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Andre De Grasse eyes golden opportunity at Tokyo Games

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Andre De Grasse does not dwell on the injuries that derailed the better part of two seasons but rather remains laser focused on the Tokyo Olympics where a golden opportunity awaits him given the notable absence of retired sprinter Usain Bolt.

This year will mark the first time since the 2004 Athens Games where a male athlete other than world record holder Bolt will become the 100m or 200m Olympic champion.

“The main thing for me is staying injury free,” three-time Olympic medallist De Grasse told Reuters in a video interview. “If I can stay injury free and get to the starting line I know I can accomplish big things.”

De Grasse became a household name after he won bronze in the 100m at the 2016 Rio Games, silver in the 200m and bronze in the 4x100m relay, making him the first Canadian athlete to win Olympic medals in all three sprint events.

He then missed most of the 2017 and 2018 seasons with right hamstring injuries but overcame that stretch of adversity as he won bronze in the 100m and silver in the 200m at the 2019 world championships in Doha.

The long road back from injury, a stretch during which De Grasse said he had to overcome doubters who questioned whether he would ever be the same sprinter, played a role in him joining mental health tech company headversity in May as a resilience ambassador.

Now, with reigning 100m world champion Christian Coleman also absent from Tokyo while he serves a ban for missing three drugs tests in a 12-month period, De Grasse, 26, may have his best shot yet at winning the crown jewel of the Summer Games.

“The last Olympics I felt like I had a good shot at winning gold, this Olympics I feel I have a shot and I’ll probably say the same thing again for the (2024) Olympics. That’s just my mindset,” said De Grasse.

“I’m just a confident guy and I always feel I can do better. I feel I haven’t reached my peak yet, or people like to say my prime, I feel like I haven’t reached that yet.”

‘LITTLE BIT SCARY’

De Grasse, who said he enjoys the bright lights and pressure of the Olympic stage, has been rounding into form ahead of the July 23-Aug. 8 Tokyo Games where he said very little separates all the top competitors.

“We’re all just as fast, we all have around the same personal bests … but it’s really like you have to do it on that exact day,” said De Grasse.

“That’s the hard part, and that’s where a lot of pressure gets to people sometimes where they can’t execute the race that they want to or they are not feeling as good as when they ran that time before.”

Like many other athletes, De Grasse was initially upset when the Tokyo Olympics were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic but he ultimately came around and enjoyed the rare mental and physical break it offered him.

While De Grasse works out six days a week hoping to become the next sprint king, he is well aware there are more serious things at stake considering Japan remains under a state of emergency due to the pandemic.

“It’s a little bit scary hearing in the news about what’s going on in Tokyo but I try not to think about it,” said De Grasse.

“I try to keep an open mind and focus on what I can control and just hope the situation can get better by the time that we are ready to get over there.”

 

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto; Editing by Toby Davis)

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Penny Oleksiak back to lead Canada in Tokyo pool

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Penny Oleksiak, the first Canadian to win four medals at a Summer Olympics, will lead a Canadian swimming team eager to build on their efforts in Rio de Janeiro at next month’s Tokyo Games.

Swimming Canada unveiled a 26-member squad (16 women, 10 men) on Thursday that is a mix of experience and youth that officials hope is capable of improving on the six medals won in Rio, the country’s best haul in the pool since the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

“I think the mix of veteran leaders and new faces is awesome,” said Kylie Masse, a bronze medallist in the 100 metres backstroke in Rio and one of 10 returning Olympians. “That’s kind of how sport works, there are always older and younger athletes, and it’s a great dynamic to have.”

Leading the charge at the 2016 Rio Games was Oleksiak, who became Canada’s youngest Olympic champion winning gold in the 100m freestyle as a 16-year-old, while also grabbing silver in the 100m butterfly and two relay bronze.

The stage is set for a new star to emerge in Tokyo in 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who edged Oleksiak in the 200m freestyle at the trials and breezed to victory in the 800m free.

