a mainstay in boxing, has fallen off and got a single 2009 silver.

CANOE AND KAYAK

Adam van Koeverden's history in the sport has been stellar, having won an Olympic medal of each colour at the past two Games. Unfortunately, the 500-metre sprint in which he won Olympic gold and silver is no longer part of the Olympic program. However, the 1,000-metre event still remains, and at this distance Van Koeverden has won an Olympic bronze medal and at the world championships three silver and a bronze. Also worth watching is Richard Dalton, who won a bronze medal at the C-1 200-metre sprint at the world championships last year.

CYCLING - BMX

With the retirement of Samantha Cools, who had been the face of BMX in Canada, along came Tory Nyhaug, who returned from a four-month layoff with injuries to dazzle the world. In the elite category for the first time this season, Nyhaug took a silver medal at the European championships, finishing ahead of Beijing Olympic champion Maris Strombergs of Latvia and behind the newest budding star of BMX, Joris Daudet of France.

CYCLING - MOUNTAIN BIKE

Canada has had a tradition of strong female mountain bikers, and this year, two of the top three World Cup competitors are Canadian. Catharine Pendrel has been chasing French cyclist Julie Bresset all season, and defeated her at the toughest event at Mont-Sainte-Anne, Que. this year. Pendrel, now ranked No. 2, finished fourth at the world championships last year and was also fourth at the Beijing Olympics. Quebecker Marie-Helene Premont is the 2004 Olympic silver medalist and is ranked No. 3 in the UCI standings.

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CYCLING - ROAD

Cadel Evans, winner of the 2011 Tour de France, could be named one of Australia's five riders and go for the incredible cycling treble of Olympic gold, world championship and the Tour. Canadian hopeful Ryder Hesjedal was seventh in the 2010 Tour. The road race is 250 kilometres for the men and 140 km for the women, and the time trial 44 km for men and 29 km for women. Canadian Clara Hughes, who won her first two career Olympic medals in cycling in Atlanta before turning to long-track speed skating, and Svein Tuft are Canada's reigning time-trial champions. Tuft was seventh in Beijing, the best Canadian result in that race since 1912. He also won the world silver medal in the time trial in 2008.

CYCLING - TRACK

Canadian track cyclists Tara Whitten and Zach Bell are World Cup champions of the Omnium, and Whitten is also women's world champion as the six-race grind makes its Olympic debut. Whitten defended her world championship in Apeldoorn, Netherlands, winning the top international track event. Maturity and prioritizing play a part for Whitten, 30. She skipped the last World Cup race to focus on the worlds. Bell won the Omnium silver at the 2009 world championships in Warsaw, won the bronze medal in the scratch race at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, and won four races at the 2010 Canadian track cycling championships.

DIVING

At the 2011 world championships in Shanghai in July, China swept all 10 gold medals, leaving the rest of the world to pick up the crumbs. Canada came away tied for fourth, but missing from the lineup was Canada's most storied diver, Alexandre Despatie, out with injury. In the women's 10-metre platform, Montreal diver Meaghan Benfeito was less than two points away from a bronze medal, and had been second after the fourth of five rounds. The medal winners in Shanghai were Jennifer Abel and Émilie Heymans (silver) in 3-metre synchronized springboard while Abel took bronze individually in the 3-metre.

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EQUESTRIAN

Eric Lamaze is poised to win his second consecutive Olympic gold medal in London - not bad considering he missed his first two Olympic Games with positive drug tests. Now the poster boy for second chances, Lamaze is rated the No. 1 rider in the world and his Olympic mount, Hickstead is jumping better than ever. In three-day eventing, which combines dressage, cross-country jumping and stadium jumping, Britain, Germany, Australia and New Zealand reign supreme, but a young, upstart Canadian team, including Selena O'Hanlon, Hawley Bennett-Awad, Stephanie Rhodes-Bosch, and Kyle Carter won a surprise silver medal at the world championships in Lexington, Ky., last fall.

GYMNASTICS

Karen Cockburn, 30, a three-time Olympic medalist, had competed rarely since the Beijing Games, but the Vancouver Olympics inspired her to intensify her training to go for London. And she's easily picked up where she left off, winning two gold medals at a World Cup in Japan in early July. Teammate Jason Burnett, a silver medalist in Beijing, is also still maintaining his seat as the record holder for the highest degree of difficulty in a routine, with a mark of 18.80, set last summer. Canada's brightest star in artistic gymnastics is Brandon O'Neill, who competed while injured at the Beijing Olympics, but who is on a good comeback trail.

ROWING

Tracy Cameron and Lindsay Jennerich, 2010 world champions in lightweight women's doubles have proven to be the stars of the crew so far this season, winning gold at the important World Cup in Lucerne, Switzerland in early July. The women's eight with veteran Lesley Thompson-Willie as cox, has been a powerhouse ever since it won silver at the world championships last November. Olympic silver medalists David Calder and Scott Frandsen are back as a pair for the first time since Beijing and are winning medals. The men's eight floundered early in the season - with only two members from the 2008 gold boat, but have taken on Malcolm Howard from single sculls; he'd been part of the 2008 eights crew that won gold in Beijing. Brian Price, the cox of the Beijing gold-medal team, is back at the helm.

SWIMMING

At the Shanghai world championships, Norwegian Dale Oen broke through for breaststroke gold; Brazil's Olympic gold medalist Cesar Cielo overcame doping allegations before his butterfly win; American Michael Phelps missed gold in two races and blames laziness in training. Canadian freestylers Ryan Cochrane (fifth at 400, qualified third at 800 and Olympic bronze at 1,500) and 2007 freestyle sprint world champion Brent Hayden have medal potential. Canadian women made world finals with 2008 Olympian Jillian Tyler a second off the podium in 100 breaststroke and Canadian record setter Sinead Russell in the 100 backstroke. Annamay Pierse is a world record holder at 200 breaststroke. Canada had three medals and 13 finalists at the last worlds.

TENNIS

Daniel Nestor would be 39 years old by the London Olympics, but he's the second most decorated doubles champion among active players with 73 titles, and an Olympic gold medal from 2000. Imagine him playing doubles with Canadian rising star Milos Raonic, who could also be a factor in singles. Nestor is still at the top of his game, having won the French Open this year.

TRIATHLON

Paula Findlay has rocketed to the top of the standings after having joined the elite class half-way through last year, winning five world championship series races, a record. Among the men, Simon Whitfield is still pacing himself for a top effort in London, after winning the Sydney Games and then finishing second in Beijing with a gritty effort in 2008. Kyle Jones became the first Canadian to defeat Whitfield in a World Cup race in Edmonton 2 ½ weeks ago, finishing fourth (with Whitfield sixth after a messy transition to the 10-kilometre run).

WATER POLO

One of two team sports looked at by OTP after a silver medal two years ago (the other is women's soccer), Canada's veteran women fell surprisingly in the world championship quarter-finals to China. "We made too many mistakes on the defensive end of the pool," said Canada's coach Patrick Oaten. They're expected to get their act together for 2012. The women's world podium will have a different look after Russia stunned the defending champion United States, Greece beat the Netherlands, and Italy defeated Australia 14-12 in other quarter-finals.

WRESTLING

Alex Baumann identified three wrestlers with medal potential on the women's side - Carol Huynh of Hazelton, B.C., who won Olympic gold at 48 kg in Beijing, Tonya Verbeek of Beamsville, Ont., at 55 kg who has won silver and bronze, and 63-kg Martine Dugrenier of Montreal who won three consecutive world women's championships and six world medals overall.

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About the Author
Sports reporter

James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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