If the quality and depth of Canadian summer sport performances through 2022 was an accurate barometer, look for a serious medal haul at Paris 2024, because it appears Canada’s Olympians are already ready to go.
“The most important measuring stick is the third year of the quadrennial, but we’re assessing at the midpoint how we are doing now versus how we were doing in the Tokyo quadrennial,” said Anne Merklinger, CEO of Own The Podium. “We are ahead of where we were.”
Way ahead, it turns out. At this point in the Tokyo Games quadrennial, Canadian summer sport athletes and teams had bagged 19 podium finishes at world championship level events. To date, that number is 30. Top-five finishes are another indicator, and there were 58 in 2022, just 42 in 2018.
Of course, this isn’t a traditional sport cycle for summer Olympians, as a one-year postponement of Tokyo 2020 caused by COVID-19 compressed the traditional schedule and there are just 19 months to go before the opening of the Paris Games.
Regardless, this was a good year for Canada’s summer sport athletes, following hard on the heels of a breakout performance in Tokyo, where Canada won 24 medals (seven gold, seven silver and 10 bronze) and finished 11th in the table. That was an impressive move upward after six straight Summer Games rankings between 20th and 27th overall. The 24 medals also represent a record for a non-boycotted Games. Canada won 44 medals at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, but the field was watered down by a Soviet-led boycott that included East Germany, Cuba and Poland.
“Our performances as a nation in Tokyo in the midst of a pandemic I think were outstanding,” said Merklinger. “That has provided some added momentum and confidence and belief and focus, all the things that are necessary for athletes and teams to achieve their personal performance objectives.
“Athletics and swimming are significantly ahead of where they were at the midpoint of the Tokyo quadrennial. And the other sport that has really springboarded is judo. “They won three medals at the worlds this year; that is phenomenal. They had one medal at the midpoint of the Tokyo quadrennial.”
Kyle Reyes took a surprise silver in the men’s 100-kilogram division at the judo worlds, while Catherine Beauchemin-Pinard grabbed silver in women’s 63-kg and Jessica Klimkait earned a bronze in women’s 57-kg action.
What impressed Merklinger even more is the fact that 13 summer sports produced a world championship podium result in 2022.
“I think what is really exciting for Canada is we have more depth across a number of different sports, so now the focus is on helping athletes and teams, making sure everything is addressed, particularly in the final year heading into Paris and that those athletes and teams that have a had a top five performance, we’re really focusing on helping them achieve their performance goals at the Games.”
Boxer Tammara Thibeault won the world title at 75-kg and followed it up with Commonwealth Games gold. Her teammate Charlie Cavanagh grabbed world silver in the 66-kg division. Weightlifter Maude Charron took 59-kg bronze at the world. Canadian wrestlers Linda Morais (68-kg) and Karla Godinez-Gonzalez (55-kg) both won bronze at their worlds.
The rebuilding women’s eights rowing team won bronze at their world regatta. A new generation of Canadian divers emerged from the FINA worlds with three medals. Mia Vallée doubled up on the springboards with silver in 3-metre and bronze in 1-metre, while the men’s synchro team of Rylan Wiens and Nathan Zsombor-Murray earned a bronze on the 10-metre platform.
The beach volleyball team of Brandie Wilkerson and Sophie Bukovec took silver at the worlds but won’t be together for Paris. Wilkerson will pair with Melissa Humana-Paredes and Bukovec with Sarah Pavan.
Dylan Bibic is the world champion in track cycling’s scratch race and Philip Kim, also known as Phil Wizard, won the world-breaking championship. Breaking, or breakdancing, makes its Olympic debut in Paris.
“We are cautiously optimistic is the way I would characterize it,” said Merklinger. “The evidence is important. The results speak for themselves. In the Olympic program, the majority of the big countries all competed in the mid-quad world championships and that’s important.”
However, in response to the invasion of Ukraine, some world sport bodies banned Russia and Belarussian athletes and teams from all competition this year. If that status changes in the next 19 months, the landscape will change.
“Russia is very much an unknown,” said Merklinger. “There is not much more to say than that. Look at a sport like judo and other combative sports, some Russians and Belarussians have been able to compete. In others, they have not. So it’s a bit inconsistent and we still have 19 months to go before Paris. Can’t speculate on what’s going to happen as far as participation goes.”