At the other end of the experience and age spectrum is 37-year-old Brent Hayden, who came out of retirement to earn a spot on his fourth Olympic team, becoming the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer in history.

Bronze medallist in the 100m freestyle at the 2012 London Olympics, Hayden clinched his spot with a win in the 50m freestyle at the Canadian trials that wrapped up on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Toby Davis)

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Sinclair to lead Canadian women’s team in her fourth Olympics

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Christine Sinclair, the all-time international goal-scoring record holder, was named to her fourth Olympic squad on Wednesday and will headline a Canadian roster at the Tokyo Games that features a mix of veterans and youth.

Led by Sinclair, whose 186 goals for her country are the most by a female or male soccer player worldwide, Canada won medals at both the 2012 and 2016 Olympics and was the only nation to make the podium in both competitions.

“I am looking forward to doing whatever I can to help take this team back to the podium and make history again,” said Canadian captain Sinclair. “Our team is in a good spot, we are excited, we are hungry and we are ready to go.”

The 18-player roster features 12 members of the squad that competed at the 2016 Rio Games while a quintet including Vanessa Gilles, Jayde Riviere, Julia Grosso, Adriana Leon, and Evelyne Viens will be making their Olympic debuts.

Goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan travelled to Rio in 2016 as an alternate.

Canada will kick off their Tokyo 2020 journey when they face Japan on July 21 and continue Group E play against Chile on July 24 and Britain on July 27.

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Ed Osmond)

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Which of the Canadians Picked in the 2021 NFL Draft Will Thrive This Season?

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It was a good NFL Draft for Canadian players in 2021.

Some four stars from north of the border were selected by NFL franchises in the free agency pick ‘em, and that is tied as the highest number of Canadians drafted in the 85-year history of the event.

Of course, the hope is that these young talents are more than just filler and roster depth, but can any of the quartet make the breakthrough into the big time?

Here’s a look at which of the NFL’s newest Canadian additions can shine in 2021/22.

Jevon Holland

The defensive back was the number 36 pick in the Draft by the Miami Dolphins, who beat off a number of rivals in the hunt for the Coquitlam native.

A versatile defender, Holland is a former Jim Thorpe Award semi-finalist thanks to his exploits in the NCAA back in 2019 with the University of Oregon.

He sat out the 2020 campaign, but representatives from dozens of NFL teams were in town to watch Holland go through his paces at the Oregon Pro Day.

The 21-year-old is following in the footsteps of his father Robert, who turned out for the Detroit Lions, and he is expected to force his way into the starting line-up at the Dolphins. And, who knows, maybe Holland could go all the way in his first season, with Miami priced at +2500 in the Super Bowl 2022 American football odds.

Benjamin St-Juste

When you’re six foot three, 205 pounds and still able to run 40 yards in 4.51 seconds, it goes without saying that you have the physical credentials to succeed in the NFL.

Benjamin St-Juste is the man that can, and he will bolster the roster at a Washington Football Team that will be looking to improve upon their playoff showing in 2020.

The 23-year-old may only have been a third-round pick, but he comes with a burgeoning reputation thanks to a successful time at the University of Minnesota. An All-Big Ten special mention in 2019, more than 50 NFL recruitment personnel attended the college’s pro day – largely to catch a glimpse of St-Juste going through his paces.

Both Brian Gutekunst and Jon Robinson made the trip but, in the end, it was Washington who snapped up the powerhouse from the Draft.

Chuba Hubbard

The third Canadian to be drafted in 2021 was Chuba Hubbard, who became the first Canadian running back to be selected from the Draft in 25 years.

It’s the Carolina Panthers who have taken a chance on the 22-year-old and with his credentials, you can see why. Hubbard finished eighth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy in 2019 after a stellar campaign – he served up 2,094 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns, an NCAA best. He was named the Big 12 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.

While running backs are not the hottest of properties in the Draft, Hubbard provably has the talent to cross into the end zone with regularity – the Panthers might just have got their hands on an unheralded gem here.

With these three Canadians taking the step up to the NFL, the future of the sport north of the border looks in safe hands.

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