Monday, 23 July 2012 11:21
Meet a dozen Western Canadian Olympians and Paralympians
focused on the podium
By Chris Welner
They are Canada’s best. They will saddle up on cycles and horseback, don wrestling gear and Speedos, lace up track spikes and windsurfers — all wearing the red maple leaf and striving for a spot on a three-step box at the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Summer Games. A Winter Games powerhouse that won more gold medals than any other nation at Vancouver 2010, Canada’s sporting culture has undergone a revolution that has percolated into the summer sports arena and sees a brassy target of 12th place overall in the nations’ medal standings.
“I think that, like most Canadians, the summer athletes were really inspired by the performance of their winter peers,” says Mark Tewksbury, Canada’s chef de mission for London 2012. “It also spoke to the fact that in Canada, with the Canadian Olympic Committee and Own the Podium and Sport Canada working together, athletes who have podium potential seem to be getting all of the resources they need to be competitive on the world stage when it counts. No question this instills confidence.”
Ryan Cochrane is one of that confident group of 250 athletes who will compete for Canada in London. A bronze medallist in 1,500 metres at the Beijing games, the Victoria swimmer is adding the 400 and 800 freestyle to his arsenal for London.
“Before the Vancouver Olympics it was hard to describe what got Canadians excited about sport,” says Cochrane. “But those Games changed everything.” As a 19 year-old, Beijing was solely about his performance, his medal. This time Cochrane is swimming’s voice letting the world know Canada is coming to compete hard with athletes such as Vancouver’s Brent Hayden and Calgary’s Erica Morningstar helping haul the load.
“Four years ago I was only responsible for myself and now I’m more responsible for vocalizing the expectations of what I want to see from our team,” Cochrane says. “It’s really exciting that people see us as being such a strong team.”
Wrestler Carol Huynh is a defending gold medallist. Petite and powerful, Huynh has overcome immense pressures encountered after her gold medal and heads into London with priceless experience.
“Leading up to the Games I don’t feel that pressure like I did right after 2008,” says Huynh. “I’ve really prepared mentally for this challenge. I have confidence in my abilities as a wrestler. I have the skills. I will be fit. I will be strong. The biggest thing is just believing that I could do this again.”
On the track, Canadian hopes were buoyed by an all-world performance from Jessica Zelinka. The heptathlete set a Canadian record in winning at the Olympic trials at her home stadium in Calgary, then shocked a world-class field winning the 100M hurdles.
“I’m feeling good — calm like things are falling into place,” says Zelinka. “Expectations and pressure? I don’t feel that now. I feel I have found my rhythm and competitive mindest that allows me to let loose and compete like I know I can.”
Edmonton triathlete Paula Findlay has struggled with a painful and mysterious hip injury since winning eight of 11 races over the past two seasons, but she has never lost sight of these Olympics.
“My whole life is completely devoted to performing at the Olympics,” Findlay says. “At the Olympics, it’s not always the fittest or the favourite who wins. I want to go in with a goal of winning. I want to go and compete.”
Here are 12 of Western Canada’s top Olympians and Paralympians to watch at the London Games:
1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12