Considered the world’s premier sporting competition, the Olympics and Paralympics represent the pinnacle for most, if not all, athletes — and starting this week many will seek to fulfill their dream of medalling on this grand stage.
Among the many Canadian hopefuls headed to Tokyo are a large number of athletes who once upon a time competed at the Canada Games, which is to be expected.
At their core, the Canada Games represent a key step in the development of Canada’s next generation of national, international and Olympic/Paralympic champions. To showcase this very fact, during the last Summer Olympics held in 2016, Canada Games alumni contributed to 14 of the 22 medals that our country won, and 23 of the 63 Canadian athletes who brought home medals from Rio 2016 previously competed at the Canada Games.
These numbers are an ongoing trend, and given the strength of this year’s crop of alumni headed to Tokyo, we shouldn’t be surprised if a similar result is produced. Below are just a few of the many Canada Games alumni that will be worth keeping an eye on during both the Olympics (July 23 - August 8) and Paralympics (August 24 - September 5) — which are set to begin this week in Japan’s capital city.
ANDRE DE GRASSE
Five years removed from one of Canada’s greatest track-and-field performances at an Olympics, Andre De Grasse (Sherbrooke 2013) will undoubtedly be seeking to replicate it in some way, shape, or form when his Summer Games in Tokyo kick off on July 31.
In case you missed it, at Rio 2016, De Grasse made history by becoming the first Canadian sprinter ever to win three medals at a single Olympics — a feat that bested the two-medal performances of Donovan Bailey (Atlanta 1996) and Percy Williams (Amsterdam 1928). De Grasse secured his three Olympic medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m events, an act that he’ll have a good chance at repeating in the Land of the Rising Sun.
The Markham, Ont., native is also no stranger to taking home a trifecta of medals. At the Sherbrooke 2013 Canada Summer Games, the young Ontarian brought home three gold medals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m events.
WOMEN’S SOCCER TEAM
One of the best stories from the past two Summer Olympics has easily come courtesy of the Canadian Senior Women’s National Soccer team. To start, at London 2012, they secured Canada’s first Olympic medal in soccer in 108 years, before earning a second consecutive bronze at Rio 2016 — becoming the first Canadian Olympic team in any sport to win back-to-back medals at a Summer Games in more than a century.
In Tokyo, they will be looking to add to it by making it a trifecta, while also aiming for a different colour medal. Their Olympic journey will get underway with a showdown against host country Japan on July 21.
Of the twelve players who helped Canada reach the podium in Rio, Shelina Zadorsky (PEI 2009), Allysha Chapman (Regina 2005), and Desiree Scott (Regina 2005) are all alumni of the Canada Games. Moreover, of the five players who will be making their Olympic debut, Adriana Leon (PEI 2009), Vanessa Gilles (Sherbrooke 2013), and Julia Grosso (Winnipeg 2017) are among the others who have once competed at a Canada Games.
VINCENT DE HAÎTRE
In Olympic history, there have been only 12 Canadian athletes who have ever competed in both the Winter and Summer Games. This exclusive list include the likes of Clara Hughes (PEI 1991), Hayley Wickenheiser (PEI 1991) and Sue Holloway (Lethbridge 1975) — but soon it will expand to 13 when Vincent De Haître (Halifax 2011) hops on his bike in Japan and takes part in the Men’s Team Pursuit, a competition set to begin on August 2.
The Games of the XXXII (32nd) Olympiad in Tokyo will mark De Haître’s third Olympic experience. The Ottawa native, who has made and continues to leave his mark in long track speed skating, previously competed at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, before participating at Pyeongchang 2018.
Now, if De Haître were to qualify for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the 2011 Canada Games silver medallist would be competing in consecutive Olympics with about 180 days between them. A feat that he’s not just aiming to accomplish, but one that would be historic when you consider that few will have ever completed it in such a small time frame, let alone tried to do it all within a pandemic like De Haître.
