Opinion piece

‘Faster and stronger than ever’: Canada’s Olympic delegation is biggest since 1984

Despite a qualification process ravaged by a global pandemic and a yearlong delay, Canada is sending its largest delegation to an Olympic Games in 37 years.

The Canadian Olympic Committee said Tuesday that 371 athletes will be wearing Canadian colours at the Tokyo Olympics that begin next week, the most since 1984 in Los Angeles.

The sizable representation includes 225 women and 146 men, augmented by 131 coaches, from July 23 to Aug. 8 in Japan.

It has been, at times, an arduous process for athletes to even qualify because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down most international sports for more than a year during the critical Olympic qualification period.

“In far less than ideal conditions, they have found a way to be faster and stronger than ever, and I have no doubt that they are ready to reveal something special at Tokyo 2020,” Marnie McBean, Canada’s chef de mission, said in a release.

The number was inflated a bit by the sheer number of traditional team sports Canada qualified for. Nearly one-third of the competitors (109) are on the eight teams that Canada is sending to Tokyo, the most ever – not counting boycotted Games or the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, when all of Canada’s teams qualified as host.

Canada will compete in women’s basketball, soccer, softball, rugby sevens and water polo plus men’s rugby sevens, volleyball and field hockey.

The Canadian roster runs the gamut in all facets:

There are 134 athletes who competed in Rio in 2016, and 144 who have previous Summer Games experience.

There are 226 first-time Olympians, and sailor Nikola Girke of West Vancouver will compete in her fifth Games.

The youngest is 14-year-old Toronto swimmer Summer McIntosh.

The oldest is 56-year-old equestrian Mario Deslauriers of St-Jean, Que.

There are 40 athletes who have already won Olympic medals.

Ontario has the greatest representation with 171. British Columbia has 95 and Quebec 58.

The most recognizable names are likely soccer star Christine Sinclair, swimming sensation Penny Oleksiak, sprinter Andre De Grasse, golfer Brooke Henderson and trampolinist Rosie MacLennan, a two-time Olympic champion.

“Every single athlete on this team has faced adversity, uncertainty and disruption, having to adapt and adjust to a new timeline and a new world,” MacLennan said in a release.

”That they have come this far is a testament to their determination and perseverance. I am so excited that, after a year’s delay, we will all have the opportunity to show Canada, and the world, what we have been working for.”

Canada brought home 22 medals from Rio in 2016, the most ever for the country in a non-boycotted Games. Of those, 16 were won by women.

There won’t be anywhere near the same level of camaraderie among Canadian athletes that’s existed at every other Olympics because of strict measures put in place by Games organizers. Athletes can’t check into the Olympic village until five days before their competition begins, and have to leave 48 hours after they are done. They will be tested daily with regular temperature checks, and masks are mandatory off the field of play.

Tokyo was placed under a state of emergency earlier this week because of rising COVID-19 numbers. And with no fans allowed, the team spirit that always draws athletes from one discipline to watch another won’t be replicated.

Still, just being around fellow Canadian athletes should create some kind of buzz.

“I think once we get to the village and you’re around all the athletes, that environment is so invigorating and energizing,” Canadian basketball coach Lisa Thomaidis told the Star last week.

“Seeing other Team Canada athletes – even though we won’t be able to hang out with them, but just seeing them there, being in an apartment full of Team Canada – that brings so much with it.”

Doug Smith is a National Affairs writer.