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Canadian swimmers are ready to make another splash
Swimming is one of the marquee sports in the Summer Olympics, and it'll be the main attraction over the next week or so in Tokyo. Canadians figure to be a big part of the action after winning six swimming medals in Rio and a national-record eight in the pool at the 2019 world championships. Every single one of those medals came in a women's event, and women remain the strength of this Olympic team.
Here are the Canadian swimmers to watch:
Penny Oleksiak: She hasn't been quite the same since her stunning performance as a 16-year-old at the 2016 Olympics, where she won a gold medal in the 100-metre freestyle, silver in the 200 free and helped Canada to a pair of relay bronze medals. By her own admission, Oleksiak struggled with the weight of expectations after that life-changing moment, and her results over the past five years have reflected that. Though she helped Canada to five more relay podiums at the 2017 and '19 world championships, Oleksiak hasn't won an individual medal at a major international meet since Rio. But she looked rejuvenated at the Canadian trials last month, winning the 100 free with her fastest time since Rio. And you can never count out someone with Oleksiak's talent. She'll compete in the 100 and 200 free in Tokyo, and likely in multiple relays — starting with the women's 4x100 freestyle tonight at 10:45 p.m. ET, which could result in Canada's first medal of the Tokyo Games.
Summer McIntosh: If the Rio Games were all about Penny, then Tokyo could be the Summer Olympics. McIntosh, 14, has the talent and the tenacity to be Canada's next teenage swimming sensation. She was the breakout star of the Canadian trials, where she beat Oleksiak to win the 200m freestyle and also took the 800. In Tokyo, she'll race in those two events along with the 400 free.
Brent Hayden: On the opposite end of the spectrum is the grand old man of Canadian swimming. At 37, Hayden is a generation older than McIntosh and poised to become the oldest Canadian ever to swim in the Olympics. This will be the fourth Games for Hayden, who won the 100m freestyle world title in 2007 and Olympic bronze in 2012. He then quit swimming altogether for seven years as he battled an excruciating combination of back problems and depression. In 2019 he rediscovered his love for the sport, mounted a comeback and, last month, qualified for Tokyo by winning the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials.
Kylie Masse: She took bronze in the 100m backstroke in Rio, then won the next two world titles, in 2017 and '19. At the Canadian Olympic trials, the 25-year-old broke her own national record in her signature event and added a victory in the 200 backstroke — an event she took bronze in at the '19 worlds. Masse has a good chance to reach the podium in both her individual events in Rio, though the reigning world champ is no longer expected to win gold in the 100 back. Australia's Kaylee McKeown is the favourite, with Masse and American Regan Smith expected to battle her in what should be one of the most competitive races in Tokyo.
Maggie Mac Neil: The University of Michigan star pulled off a shocker at the 2019 world championships, upsetting Sweden's Sarah Sjöström and Australia's Emma McKeon to win the 100m butterfly. But this event looks even more stacked in Tokyo. Mac Neil placed fifth overall in today's heats.
Sydney Pickrem: The versatile 24-year-old took bronze in the 400m individual medley at the 2017 world championships, and bronze in both the 200 IM and 200 breaststroke in 2019. She was slated to compete in all three of those events in Tokyo, but Pickrem was scratched from the 400 IM shortly before today's heats. Swimming Canada said it was for "medical reasons not related to COVID-19" and to "protect [Pickrem's] performances for the rest of the Olympic Games." In addition to her two remaining individual events, Pickrem is expected to compete in relays. Read more about the Canadian swimming team's start to the Olympics here.
Coming up Saturday night/Sunday morning
Besides the Canadian women's basketball opener, here are the sports I'll be paying the most attention to when competition resumes this evening in Canadian time zones:
As mentioned, Canada's first medal of the Tokyo Games could come in the women's 4x100m freestyle final at 10:45 p.m. ET. Canada took bronze in this event at the 2016 Olympics and the 2019 world championships, and Penny Oleksiak anchored the team to the third-fastest overall time in the heats this morning. Australia is a huge favourite to win gold, but Canada should be right in the mix with the U.S., the Netherlands and Great Britain for the other two podium spots. Also, reigning world champ Maggie Mac Neil is back in the pool for the women's 100m butterfly semifinals at 9:40 p.m. ET.
All of tonight's swimming events, which include four medal races, will be broadcast live on CBC TV starting at 9:30 p.m. ET. You can also stream them live on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website.