No Canadian squad was arguably more of a force at Rio 2016 than the swimming team. In total, they came away with a surprising six medals — their largest haul since the eight medals they scored at the 1976 Summer Games in Montreal. And one of the eleven female swimmers who came away with some hardware from Brazil was LaSalle, Ont., native Kylie Masse (Sherbrooke 2013).
The two-time world champion in the 100m backstroke earned Olympic bronze in that very event five years ago, and seems poised to medal again in Tokyo. Masse broke her own Canadian record with a time of 57.70 to win the 100m backstroke at the Olympic trials about a month ago, before later also winning the 200m backstroke.
The five-time Canada Games medallist (four gold, one bronze) will undoubtedly be a podium contender in both disciplines in Tokyo, but the 100m backstroke is her real strength (heats start on July 25). In 2019, at the FINA World Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, she became the first Canadian swimmer to ever win back-to-back gold medals in the same event by defending her 100m backstroke title.
Nine years ago, at London 2012, there were only two medal performances produced by Canadians in the pool. They came courtesy of Ryan Cochrane (Regina 2005), who won silver in the 1,500m freestyle, and Brent Hayden (London 2001), who finally captured an elusive Olympic medal by earning bronze in the 100m freestyle. Despite reaching the height of his success on the Olympic stage, it was immediately at the conclusion of those Games that Hayden made the difficult decision to retire.
The Mission, B.C., native would later cite ‘spiralling towards depression’ as one of the major reasons he walked away, adding that he was happy to have earned the medal for both himself and his country, but it came at a time when he had ‘fallen out of love with swimming.’
But after taking a seven-year hiatus away from the pool, the 2001 Canada Games alumnus returned to the water in 2019, reignited by his mission to qualify for his fourth career Olympics — something he accomplished recently by winning the 50m freestyle at the Canadian Olympic Trials. His remarkable comeback has brought along with it a renewed love for his sport, and made the 2007 world champion someone to watch regardless of his performance in Japan.
Ultimately, when the 37-year-old competes in Tokyo on July 30, he will become the oldest Canadian swimmer to have ever competed at an Olympic Games.
WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TEAM
Ranked an all-time high fourth in the FIBA World Rankings, the Canadian Women’s Basketball team is headed to Tokyo on a single mission: to win Canada’s first Olympic basketball medal since 1936, plus its first ever in the women's discipline. And they have every reason to believe that this year’s squad will be the one to accomplish that when they start their journey in Tokyo on July 26.
Last February, the Canadian Women’s Basketball Team went undefeated through their Olympic qualifier to punch their ticket to Tokyo — marking the first time they had ever qualified for three straight Olympics, a streak that dates back to London 2012. Since those Summer Games, the Canadian women have won their first-ever Pan Am gold in 2015, scored a pair of FIBA Americas titles (2015, 2019), and reached a program-best ranking of fourth in the world.
The team bound for Japan will feature four Canada Games alumnae in Bridget Carleton (Sherbrooke 2013), Shay Colley (Sherbrooke 2013), Nirra Fields (PEI 2009), and Kim Gaucher (London 2001), who recently won her battle with the IOC to bring her three-month-old daughter Sophie to Tokyo as a nursing mother.
Additionally, they will be led by a pair of women with some Canada Games experience in head coach Lisa Thomaidis (London 2001) and assistant coach Carly Clarke (London 2001) —who will be seeking to make history almost 20 years to the day when their worlds would’ve collided for the first time at the London 2001 Canada Summer Games.
Prior to the pandemic and the postponement of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics by a year, Tyler Mislawchuk (Sherbrooke 2013) seemed poised to be a serious medal threat in Japan. In the year leading up to those original 2020 dates, the 2013 Canada Games silver medallist had started to etch his name in the Canadian triathlon record books on a near-regular basis.
