The one thing that could hold first-time Canadian Olympians back in London

The London Olympics are seen as somewhat of a transitional Games for Canada, with many decorated athletes like Simon Whitfield, Clara Hughes and Karen Cockburn drawing close to the end of their careers. As Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewksbury toldBruce Arthur of The National Post, "We're waiting for the next round of Canadian heroes to emerge." That emergence isn't easy, though, and although Canada has plenty of young, talented athletes entering their first Games, that won't necessarily translate into medals. One major reason why, according to Olympic athletes themselves? Inexperience.

This isn't inexperience in absolute terms, as you have to be an incredibly dedicated athlete just to make it to the Games. Many of these athletes have been competing in their chosen sport since childhood and have shone at big international events like the world championships, the Commonwealth Games and the Pan-American Games. However, the Olympics themselves are an entirely separate kettle of fish, as the media coverage, intense fans and worldwide television audience combine to ratchet up the pressure to a new level. For many first-time Olympians, dealing with that vastly different atmosphere may prove challenging. It certainly did for Canadian diver Jennifer Abel, who told Ed Willes of The Province that she had a tough time adjusting to the Olympic environment four years ago in Beijing:

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Now that she's a wily veteran, Jennifer Abel can look back to four years ago and realize she was ill-prepared for her first Olympic Games.

Beijing represented her first stay in an athletes' village. It was her first exposure to the biggest stage in international sport. She thought she was ready for everything that was coming at her. But now, with a perspective that can only be gained through experience, she understands nothing could have prepared her for her first Olympics.

"I'd never seen anything like that," said the native of Laval, Que., a legitimate medal threat in both the individual and team springboard events in London. "Now I see it and I know what I have to do to be prepared."

That may have been particularly true for Abel, who was only 16 at the time of the Beijing Games, but even older first-time Olympians have adjustments to make. For example, beach volleyball players Josh Binstock, a 31-year-old from Richmond Hill, Ontario, and Martin Reader, a 28-year-old from Comox, B.C., have been playing their sport for most of their lives and have faced plenty of hostile crowds, but they'll be entering a rather different environment when they face the hometown Brits before a likely-rowdy crowd of 15,000 Saturday. The Olympics are on a completely different scale from every other competition in most of these sports, and that's not easy to adjust to.

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This is where people like Tewksbury come in. The work he and his team have done to make the Canadian section of the athletes' village feel comfortable for competitors may seem like a minor part of the Games to some, but it could be crucial to helping first-time Canadian Olympians adjust. Tewksbury's also there to act as a mentor and cheerleader for athletes, and his efforts to provide a strong support network for them could be a vital part of helping them overcome the Olympic adjustment; many past gold medalists have cited the influence of those who came before. Experience is still vital, of course, and inexperience will still present the Canadian team with challenges, but the efforts to mitigate that could have a substantial impact on how well this "transitionary" Olympics goes for Canada.

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