Two Canadians to watch in the Sunday morning heats, which start at 6 a.m. ET: two-time world champ Kylie Masse in the women's 100m backstroke, and 14-year-old sensation Summer McIntosh in the women's 400m freestyle. McIntosh will swim in the same heat as American star Katie Ledecky.
If the women's 4x100 freestyle swim team doesn't make the podium, there's a great chance Canada will only have to wait a few more hours for its first medal in Tokyo. The women's 3m synchronized diving duo of Jennifer Abel and Mélissa Citrini-Beaulieu took silver at each of the last two world championships. Abel also nabbed bronze at the 2012 Olympics with now-retired former partner Émilie Heymans. The final starts at 2 a.m. ET and you can watch it on CBC TV or any of those CBC streaming platforms mentioned above.
The women's qualification round starts at 9 p.m. ET. This is our first look at American superstar Simone Biles and Canada's Ellie Black, who's looking to become the first Canadian woman to win an Olympic medal in traditional gymnastics. She took silver in the all-around event at the 2017 world championships in Montreal and finished fourth at the '19 worlds. The qualification round decides who gets to compete in the all-around final, the separate event finals (vault, balance beam, floor exercise, etc.) and the team final.
Women's gymnastics has evolved from a sport that used to prize grace and aesthetics above all else to one that rewards power and athleticism. That's why you see more women in their 20s competing today, and fewer tiny girls barely into their teens. The powerful Black, 25, is a great example of the sport's evolution. Read more about her here. Watch the CBC Sports documentary Up in the Air, about the Canadian women's gymnastics team's journey to Tokyo, here once it premieres at 9 p.m. ET.
The famously rebellious sport (or art form, some insist) rolls toward the mainstream tonight when it makes its Olympic debut with the men's street event at 7:30 p.m. ET (the medal round goes at 11:25 p.m. ET). The Olympics wanted skateboarding for its potential to attract younger viewers, and many skaters are excited for the increased exposure and credibility this new partnership could bring to their sport. But some purists resent pairing up with an institution as square as the IOC and hate the idea of skateboarding as competition — with all the rules and restrictions that entails.
Two Canadians are competing in the men's street event: Matt Berger and the delightfully named Micky Papa. Neither is expected to win a medal, but Papa has already received something perhaps even more rad: a gift from Japanese ninjas. See what that's all about by watching this video. Read what skateboarding legend Tony Hawk thinks about his sport joining the Olympics and watch him test out the course here.
The Canadian women's team faces No. 2-ranked Japan at 1:30 a.m. ET. Canada, which is ranked third, pounded Australia 7-1 last night to improve to 2-1, with the loss coming to the top-ranked United States (3-0).
This is a six-team tournament, and the top two after the round robin play for gold. Canada's final round-robin game is against 0-3 Italy, so a victory over Japan (3-0) would be a huge boost to its medal hopes.
Canada's lone men's singles player, Felix Auger-Aliassime, plays his first-round match against Britain's Andy Murray, who won the men's gold medal at the last two Olympics. Sounds like a tough matchup for Felix, but he's heavily favoured. Murray is 34 years old now, hasn't been relevant on tour in quite some time and has fallen to 104th in the world rankings. Auger-Aliassime is still a couple of weeks shy of his 21st birthday and is ranked 15th in the world (seeded ninth for this depleted Olympic tournament). There's no exact start time for the match, but it's third up on centre court once action begins at 10 p.m. ET.
Last night, Canada's lone women's singles entry, Leylah Fernandez, advanced to the second round by beating Ukraine's Dayana Yastremska. The only Canadian doubles team, seventh-seeded Gabriela Dabrowski and Sharon Fichman, are out after being upset by a Brazilian duo. Canada should have an entry in mixed doubles, but we don't find out those pairings until next week.
While we're talking tennis, I need to correct an error in yesterday's newsletter. In order to win the Golden Slam (that's all four singles major titles and Olympic gold in the same year), Novak Djokovic must win the men's tournament in Tokyo and then go on to take the U.S. Open in September. I neglected to mention the U.S. Open — sorry about that, and thanks to those who wrote in to point that out.
How to watch
A variety of live events are being broadcast on TV on CBC, TSN and Sportsnet. Or choose exactly what you want to watch by live streaming on CBC Gem, the CBC Olympics app and CBC Sports' Tokyo 2020 website. Check out the full streaming schedule here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.