Having begun 2019 with the first two World Cup victories of his career, Mislawchuk later became the first Canadian male to reach the podium at a World Triathlon Series event when he won bronze in Montreal. He followed that up by becoming the first triathlete from Canada to ever place first at the Olympic Test Event in Tokyo, Japan.
Fast-forward to 2021, and you’ll see that Mislawchuk is once again demonstrating the same form that netted him that breakthrough season. Most recently in June, the 26-year-old from Oak Bluff, Man., won the final men’s race of the Olympic qualification period in Huatulco, Mexico — defending his World Triathlon Cup title from two years ago. So, don’t be surprised if he adds another, but this time on the Olympic stage when he races on July 26.
WOMEN’S SOFTBALL TEAM
Softball is back in the Olympics for the first time since 2008, and with it comes a Canadian Women’s National Team hungry to avenge the heartbreak they suffered 13 years ago in Beijing, where they ultimately fell to Australia in the semi-finals and finished fourth. And if the stakes weren’t already high enough, this team’s shot at Olympic glory might be the only one they get for quite a while.
Softball was only added to the Tokyo Olympics because of its popularity in Japan, but the sport along with baseball are off the program for the Paris 2024 Olympics. It’s unclear when or if they will ever return — possibly making this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these players.
But this time, when Canada enters the six-team Olympic tournament in Tokyo starting on July 21, ranked third in the world, they won't just be in a great position to reach the podium, they’ll also be primed to take a run at the top prize.
Among the holdovers from the 2008 Olympic squad hoping to write a new narrative in Japan will be Jennifer Salling (Regina 2005) and Danielle Lawrie (Regina 2005) — two Softball Canada vets who long ago led Team BC to a gold medal at the Regina 2005 Canada Summer Games. They’ll be joined by fellow Canada Games alumni Emma Entzminger (Winnipeg 2017), Janet Leung (Sherbrooke 2013) and Natalie Wideman (PEI 2009).
MEN’S AND WOMEN’S WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL TEAMS
Often referred to as the Michael Jordan of wheelchair basketball, Patrick Anderson (Grand Prairie 1995) is undoubtedly one of the greatest to ever play the game. In four Paralympic appearances, Anderson has led Canada to the finals on each occasion, with three of those resulting in gold medals (2000, 2004 & 2012). However, after London 2012, the Edmonton, Alta., native decided to step away from the sport, which likely played a factor in Team Canada’s struggles at Rio 2016.
But with Anderson back for a fifth Paralympics, the squad seems poised for a better result in Tokyo, where they’ll get started on August 26. In addition to Anderson, the team headed to Japan is expected to feature a litany of Canada Games alumni in Bo Hedges (1999 & 2003), Nik Goncin (2011 & 2015), Jonathan Vermette (2007, 2009, 2011 & 2015), Chad Jassman (2007), Deion Green (2007 & 2011), Vincent Dallaire (2015), Lee Melymick (2019), and Colin Higgins (2015).
Similarly, the Canada Games will also be well represented on the women’s side. That group will be led by none other than Cindy Ouellet (Whitehorse 2007), who is one of few Canadian athletes to have ever competed at both a Winter and Summer Paralympic Games.
In Tokyo, Ouellet will be chasing her first Paralympic medal, when the Canadian women begin their tournament on August 25, and she will have every reason to believe this year will be the one. Canada enters the competition as the 2019 Parapan champions, having knocked off Team USA in Lima, Peru. Joining Ouellet in Japan should be Arinn Young (2015), Rosalie Lalonde (2015), Melanie Hawtin (2001, 2005 & 2009), Élodie Tessier (2015 & 2019), Puisand Lai (2019), and Sandrine Bérubé (2019) — all players with Canada Games experience.
Before he became one of the world’s best wheelchair racers, Brent Lakatos (Corner Brook 1999 & Bathurst-Campbellton 2003) was once a baller. Along with competing for la Belle Province in wheelchair basketball at both the 1999 and 2003 Canada Winter Games, the 41-year-old from Montreal, Que., also played hoops for the University of Texas at Arlington, where he helped the Movin’ Mavs to a national title in 2002.
