B.C. well represented on Team Canada 

Olympic countdown to London Games is on

click to enlarge RYDER HESJEDAL  PHOTO BY PETIT BRUN/FLICKR
  • RYDER HESJEDAL PHOTO BY PETIT BRUN/FLICKR

Just under a month out from the start of the 2012 Olympics and Team Canada is set. Or mostly set, as a few sports still have to confirm who will be representing Canada in London. Most of those names will be confirmed over the next few weeks following qualifier events.

B.C. has reason to be proud. Despite the fact that the province represents just 13 per cent of the total population of Canada, some 40 per cent of athletes and coaches are based in B.C.

"We expect that B.C.-based athletes could bring home up to 50 per cent of Canada's medals in London," said Wendy Pattenden, CEO for Canadian Sport Centre Pacific.

Late last month saw the confirmation of both mountain bike and road teams.

In mountain biking, Catharine Pendrel was confirmed to the team almost as a formality, as were Max Plaxton and Geoff Kabush. Emily Batty upset two-time Olympian Marie-Helene Premont for the final spot on the team.

In road cycling, Giro d'Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal was confirmed to the team. Canada only qualified one male racer to represent the country in both road and time trial races, and Hesjedal proved he's Canada's strongest athlete at this time. Three women qualified, including road and speed-skating veteran Clara Hughes, Joelle Numainville and Denise Ramsden.

"I am honoured and excited to represent Canada in the Olympic Games," said Hesjedal. "It is my hope that the sport of cycling continues to grow in Canada and that the spirit of the Olympics shines an even greater spotlight on it. I am extremely proud to be Canadian."

Canada's goals in London are modest, with Own the Podium setting a goal of placing in the top 12 for total medals in the Olympics and a top eighth in the Paralympics.

In 2008, Canada placed 14th for total medals with 18, three of them gold.

Canada's medal hopes this year are in a variety of sports. Veterans like kayaker Adam Van Koeverden and diver Alexandre Despatie are looking to return to the podium, while athletes like track cyclists Tara Whitten and Zach Bell are looking to convert success at world championship races into Olympic hardware.

Some news outlets have already picked their top 10 lists for the Games, which get underway on July 27. The CBC's list include three-time Olympic medallist Karen Cockburn on trampoline; triathlete Paula Findlay; shotput hurler Dylan Armstrong; hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep; cyclist/speed skater Clara Hughes (who needs just one more Olympic medal to become Canada's most decorated Olympian with seven); swimmer Ryan Cochrane; divers Jennifer Abel and Emille Heymans; three-time Olympic medallist Adam Van Koeverden; female boxer Mary Spencer (gold medallist at 2011 PanAm Games), and 2008 equestrian gold medallist Eric Lamaze (who will have a hard time replicating his Beijing victory after his champion horse died last year).

Yahoo Sports' list had a few overlaps. They also included mountain bike world champion Catharine Pedrel, swimmer Brent Hayden, female wrestler Tonya Verbeek and three rowing teams — men's and women's eights, and the women's doubles team of Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee.

In women's boxing, Mary Spencer was the big story after winning PanAms but then almost losing her berth after losing to an American boxer. However, the team still has a number of female contenders as the sport makes its Olympic debut.

Whistler does have a few local connections to the team. Adam Van Koeverden and other members of the national kayak team were at the Canadian Sports Centre gym for a training camp in January. Ryder Hesjedal was regularly in Whistler as a mountain bike racer. He is a past winner of the Cheakamus Challenge and he competed in the Test of Metal in Squamish. Catharine Pendrel has been to Pemberton twice to race the NimbyFifty, and currently holds the course record on the Test of Metal. Max Plaxton, another mountain biker, also has wins in the Test of Metal and Cheakamus Challenge to his credit, and won this year's NimbyFifty.

As well, the Canadian Sports Centre Pacific's High Performance Centre in Whistler has hosted the women's soccer team and men's rugby, which is will be included in the Summer Games in 2016. The Oros Whistler Gymnastics Centre next door to the High Performance Centre hosted the national trampoline team last summer, inviting community members of the to the facility to watch the athletes.

There's a profit motive for Canadian athletes heading to London, going back to the Beijing Games in 2008. Gold medals earn athletes $20,000, while silvers are worth $15,000 and bronze $10,000.

In 2008, triathlete Simon Whitfield agreed at the start of the race to split his prize winnings with his teammate in exchange for the teammate's help on the cycling leg.

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