Team Canada Athletes ready for New and Returning Sports at Tokyo 2020
During the Olympic Games, the world tunes in as athletes show off what they have been training for their entire lives.
Some have experienced the Olympic Games before. But for others, Tokyo 2020 will be the first time their sport or discipline will be included at the Games. And then, there are other Canadian athletes who have had a long wait for their team to qualify for Olympic competition.
Let’s take a look at some of the Team Canada athletes to watch in those new or returning sports:
The sport made its Olympic debut at Atlanta 1996 where Canada finished fifth. After appearances at Sydney 2000 and Athens 2004, Canada achieved its best ever result at Beijing 2008, finishing fourth after a semifinal loss to Australia.
That would be the last time softball would be an Olympic event for the next 12 years. Now, with the sport being re-introduced to the Games, Team Canada is ready to compete on the Olympic stage once again, bolstered by bronze medals at the 2016 and 2018 World Championships.
In the mix to be named to the 2020 Olympic roster are a few veterans from the last Olympic team – Lauren Bay-Regula, Danielle Lawrie, Kaleigh Rafter, and Jenn Salling – who have either stuck around or came out of retirement to make a podium charge in Tokyo.
“I think it’s really important that we celebrate that it’s back. And in a country that absolutely loves the sport,” Salling told Olympic.ca in December. “It’s going to be an unreal experience for the sport. And it’s just going to be awesome. They love softball and baseball over there.”
Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Japan, so it’s no surprise that the sport is making an Olympic comeback at Tokyo 2020. A demonstration sport as far back as Stockholm 1912, it became an official medal event at Barcelona 1992 and maintained that status until Beijing 2008.
Canada competed in the last two Olympic baseball tournaments, placing fourth at Athens 2004 and sixth in Beijing. While no current major league players are set to be on the roster, some familiar names who frequently step up to wear the maple leaf are Michael Saunders, Dalton Pompey, and Scott Richmond, who were at the WBSC Premier 12.
Tokyo 2020 will be the most gender balanced Olympic Summer Games ever. One change helping to achieve that is the introduction of women’s canoe events. Until now, women could only compete in kayaking, but at the upcoming Games, men and women will have an equal number of events, including two canoe sprint events and one canoe slalom event.
Canada has already locked up a spot in the women’s C-1 200m sprint event and qualification opportunities are still ahead for the C-2 500m sprint event and C-1 slalom event. Canada boasts two of the world’s best women in canoe sprint in Laurence Vincent Lapointe and Katie Vincent.
“Canoeing is so Canadian already,” Vincent told Olympic.ca. “All those pioneers that did a lot of that advocating before I even picked up a paddle or knew what the sport was, was huge… Hopefully next year, we can be there as a strong Canadian team and if we can come back with a few medals, I think it’ll just be really awesome for sport and for the sport within Canada and the community around us.”
Sean McColl and Alannah Yip have earned the right to represent Team Canada in sport climbing’s Olympic debut. The new Olympic sport will have one event for each gender, comprised of three disciplines: speed climbing, bouldering and lead climbing.
As president of the International Federation of Sport Climbing Athletes’ Commission, McColl helped present the case for his sport to be included on the Olympic program, so he experienced a lot of feelings when that news was announced.
“I was super happy about [it] and… it almost felt like a wave of nausea,” McColl told Olympic.ca. “I did really feel like a lot of the work we had done was really paying off… But all of a sudden, the sport that I had fallen in love with, I had now a chance to become an Olympian.”
If there’s one skateboarder the world knows, it’s Tony Hawk. But, there are a few Canadians you should become familiar with before Tokyo 2020, where the sport will make its Olympic debut. Among the Team Canada hopefuls are Annie Guglia, Matt Berger, Adam Hopkins and Ryan Decenzo. The sport has come a long way since its creation when metal wheels were attached to a wooden board. In Tokyo, the sport will feature park and street events.
“The Olympics was never on my radar,” Berger told Olympic.ca. “For competition events, it’s always been X Games and street league… I just feel like it only makes sense… the idea of me doing what I love to do on a world stage where I could potentially be bringing pride to my country, I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better situation really.”
With the sport’s roots in Japan, it is only fitting that the centuries-old martial art would make its official Olympic debut at Tokyo 2020.
One of Canada’s top Olympic hopefuls is Haya Jumaa. who is currently ranked fifth in the World Karate Federation (WKF) Olympic qualification standings. She competed at the 2019 Pan Am Games, where karate has been included since 1995. “Now I have a bigger goal, which I was always dreaming of and I wanted to do it for karate,” said Jumaa, who has also competed internationally in taekwondo. “I just focused on karate because, you know, I wanted to be at the top, not just like, top 10 or top five, I want to be like in the top number one ranked.”
The extreme water sport is set for its Olympic debut in Tokyo. It will feature shortboard competitions, which is the highest performance surfboard. The sport isn’t completely unfamiliar to Canadian athletes – seven surfers competed for Canada at the Lima 2019 Pan Am Games, including Bethany Zelasko and Cody Young in shortboard.
“I was like, ‘oh my gosh, by 2020, I’ll be 20 years old. I can surf in the Olympics’,” Zelasko told Olympic.ca of her reaction when she learned surfing would be included in Tokyo. “And I had so many people texting me and telling me that, you know, ‘you’re going to be there one day, like you can do it’.”
This action-packed sport is played on a smaller court with two fewer players than a traditional basketball game. With teams scoring on the same net, the 10-minute game is fast-paced. So, you won’t want to blink because you may miss a shot.
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The Canadian men’s team featuring Jordan Baker, Jordan Jensen-Whyte, Kyle Landry and Steve Sir, will be looking to punch their ticket to Tokyo at a qualifying tournament in May 2021.
Artistic Swimming (Team)
After only qualifying a duet for Rio 2016, Canada will have a full artistic swimming team at Tokyo 2020. Jacqueline Simoneau is the only member of the squad with Olympic experience, but that means a young team is ready to make their mark in Tokyo, having won gold at the 2019 Pan Am Games in Lima.
Canada’s history in artistic swimming is a rich one, winning eight medals since the sport’s Olympic debut at Los Angeles 1984 when it was known as synchronized swimming.
Water polo (Women)
It’s been a long time coming for Team Canada to have a women’s water polo team at the Olympic Games. The last time that happened was at Athens 2004. A year later, Krystina Alogbo joined the national team and finally 16 years later she’s anticipating her Olympic debut.
“It was like this big dream that you’re in, you’re stuck and you’re not waking up kind of thing,” Krystina Alogbo told Olympic.ca of when Team Canada qualified for Tokyo. “I just didn’t believe it, but yet, I saw that finally we attained that goal. Next goal is not just going to the Olympics, but it’s being Olympic champions.”