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10 Canadian medal contenders at Tokyo Olympics

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After years of personal sacrifice and hard work, not to mention the uncertainty of the actual event, Canada’s Olympians are on track to bring home a medal haul in Tokyo.

Gracenote, a world-leading data and technology company, projects Canada to achieve its best medal standings result in decades through their Virtual Medal Table Forecast.

The Canadian team, 371 strong, includes 40 athletes who have already won medals at previous Games and several podium favourites — data analysts at Gracenote predict a medal total of 20 (four gold, seven silver, nine bronze).

The Olympics always serve up many surprises — unexpected triumphs as well as devastating stumbles — which is why they're so exciting to watch.

This year, in the context of a worldwide pandemic, the action off the track and out of the pool is sure to be part of the story. But let’s keep our eyes on these athletes heading to Tokyo with big hopes and dreams and a lot of Canadian pride riding on their shoulders.

Here are some of the top Canadian medal threats heading into Tokyo 2020:

Kylie Masse: Swimming

Masse is ready to take her place among the world’s best at the Tokyo Games.

Masse won bronze in the 100-metre backstroke at Rio 2016 as a 20-year-old and has dominated the field since. The LaSalle, Ont., native captured back-to-back world championships in 2017 and 2019, a Pan Pacific gold and two Commonwealth golds in 2018, and held the 100-metre backstroke world record from July 2017 to July 2018.

The 25-year-old is showing all the signs of reaching peak form ahead of Tokyo, too. She broke her own 100-metre backstroke Canadian record with a time of 57.77 seconds at the Canadian Olympic Trials in June.

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Swimming for gold won’t be easy, as the women’s 100-metre backstroke boasts one of the most competitive fields in the Olympics. Swimming neck-and-neck with Masse will be current world record holder Kaylee McKeown (AUS) and former world record holder Regan Smith (USA).

Brooke Henderson: Golf

Canada’s best golfer of all time, and it’s no debate.

Henderson became Canada’s all-time winningest golfer in 2019 with nine career LPGA wins by the mere age of 21. She’s also one of three Canadians to win a major championship.

Now 23 with 10 titles under her belt after an April 2021 win at the Hugel-Air Premia LA Open, the Smiths Falls, Ont., native arrives at her second Olympics ranked seventh in the world. She’ll look to improve upon a seventh-place Rio 2016 performance.

Standing in her way at the Kasumigaseki Country Club will be world No. 1 Nelly Korda (USA), and South Korea’s Jin Young Ko, 2016 gold-medal winner In Bee Park, Sei Young Kim, and Hyo-Joo Kim.

Brooke Henderson has a legitimate chance at Olympic gold. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Brooke Henderson has a legitimate chance at Olympic gold. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Damian Warner: Decathlon

Warner bursts into Tokyo primed for his moment, seeking that last piece of hardware to add to his already illustrious trophy case — the Olympic gold medal.

Warner, 31, is the world’s No. 1 decathlete and Canada’s record score holder. In May, he shattered his own record by producing a score of 8,995 — the fifth-highest score ever — in his first decathlon since the 2019 World Championships. He achieved this despite training in an old, unheated London, Ont., hockey rink all winter due to pandemic restrictions.

Tokyo will be his third Olympics – he finished fifth in 2012 and won a bronze at Rio 2016.

This time around, gold is there for the taking as 2012 and 2016 Olympic champion Ashton Eaton is now retired, but world-record-holding Frenchman Kevin Mayer, who scored a 9,126 in 2018, should offer a worthy challenge for Warner.

Andre DeGrasse: Sprinting

DeGrasse has something to prove.

Last Olympics he became a star linked with Usain Bolt after winning three medals and famously giving the greatest sprinter of all time a run for his money in the 200-metre semifinals heat.

This year, he’s struggling. He’s run over 10 seconds in four of seven 100-metre races, and seven different sprinters have eclipsed his personal best of 9.90. The 26-year-old hasn’t been quite the same since suffering a hamstring injury in 2017.

But he’s not out of the running yet. As evidenced by his performance in Rio and at the 2019 world championships where he won a silver and a bronze, DeGrasse has never been shy when the lights shine brightest.

Gold may be hard to achieve since Trayvon Bromell (USA) is heavily favoured as the winner of six of seven races this year, but with Bolt retired and world champion Christian Coleman suspended for missing a drug test, it’s anyone’s race for the taking.

Rosie MacLennan: Trampoline

MacLennan is already in a club of her own.

