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Flame lit, Canadian athletes primed to compete at London Olympics

Jim Morris
Eh Game

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Canada's flag bearer Simon Whitfield leads the country's contingent in the opening ceremony. (Reuters)

Primed, proud and ready to go.

The torch has been lit and Canada's Olympic athletes are ready to strut their talents as competition begins Saturday at the London Games. Bolstered by Canada's success at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, the country's summer athletes are anxious to reach the lofty standards set by the Canadian Olympic Committee.

"This is the day we truly begin testing the mettle of the teamwork that has grown out of Vancouver's momentum these past two years,'' COC president Marcel Abut told reporters at a news conference in London.  "For two years we are waiting for this moment. For today.''

Canada has sent a team of 277 athletes and 93 coaches supported by 318 officials and staff to London. To reach the COC's goal of finishing in the top 12 nations, Canada will probably need to win 24 medals. The most medals Canada has ever won at a non-boycotted Games was 22 in 1996.

The Games officially opened Friday night in a massive ceremony that featured James Bond, Beatle Paul McCartney, a swarm of Mary Poppins and even the Queen supposedly leaping out of a helicopter.

Team Canada was led into the Olympic Stadium by flag-bearer Simon Whitfield. The 37-year-old triathlete from Victoria looked like a kid on Christmas as he grinned and waved the flag. 

"You are the smartest flag-bearer out there buddy,'' tweeted diver Alex Despatie.

[Related: Five Canadian Olympians with something to prove]

Dressed in their traditional red-and-white uniforms, the Canadians carried small maple leafs. They waved at the crowd and recorded the moment with video cameras.

Whitfield, who will be looking to win his third Olympic medal while competing in his fourth Games, is one of many Canadian stories to watch.

Cyclist Clara Hughes has a chance to become Canada's most decorated Olympian. The 39-year-old won two bronze on her bike at the 1996 Atlanta Games and four medals over three Winter Olympics in speed skating. She will compete in Sunday's road race.

Show-jumper Ian Millar will make Games history when the 65-year-old appears in his record-breaking 10th Olympics.

A lot of eyes will be on Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont. Not only does the mother of a three-year-old have a chance at the podium in heptathlon, she also will be running the 100-metre hurdles.

Shot-putter Dylan Armstrong was just one centimetre shy of a bronze medal four years ago in Beijing. He comes into London with a solid chance of getting on the podium.

[Related: Canada sets ambitious goal of top 12 in 2012]

Cyclist Ryder Hesjedal will be a lone wolf in Saturday's road race and later in the time trial. After becoming the first Canadian to win a Grand Tour event with his victory in the Giro d'Italia he will be looking for an Olympic podium.

Even getting to the Olympics was a fight for boxer Mary Spencer. She lost her first bout at the world championships but was granted a pass into the Games by the International Olympic Committee. The three-time world champion will want to show they made the right decision.

In diving, Despatie wants to win another medal in his final Games. Teammate Jennifer Abel is looking for her first.

After years of treading water Canada's swim team will be taking some new confidence into the pool while the rowers hope to continue their dominance.

Other potential medal winners include Catharine Pendrel in mountain biking, Adam van Koeverden in kayaking, Karine Sergerie in tae kwon do and Carol Huynh in wrestling.

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