10 breakout Canadian athletes to watch at Tokyo Olympics

·7 min read

The start of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is less than a week away, and 371 Canadian athletes — Canada’s largest team since 1984 — are about to take centre stage.

Every journey to a Games is a trying one, but Tokyo 2020 has been especially so — it’s still called Tokyo 2020 in 2021, after all.

But even the most difficult of circumstances hasn’t stopped Canadian athletes from shining on the international stage. From the tennis court, to the track, to the climbing wall — yes, the climbing wall — there has been no shortage of Canucks making headlines across the sporting world during the pandemic, and they will be looking to do so once again when the world turns its eyes to Japan.

Any Olympian will tell you that peaking at the right point is key to a successful Games, and Canada has numerous athletes doing just that.

So without further ado, here is a list of 10 Canadians ready to break through and become household names across the country by the time the Olympic torch flickers out:

Aaron Brown (200-metre, 4X100-metre relay):

Already an Olympic medalist as a member of the men’s 4X100 team that won bronze at the 2016 Olympics in Rio, the 29-year-old sprinter will be looking to add to his medal collection in Tokyo.

One of only two athletes to make both the 100-metre and 200-metre individual finals at the 2019 World Championships, Brown will only compete in the 200 in Japan, where he has his best chance to reach the podium.

The Toronto native is currently ranked sixth in the men’s 200-metre, four spots behind fellow Canadian Andre De Grasse.

Brown is also almost certain to be a part of the 4X100 relay team that will be looking to match or even improve on its performance from 2016.

Leylah Fernandez (Tennis)

Talk about a year for an 18-year-old.

Not only will Fernandez be making her Olympic debut in Tokyo, but it comes on the heels of her first-ever WTA tournament win. The youngest player in the tournament, she took home the Monterrey Open back in March without dropping a set.

The youngster from Montreal is also no stranger to success while wearing the red and white, winning both her singles matches at the Billie Jean King Cup Playoffs in April, helping Canada to a triumph over Serbia.

BIEL, SWITZERLAND FEBRUARY 08- Tennis Fed Cup -  Canada's Leylah Annie Fernandez in action during Fed Cup match between Switzerland and Canada on February 8,2020 in Biel,Switzerland. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)
Canada's Leylah Fernandez pictured in action at the Fed Cup. (Photo by MB Media/Getty Images)

Summer McIntosh (Swimming)

Do you remember what you were doing when you were 14? Probably not gearing up for the Olympic Games, as is the case for McIntosh.

The youngest of the 371 Canadian athletes, the teenager beat Rio star Penny Oleksiak to the wall in the 200-metre freestyle at the Canadian Trials in late June, securing her spot in Tokyo. She then followed it up by qualifying for the 800-metre freestyle the very next day.

It also seems as though swimming at the Olympics is in the McIntosh blood, as Summer’s mother, Jill, swam for Canada at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.

Sean McColl (Climbing)

Almost no athlete can say they have had to fight harder for a spot at the 2020 Games than Sean McColl. Not only did he have to qualify like every other athlete, but as president of the International Federation of Sport Climbing, McColl led the charge in the campaign to have his sport included in the Olympics.

And sure enough, on Aug. 3, 2016, it was announced climbing would make its Olympic debut in Tokyo. With the hard part completed, all that was left was to actually qualify for the games, which McColl did by finishing 10th in the combined event at the 2019 World Championships.

The 33-year-old is one of the most decorated climbers of all time, having been named world champion in the combined event four separate times, and bringing home 34 World Cup medals throughout his career.

Alysha Newman (Pole vault)

The Canadian record holder in women’s pole vault, Newman is headed to her second Olympic Games, but this time the goals are much different.

After a 17th-place finish in Rio, Newman’s career has hit new heights over the past couple of years.

A gold medalist at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, which she followed up by winning a bronze at the 2019 Pan American Games, Newman currently ranks fifth in the world, and has a good chance to become the first Canadian woman ever to win an Olympic medal in pole vault.

Corey Conners (Golf)

It is fair to say that Conners has been a big-time golfer in 2021. Finishing eighth at the Masters, 17th at the PGA Championship and 15th at the British Open, the 29-year-old is bringing his best stuff to the biggest events.

And the good news for Canadian golf fans is that it doesn’t get any bigger than the Olympics.

Conners has vaulted up the World Golf Rankings this year, where he currently sits 38th. One of the best ball-strikers on the PGA Tour, if Conners can bring his short game to Japan, he will have a real shot at a podium finish.

Maggie Mac Neil (Swimming)

In her first senior international competition, Mac Neil turned the heads of the swimming world. She broke a Canadian record in the 100-metre butterfly and took home a gold medal at the 2019 FINA World Championships.

In addition, she was a key piece of both the 4x100-metre freestyle relay and the 4x100-metre medley relay that won bronze medals at those same championships.

If her Olympic debut goes anything like her senior international debut, Mac Neil’s bags might be a little heavier on the trip back from Tokyo.

Ghislaine Landry (Rugby)

The Canadian Women’s Rugby Sevens team could not ask for a better team captain heading into Tokyo.

Not only was the 33-year-old Landry a part of the team that won bronze at the Rio Olympics, but in 2018 she became the first woman to reach 1,000 points on the World Sevens Series, and also currently holds the all-time women’s points record.

Landry has helped the Canadians jump up to third in the world rankings heading into Tokyo, and will be looking for another medal to add to her already illustrious career.

Janine Beckie (Soccer)

Most of the headlines around the Canadian women’s soccer team will be about international legend Christine Sinclair, and rightfully so, but there is another goal scorer that could prove key in Canada’s quest for a third straight podium finish.

Beckie, 26, recently scored twice in Canada’s final tune-up game against the fourth-ranked Netherlands squad, which ended in a 3-3 draw.

Fans should not be worried about Beckie failing to perform on the Olympic stage, as in her Games debut in Rio, she finished the tournament tied for the team lead in goals with three.

Sage Watson (400-metre hurdles)

At the 2016 Olympics, Watson was still a college athlete, but that didn’t stop her from making the semifinals of the 400-metre hurdles, as well as anchoring the 4x400 relay team to a fourth-place finish.

Fast forward just three years from those Games, and Watson has become the Canadian record holder with a personal best of 54.32, breaking Rosey Edeh’s mark that had stood for 23 years.

She is a different athlete entirely than her 11th-place finish in Rio, making the finals at both the 2017 and 2019 World Championships, and you can bet she is itching to do that again in Tokyo.

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