In Canada, Olympians tend to be familiar faces only seen briefly but memorably.
At London 2012, the country will learn some new household names and feel some emotion for others who are likely exiting the Games' stage for the final time. By no means is the following a complete list of the future of Canada's Summer Olympics program, since an outlier can always emerge to nab a spot on the podium — who outside of Kingston, Ont., and Victoria, B.C., knew about Simon Whitfield before his win in Sydney? With the Opening Ceremony set for Friday, here is a survey of Canadians you may et to know well across the next 16 days and the ones to get to know before they likely say a tearful goodbye.
Ryan Cochrane, swimming — The 23-year-old is Canada's leader in the pool by force of personality and by the fact that he owns the nation's only swim medal of this century. It wasn't just the 1,500 bronze in 2008 that made Cochrane someone you want to see do well; it's also seared into memory how intense he was when he and his relay teammates gave a very pent-up post-race interview to CBC after one event, essentially saying Canada's results were to be expected with the amount of support the program was receiving. The team has posted better results since and Cochrane is at the front of the pack. He races in the 400 free on Saturday, where his best result is a fifth at the 2011 worlds. The big one is the 1,500 final seven days later.
Mary Spencer, boxing — Canada's best women's boxer is already highly visible thanks to those Cover Girl commercials and has a lot of cachet in Ontario. Winning a medal in the first Olympic women's boxing tournament would be her coming-out party to the nation. There's too many elements for not to be a media star: breaking barriers in a traditionally male sport as an Ojibwa woman. There was also the tension of her Olympic dream briefly hanging in the balance after a surprise early exit at the world championship in the spring, where some believe Spencer was off her game after beating contemporary Ariane Fortin in the Canadian championships.
Spencer, as you know, played basketball as a teen before finding boxing as her outlet. You can bet she was really into hitting the deck to recover loose balls.
Jason Burnett and Rosannagh MacLennan, trampoline — Perhaps it's because trampoline is relatively new to the Olympics, but Burnett didn't seem to rate a lot of attention after winning silver in the men's event in Beijing. He's overcome a broken leg and the attendant fears that come with having to propel himself so high in the air to do tricks. Meanwhile, MacLennan is now right alongside her one-time idol and teammate Karen Cockburn as Canada's best bet on the women's side.
Whatever one thinks of trampoline being in the Games while baseball and fastpitch (never say softball) are out, it takes a rare blend of agility, strength and blocking out self-doubt. Who couldn't relate to that, especially if Canada gets 2-3 medals out of the event?
Jennifer Abel, diving — With her fellow Quebecers Alex Despatie and Émilie Heymans getting long in the tooth by diving standards, it's wide-open for someone else to become the face of Canadian diving. At 20, Abel is what is usually a diver's prime and is coming off podium results in her last two major meets. An ind
Richard Weinberger, swimming — Imagine running with the bulls in Pamplona in water and you pretty much have an idea of what constitutes open water swimming. It's an event for those who figuratively do a handstand on the fine line between obsessiveness and genius. It combines world-class stamina, the full contact of water polo and the aggressiveness of Black Friday shoppers, in water.
Zsofia Balazs, 21, and Weinberger, 22, will be the first Canadians to compete in the event (it was added only in 2008) in the Aug. 9 women's race and Aug. 10 men's race. Weinberger, from B.C.'s Semiahmoo Peninsula (if Brian Williams was still Canada's main studio host instead of James Duthie, you could just imagine him taking one minute and 45 seconds to Shatnerize eve-ry syl-la-ble of Semiahmoo Peninsula), placed second in a FINA meet in Portagual last month to qualify for London. That makes him a darkhorse. His event is also on the antepenultimate day of the Games, when Canada might be feeling blue on about its medal count (even though we shouldn't). That's not to say Weinberger will be that outlier young medallist, but you can see that storyline.
Parting will be sweet sorrow with ...
Canada's Olympic flagbearer, Simon Whitfield (Fred Chartrand, The Canadian Press)Simon Whitfield, triathlon — Fittingly, the inaugural Olympic men's traithlon champion will also be the first from his sport to serve as a flag bearer. At 37, Whitfield is still ranked 13th in the world, which makes him a wildcard possibility in the gruelling distance event. Great Britain's brother act of Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee might have an inside track on winning.
This does seem like it will be a victory lap for Whitfield, who won silver in Beijing in 2008 to go along with that gold medal from Sydney in 2000. The triathlon will test fans' endurance, too. It begins at 4:30 a.m. ET/1:30 a.m. PT on Aug. 7, which means either getting up very early or staying up very late.
Clara Hughes, cycling — The multi-sport medallist, two months shy of turning 40, is back on the bike a dozen years after she last competed in the Summer Games. There's already been some debate about where to place the Hughesian one in the Canadian Olympic canon, but there's never been anyone like her. Hughes, who's still trying to prove something that possibly can't be defined at age 39, will compete in Sunday's women's road race and the individual time trial on Aug. 1.
The Hughes is right at home in England, so perhaps some home-ginger advantage will rub off on her. "I feel at home being really pasty and pale, and red hair — I feel very ordinary, and I kind of like it here," she told Bruce Arthur this week.
Alexandre Despatie, diving — Arguably (well, almost everything is arguable) one of the toughest mental blocks in sports is for a diver to get back on the board after a bad injury. Despatie, as you know, cbelieves he's conquered any fears stemming from his concussion this spring. At 27, all those thousands of dives in practice and competition have also left him afflicted with various itis-es; you wonder if his doctor's appointments resemble Bruce Wayne's during the first half-hour of The Dark Knight Rises, when comic actor Thomas Lennon deadpans that he has "no cartilage" in his knees.
The three-times world champion is a rock star in Quebec, the one region of Canada that keeps its Olympic heroes on a pedestal. But time catches up to rock stars.
Émilie Heymans, diving — The 30-year-old three-time medallist is out to pull off the coup of medalling in four consecutive Games. It will likely be her last, since she has struck the notion of diving in Rio in 2016. Ultimately, it a testament to her perseverance in a sport that takes a huge tool on the joints, especially knees and wrists.
Heymans' silver medal in Beijing was even something of a surprise. With only eight teams entered in the three-metre, she and Abel are among the strongest contenders to springboard for silver. The gold is all but ceded to China; they are like the Carleton Ravens of diving.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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