Team Canada at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics
Canada wins its first medal, taking a silver in 4x100 freestyle swimming relay – they won the same event in 2016
No matter what happens from here until the end, the 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo has been unlike any other. But after a year of postponement and protests, the world's longest-running and most extravagant international athletic competition is now underway.
Let the medal count begin!
Given all that's happened, can any nation realistically predict how it will fare at the Games?
Answer – yes and no.
Own The Podium hoped to do precisely that when the organization was founded in 2004 with a stated objective of putting more Canadians up on the awards podium. But given the last turbulent 18-months of the COVID-19 pandemic, including so many travel and training restrictions, all forecasts for Tokyo 2021 have become null and void.
"It's really difficult to (predict). International landscape for sport is really inconsistent and there's been significant variations in how nations have been impacted by the pandemic," said Own The Podium CEO Anne Merklinger. "Many of our sports have been unable to compete for the last 16 months. So, we're lacking the competitive results and the data points both from our sports and from other countries to really have confidence and have enough evidence to determine reasonable performance objectives."
At the previous Olympiad in Rio de Janeiro back in 2016, Penny Oleksiak became the first Canadian in history to win four medals at a single Summer games – hauling in a gold, a silver, and two bronzes.
It appears that Oleksiak's record will stand for now, though some Canadian athletes hope to challenge the high mark in the coming two weeks.
For instance, take the four-member swimming relay which competed on Saturday and ended ended up this time earning a silver medal. The high finish was a mixed blessing. Sure, a silver medal is impressive in any Olympic event, but the Canadian women had higher hopes by winning the gold in this event the last time it was held five years ago.
Nonetheless, it's great to get that first medal.
Indeed, the opening few days has been an ordeal of near misses.
Adding to the swim team's close finish, cyclist Michael Woods came less than a second away from the podium during the grueling men’s road race. He was just milliseconds away from forever capturing the hearts and minds of Canadians. Despite this near miss, Woods’ performance was captivating.
In a bike race that lasted six hours and traversed more than 200 kilometres, it all came down to a matter of inches at the finish line. Ecuador's Richard Carapaz captured the gold, but Woods was among a group of five riders who were in a flat sprint over the final 100 metres, jockeying for the silver and bronze spots. With only a few metres to go, Woods appeared to interfered with by two other riders, ultimately finishing fifth and varely missing out on a medal by less than a second.
"I am really happy with how I rode but just off the podium which was my big goal," Woods told CBC Sports after the race. "I tried to get some separation as much as I could but it just wasn't in the cards."
Woods final time was six hours, six minutes and 33 seconds – just 1.07 behind gold medalist Carapaz.
There's still a long way to go at the Games. We'll be watching Canada's finest athletes the rest of the way.