Holy smokes, sports fans. We’re one year away.
In 365 days, a group of happy and fit Canadians will march into Olympic Stadium in Tokyo to officially kick off the XXXII Olympiad. We’ll also meet a blue and white checkered mascot named Miraitowa who has pointy ears and is capable of teleportation. Incredible, right?
But let’s focus on Canada. While a lot can change in a year — and many Canadians have yet to officially qualify — this seems the time to look at some of the stories to watch as the Games inch closer.
A couple of notes, before we get to the list: The kayaking and canoeing submissions are courtesy of former kayaker Adam van Koeverden, a four-time Olympic medallist who took a break from his work as the Liberal candidate in Milton, Ont., in the upcoming election to text us names to keep an eye on. We’re giving him a donut in return for his help, and he thinks that’s a good deal.
Secondly, you’ll notice a lot of the athletes below compete in water, where Canada excels (for evidence, see the ongoing world aquatic championships). And finally, one last trend: A lot of these athletes are women, who won 16 of Canada’s 22 medals at the last Summer Games.
In no particular order, here are 20 Canadians to watch a year out from the 2020 Tokyo Games:
1. Kylie Masse
The 23-year-old from LaSalle, Ont., made history this week when she defended her world championship title in the 100-metre backstroke. No Canadian swimmer has ever won back-to-back world titles in the same event. Until Masse. Her title defence proves she thrives under pressure, which is a good thing, because the Olympics are full of it. Masse won bronze in this event in Rio. She’s a backstroking genius.
2. Maggie MacNeil
Wow. Chances are you first heard of MacNeil just a few days ago. The 19-year-old from London, Ont., swam to an upset for the ages, winning the 100-m butterfly world title. She beat her PB by more than a second and set a Canadian record in the process (55.83 seconds). MacNeil was also part of Canada’s 4×100-m relay team that set a Canadian record and won bronze (with 18-year-old Kayla Sanchez, Penny Oleksiak and Taylor Ruck). MacNeil and Masse are the only Canadian women to ever win world swimming titles.
3. Penny Oleksiak
The swimmer who stormed onto the stage in Rio at age 16 and won four medals in her Olympic debut remains a threat, even if podiums haven’t been as easy to come by recently. Oleksiak was 6th in the 200-metre freestyle at world championships, and she helped the 4×100-m freestyle relay team capture bronze. She battled injuries the year after the last Olympics, and has been dealing with the pressure that came with her success at age 16. Never count Oleksiak out.
4. Taylor Ruck
She’s a medal threat in multiple events. Ruck is a key member to relay teams, and freestyle and backstroke are her strengths. She won a whopping eight medals at the last Commonwealth Games.
5. Sydney Pickrem
Individual medleys are Pickrem’s jam, and the 22-year-old recently won bronze at 200-m in the event at worlds. She owns another world bronze medal in the 400 IM, from 2017.
6. Jennifer Abel
No Canadian in history owns more than Abel’s nine medals from the world aquatics championships. The 27-year-old from Montreal earned silver in the 3-metre synchro event, along with partner Melissa Citrini-Beaulieu. Abel also just missed out on an individual medal at 3 metres, placing fourth. Also fourth in both events at the last Olympics, Abel has since earned five world championship medals.
7. Women’s team
Canada is ranked seventh in the world after an incredibly disappointing World Cup that saw this team — which many were calling the best the country had ever fielded — score just four goals in four games and take an early exit. But with two Olympic bronze medals in the last two Summer Games and with the greatest ever player in Christine Sinclair perhaps near the end of her career (she’s 36, but could play well into her 40s if she wanted to), the Canadian women will be gunning for that podium.
8. Brooke Henderson
She has won twice already this season, and will be headed to Aurora, Ont., next month to defend her Canadian Open title. Henderson has four other top 10 finishes so far this year, and she’s ranked No. 8 in the world. Her consistency over the last couple of seasons has been incredible. A major winner at age 18, she owns nine LPGA Tour titles and is the winningest Canadian golfer ever. Already. At the age of 21. Henderson finished two shots back of a bronze medal at the last Summer Games.
9. Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Parades
The pair won the 2019 world beach volleyball championships earlier this month. There’s already Olympic success in Humana-Parades’s family, too: Her father, Hernan Parades, coached the Canadian duo of John Child and Mark Heese to Olympic beach volleyball bronze back in 1996, the first year it was an official Olympic sport. Canada hasn’t won Olympic hardware in beach volleyball since, but Pavan and Humana-Parades could get this country back on the podium.
10. Hillary Janssens and Caileigh Filmer
The duo won world gold in the coxless pair at the last world championship. Filmer, from B.C., made her Olympic debut in Rio with the women’s eight, placing fifth. Janssens was part of the women’s eight crew that won world silver in 2017. (Both Canada’s men’s and women’s eights have won medals at recent World Cups, so keep an eye on those crews, too.)
11. Laurence Vincent-Lapointe
At the last world championships, the sprint canoer won three gold medals – in the C-1 at 200-m and 5,000-m and the C2 at 500-m (with partner, Katie Vincent, who’s another one to watch). Vincent-Lapointe is an 11-time world champion. The 27-year-old is from Trois-Rivieres, Que., and if you’ve never heard of her despite all that success, it’s because these Tokyo Games are the first Olympics to include women’s canoeing. (Yeesh. It’s about time.) At the 2020 Games, women will compete in the C1 at 200-m and C2 at 500-m.
12. Mark Oldershaw
He’s an Olympic bronze medallist at 1,000-m in the C1 event, and one of van Koeverden’s closest friends. The 36-year-old is the fifth member of the Oldershaw family to compete in the Olympics.
13. Mark de Jonge
He specializes in the 200-m event, and was once the world record holder. De Jonge won bronze in London in 2012, and is the 2015 Pan American Games champion.
14. Erica Wiebe
She won gold in Rio at 75 kg, and the 30-year-old from Ottawa will be vying to defend that title a year from now. Canada is deep in talent in wrestling, so even qualifying is tough, but Wiebe is one to watch. (So are Diana Weicker at 53 kg and Danielle Lappage at 68 kg.) Wrestlers can qualify for the Olympics at world championships in September.
15. Women’s team
Canada is ranked 5th in the world, led by stars Kia Nurse and Natalie Achonwa. Nurse is lighting up the WNBA and will play in the upcoming all-star game. The New York Liberty guard is averaging 16.2 points per game, good for 7th in the league (and Nurse prides herself on defense). At the last Pan Am Games, she was tournament MVP, with 13 PPG. Canada has never won an Olympic medal in women’s basketball, but this team is trending upward.
TRACK AND FIELD
16. Andre De Grasse
He won three Olympic medals in Rio, and though De Grasse has struggled with injury since, he’s beginning to get his stride back. The 24-year-old has a new coach. In his return to competition this season, DeGrasse has already won 200-m gold at a Diamond League event in Rabat, Morrocco, and Golden Spike in the Czech Republic. World championships in October will be a big test.
17. Derek Drouin
The reigning Olympic high jump champion took all of last season off due to a neck injury. And as is the case for De Grasse, this season will be huge for Drouin as he builds towards next summer. He made his return in April after a year on the shelf, and won an event in California with a 2.13-metre jump. Nice.
18. Sean McColl
The 31-year-old from Vancouver has a good shot at winning one of the first-ever Olympic medals in sport climbing. McColl has won the overall title at World Championships several times, and he’s an expert in lead and bouldering. Those two disciplines, along with speed, will be combined in Tokyo to determine the overall champion. McColl is also very cool: He has competed on American Ninja Warrior.
19. Women’s team
They’re ranked No. 4 in the world, and finished the last world rugby sevens series ranked third overall in the standings, winning one of six tournaments. Canada won bronze in Rio, where rugby sevens made its debut.
20. Rosie MacLennan
She’s the two-time and defending Olympic gold medallist in trampoline. In May, the 30-year-old broke her ankle at a World Cup event, but the good news is that injury came 14 months out from the Olympics. Ahead of Rio, MacLennan dealt with concussions and a neck injury, but dialled back her routine and came back and still won. She’ll be looking to make another comeback ahead of Tokyo.