She’d already triumphed for one of Canada’s two gold medals at London 2012 before making history in Rio by becoming the first Canadian to successfully defend gold at a Summer Olympics.

Can the Rio 2016 flag bearer do the unthinkable and three-peat in Tokyo?

The soon-to-be four-time Olympian has faced a series of setbacks, including concussion issues and a broken ankle in 2019, but she’s managed to bounce back from challenges.

The 32-year-old back-to-back Olympic champion faces tough competition at these Summer Games from host country athletes Hikaru Mori and Doihata Chisato – winners of 2019 world championship gold and silver, respectively. MacLennan finished third in the event despite recovering from her broken ankle.

Sarah Pavan & Melissa Humana-Parades: Beach Volleyball

The 2019 world champions hit the sand in Tokyo as the No. 2 ranked women’s beach volleyball team, but there is some cause for concern as the duo hasn't won a tournament since July 2019.

In seven 2021 tournaments, Pavan and Humana-Paredes have two second-place finishes and one bronze medal, which isn’t bad by any margin, but it’s not where they hope to be.

Still, with Pavan’s net-front presence at six-foot-six complementing Humana-Paredes’ ability to cover every inch of the court, the pair remain genuine threats to not only find the podium but become the first Canadians to win Olympic gold in beach volleyball.

Their main competition will be Ágatha Bednarczuk/Eduarda 'Duda' Santos (BRA) and April Ross/Alexandra Klineman (USA) but don’t count out three-time Olympic champion Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA) and her new teammate Brooke Sweat.

Laurence Vincent Lapointe & Katie Vincent: Canoeing

Women’s canoeing is making its Olympics debut in Tokyo, much to Team Canada’s delight as first-time Olympians Laurence Vincent Lapointe and Katie Vincent are in line to bring home hardware.

They’ll compete as a team in the C2 500-metre race, where they hold the world record of 51.428 seconds, and each will compete separately in the C1 200-metre race in which Vincent Lapointe has the world record at 44.504 seconds.

Vincent Lapointe is already an all-time great in her sport as an 11-time world champion. The 29-year-old from Trois-Rivières, Que., nearly missed the chance to dominate on the biggest stage due to a positive drug test which she later proved had been ingested unknowingly and through contamination from a third party.

Mississauga, Ont., native Vincent, 25, is a two-time world champion herself and narrowly out-paddled Vincent Lapointe in the C1 200-metre race at national trials to earn Canada’s only guaranteed spot in the Olympics. She’ll be one of Vincent Lapointe’s top competitors as both vie for double gold in Tokyo.

Erica Wiebe: Wrestling

Wiebe looks to strike gold again after winning the 75-kilogram event at Rio 2016.

The 30-year-old hits the mat as the No. 6 seed in Tokyo hoping to defy the odds. But, she’ll have to best five-time world champion Adeline Gray and host country star Hiroe Minagawa to reach her goal.

Wiebe won bronze at the 2019 world championships and secured both a gold and bronze medal in United World Wrestling Ranking events in 2021, so the podium is within her grasp, but she’ll have to rise to the occasion to repeat as a gold medallist.

Meaghan Benfeito: Diving

Montreal’s Benfeito dives into her fourth Olympics without long-time partner Roseline Filion for the first time, but that shouldn’t prevent her from finding the podium.

With new partner Caeli McKay, the three-time Olympic bronze medalist won gold in the 10-metre synchro event at a World Cup competition this past May. Benfeito also hopes to defend the solo bronze she won in the individual 10-metre dive at Rio 2016.

Neither competition will be easy, as the 32-year-old veteran faces stiff competition. China has several top divers, including 15-year-old Chen Yuxi and Olympic champion Ren Qian. They’ll be determined to dominate the podiums as a nation.

Jennifer Abel: Diving

Abel is Canada’s all-time leader with 10 world championship diving podiums and provides this country with another strong candidate to bring home two medals – this time, in the three-metre event.

The Montreal native enters her fourth Games at 29 years old, aiming for a second Olympic medal after earning bronze at London 2012 in the synchro event alongside diving legend Émillie Heymans.

She’ll be eager to bounce back after suffering heartbreak in Rio with fourth-place finishes in both the synchro and solo events. In Tokyo, Abel will be diving with partner Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu with whom she earned silver at the 2019 world championships.

Much like in the 10-metre, several Chinese divers stand in the way, including Olympic champion Shi Tingmao and partner Wang Han.

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