Women lead the charge as Canada hopes for record haul at 2020 Olympics
Penny Oleksiak swims the 200 metre race during the 2018 Team Canada finals in Edmonton on Wednesday July 18, 2018. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jason Franson)
Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press
Published Thursday, July 25, 2019 7:00PM EDT
Canada's swim star of the 2016 Summer Olympics sees Tokyo on the horizon.
Penny Oleksiak's four swimming medals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, made her the first Canadian to win that many at a single Summer Games.
The gold medallist in the 100-metre freestyle can't help but think about the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics just a year away.
"Almost every day I'd say," the Toronto teenager told The Canadian Press. "It just comes with what I do. As I get closer to the Olympics obviously it's going to be on my mind more."
She's not alone.
The majority of Canada's 2020 Olympic hopefuls are testing their mettle this summer in either their last world championship before Tokyo, or at the Pan American Games opening Friday in Lima, Peru.
The Tokyo Olympics open July 24 and close Aug. 9. The Paralympic Games follow from Aug. 25 to Sept. 6.
Canada's 22 medals in 2016 equalled the most at a non-boycotted Summer Games after Atlanta in 1996, and ranked 10th among nations.
Canada's quadruple gold in Rio was also the most since winning seven in 1992.
Gracenote predicts another record games for Canada. The data analytics company projects 25 medals, including six gold, but ranks Canada 13th.
Own The Podium chief executive officer Anne Merklinger isn't making any hard predictions for Tokyo until the world championship season has concluded.
There are obvious trends, however.
Women claimed 16 of Canada's medals in Rio and they're tracking to lead the medal charge again in Tokyo.
The powerhouse women's swim team is currently raking in medals at the world championship in South Korea.
"Swimming is by far and away one of the strongest sports heading into the games," Merklinger said. "Everyone knows we have a strong swim team, particularly our women are performing very, very well."
OTP provides technical expertise to sport federations and makes funding recommendations to Sport Canada based on medal potential.
Just over $40 million was directed to summer sport for 2019-20 in targeted money to get athletes on the podium in Tokyo.
Oleksiak, world champions Kylie Masse of LaSalle, Ont., and Maggie MacNeil of London, Ont., and Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., who won eight Commonwealth Games medals last year, give the women's swim team multiple medal chances in individual races and women's relays.
"When you're with all these girls breaking world records, doing amazing things and dropping their times significantly, it's just really awesome to see and just keeps you motivated," Oleksiak said.
"All of us are trying to work towards being one of the best women's team in the world if we can be. I would be very surprised if we weren't one of the best next year."
Women's beach volleyball, wrestling, gymnastics, soccer and rugby sevens are fertile medal ground.
And when women's sprint canoe makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo, Laurence Vincent-Lapointe of Trois-Rivieres, Que., is the gold-medal favourite with 11 career world championship wins.
"Right now, weirdly enough, I try to not overthink it," Vincente-Lapointe said. "If I allow myself to think about it, I can get pretty stressed.
"What I like to do is allow myself to think about going there, but not go into details about how the race is going to be."
There are 339 medals at stake in 33 sports in Tokyo, which is expected to draw 11,000 athletes and officials from 206 countries.
Swimming and track and field accounted for over half of Canada's medals in Rio with six apiece.
The world track and field championship starting Sept. 27 in Doha, Qatar, will be an indicator if Canada can extend its success to Tokyo.
Hamstring injuries interrupted Toronto sprinter Andre De Grasse's racing in both 2017 and 2018. But the triple-medallist in Rio is a medal threat again if he can stay healthy.
Established sports introducing new events in Tokyo could be good for Canada's medal bottom line: women's sprint canoe and rowing four, as well as mixed relays in swimming and triathlon.
"The landscape is a little bit different heading into Tokyo," Merklinger said. "It could be the medal-potential opportunities are spread over a broader number of sports."
In the new millennial-friendly sports of surfing, skateboarding and rock climbing, Vancouver's Sean McColl is a contender in climbing.
Canada was once under-represented in traditional team sports at Summer Games, but five teams qualifying for Rio matched the previous high from the boycotted Summer Games of 1984.
The women's soccer and rugby sevens squads brought home bronze medals.
The men's volleyball and women's basketball teams reached the quarterfinals, while the men's field hockey team fell short of the medal round.
The return of women's softball and men's baseball to the Olympic program in 2020 means Canada could send the most teams ever to a Summer Games.
Sport Canada told OTP in 2010 to set aside $6 million annually specifically for summer-sport teams, so they would have base funding regardless of medal potential.
"It continues to deliver in spades," Merklinger said. "It's been stable funding and that allows sports to plan, prepare and execute."
Canada's Paralympic team collected 29 medals, including eight gold, to place 14th in Rio.
Merklinger says the 2020 team will have strong medal potential in swimming, athletics and cycling in Tokyo.