However, it was in the eight months before the 2004 Paralympics that Lakatos switched over to wheelchair racing permanently — a move that proved to be life-changing. Not only did he remarkably qualify for those Games in Athens, but since then, he has become a 13-time world champion and seven-time Paralympic medallist in sprint races.
As he heads to Tokyo, Lakatos is primed to add to that resume. He’s coming in having won five straight golds in the men's 100m T53 event between both the World Championships and 2016 Paralympics in Rio. Plus, recently, Lakatos has proven he’s more than just a sprinter, having scored marathon wins in London (2020) and Berlin (2018).
With Lakatos planning on competing at every distance (the 100, 200, 400, 800, 1,500 and 5,000 metres) in Tokyo, along with the marathon on the final day, I wouldn’t bet against him putting together a performance to remember in his fifth Paralympics, which he’ll begin on August 29.
Sixteen years ago, Katarina Roxon (Regina 2005) had a breakthrough at the 2005 Canada Summer Games, when she won a silver medal in swimming for her home province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It was a moment that she later claimed was the one that motivated her to represent her country — something she got to experience at a Paralympic Games for the first time in 2008 at just 15 years of age.
Since then, Roxon has steadily improved over the years, and her career culminated in a special performance in 2016, when she became a Paralympic champion for the first time by scoring gold in the 100m breaststroke SB8 with a national record time. Following Rio 2016, she came home to a hero’s welcome, and there’s a good chance that she will be in for another one following the Tokyo Paralympics.
When her latest journey starts on August 26 in Japan, Roxon will be seeking to once again reach the top of the podium, but she’ll have her work cut out for her at her fourth career Paralympics. Not long ago, at the 2019 FINA World Championships, the Stephenville, Nfld., native finished second in the 100m breaststroke SB8 behind Great Britain’s Brock Whiston, who will be a true threat to the Paralympic crown that Roxon will be seeking to retain.
Not too long ago, Alec Elliot (Sherbrooke 2013) was just a kid collecting a bundle of medals while representing the Region of Waterloo Swim Club at provincial competitions. It was that success that eventually carried him to the 2013 Canada Summer Games in Sherbrooke, Que., where he did more of the same — earning four golds and one bronze.
Now, the 25-year-old is doing it all for his country. Despite falling short of the podium in six events at Rio 2016, with his best result being a fourth-place finish in the 100m butterfly S10, Elliot will be aiming for a different outcome when he begins competing at his second career Paralympics on August 27.
Over the last five years, Elliot has proven to be a legitimate contender. At the most recent World Para Swimming Championships in London, he claimed his first career medal at worlds with a bronze in the 400m freestyle S10, while also reaching the final in the 200m individual medley SM10 (4th) and 50m freestyle S10 (8th). He followed that performance up by accumulating five multi-class medals (tying him for most among his Para-swimming team members), including a team-high four gold medals, at the Canadian Swimming Trials in Toronto.
Born and raised in Mississauga, Ont., Renée Foessel (Sherbrooke 2013) has come a long way since first being introduced to track and field at the age of nine. Just two short years after becoming the youngest Canadian para athlete at the 2011 IPC World Championships, Foessel made a real impression at the Canada Games in Sherbrooke, Que., by winning silver in shot put and gold in discus — the latter of which would become her main event.
On top of scoring a trifecta of medals at the Toronto 2015 Parapan American Games in front of family and friends, including gold in the women’s discus F38, Foessel similarly found the podium in that same event at the most recent IPC World Athletics Championships in 2019. Specifically, she earned bronze while setting a new Canadian record four times of 33.37 metres.
Ultimately, Foessel was one of just four Canadians to medal at those World Athletic Championships along with Lakatos. And no one should be surprised if she manages to find the podium again, but this time on the biggest stage of them all in Tokyo on September 4.
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