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Canada's Olympic team takes shape on pivotal weekend

Canada's Olympic team takes shape on pivotal weekend

Posted by PanamericanWorld on July 08, 2016

Less than a month to go and at long last the narrative surrounding Rio 2016 is starting to shift. 

The Zika threat and political-economic-environmental-doping turmoil notwithstanding, we are past the point of no return and the Olympics in Brazil, the first to be held in South America, will go ahead as planned. 

Over the course of 25 interviews with various media outlets this week, I answered fewer questions about the myriad crises that Rio de Janeiro is facing and more about what Canadian fans of Olympic sport could look forward to once the Opening Ceremony takes place on Aug. 5. 

People on the street now ask me when I'm going and not if I'm afraid to go. 

Who will make the cut for Rio?

It's a welcome relief. 

To that end, this weekend delivers a series of serious plot points on a number of fronts as the Olympic story begins to unfold for several Canadian aspirants. 

The next few days figure to be all about making the final cut for Rio 2016. 

In Edmonton, at the Canadian track and field championships which also serve as the Olympic trials, the deepest athletics contingent in Canadian history will emerge.  

In the lineup are world champions such as pole vault's Shawn Barber and high jumper Derek Drouin. Middle-distance runner Melissa Bishop, as well as heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton and decathlete Damian Warner, figure to be strong contenders for medals in Brazil.  

Sprinters Andre De Grasse and Aaron Brown, both sub-10-second runners at 100 metres, are making lots of noise. 

And on the horizon there's a compelling story involving Lanni Marchant of London, Ont., who has qualified to run not only the 10,000 metres but also the marathon at the Olympics, and wants to do so if only Athletics Canada, the sport's governing body, will name her to the team in both events. 

It would be a Canadian first and undoubtedly an inspirational effort given the fact the marathon takes place a mere 46 hours after the 10K.  

In men's basketball, it's been 16 years since a Canadian team qualified for the Olympics. The last time was 2000 in Sydney, Australia when Steve Nash was the star of a competitive squad that finished seventh. 

Nash now a leader off the court

Now Nash is the general manager of a team that has one last chance to qualify for Rio. Led by the likes of Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett and coach Jay Triano — himself a two-time Olympian and Nash' coach in Sydney — the Canadians are into Saturday's semi-final against New Zealand of the final qualifier in Manila. 

But there's no room for error as they must win the tournament and that likely means getting by highly touted France.  The Canadian side will have to manage without a bevy of front-line talent such as Andrew Wiggins, but the possibility exists that Canada could field a sixth entry in traditional team sport in Rio. And given the rising popularity of basketball in this country ignited by the success of the NBA Toronto Raptors, it seems fortuitous that Canada could keep the ball rolling by fashioning an Olympic berth in the Philippines. 

Spruce Meadows

In equestrian, there's a personal dynasty on the line at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, where the North American show jumping tournament takes place this weekend. 

Ian Millar, also known as, "Captain Canada," will be hard-pressed to make the four-person team bound for Rio de Janeiro.  This is significant because the 69-year-old Millar has appeared at the Olympics a record 10 times, beginning in 1972 in Munich. He won team silver at the 2008 Beijing Games and has competed for Canada at every world championships and Olympics for a period which spans five decades. 

But as these Olympics near, Millar is without his trusted mount Dixson, a horse which helped Canada win Pan Am gold and qualify for the Olympics in the first place. Dixson, who has bloodlines to Millar's legendary Big Ben, has recently undergone surgery which makes him unavailable for international competition. 

Millar does have another horse but it's doubtful this one is of Olympic calibre. That means it's likely Chef d'Equipe Mark Laskin, a former teammate of Millar's, will be forced to select 2008 Olympic champion Eric Lamaze, Tiffany Foster, Yann Candele and another, younger, rider to form the Canadian team. 

For his part Millar is undaunted. 

 

 

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