Brooke Henderson, Women’s Golf, Final Round: August 20
Hometown: Smiths Falls, Ontario
Brooke Henderson was only 15 when she closed out a strong week at the 2013 Manulife Financial LPGA Classic with a 67. Her 10-under-par 274 total on the Grey Silo Golf Course in Waterloo, Ontario, offered a sample of what she could do against elite professionals.
Fast-forward three years and the star prospect from Smiths Falls, Ontario, has emerged as one of the top women’s golfers in the world. Henderson is also one of Canada’s best bets for a podium appearance at the Rio Olympics.
Most recently, Henderson pulled off a rare feat at the Women’s PGA Championship, becoming just the third Canadian golfer to win a major tournament, and the first Canadian woman to do it in nearly 50 years. Still just 18, with less than two years’ worth of pro experience, she also became the youngest winner of the event, which elevated her to No. 2 in the world rankings.
The meteoric rise comes after a 2015 season in which she earned her first tourney title as a pro, recorded two top-five finishes in majors and won the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award as The Canadian Press’s female athlete of the year.
“I’m hoping it’s the start of a pretty long career, and one where I can chase after some bigger dreams and goals that I’ve set for myself,” says Henderson, who will be joined by Alena Sharp in Rio.
Ariane Fortin, Boxing (Women’s 75 kg), Gold Medal Match: August 21
Hometown: St-Nicholas, Quebec
Fortin’s road to Rio began with a detour into defeat. It was the lead-up to the London Olympics four years ago, and she was knocked out of a spot on the Canadian boxing team. Fortin was so dejected she almost gave up — on Canada, on her Olympic dreams.
Instead, she put away the Kleenex and, marshalling grit and a prodigious work ethic, earned a berth on the team heading to Rio, with a shot at a medal. For the 31-year-old native of Lévis, Quebec, the lead-up to Rio looks an awful lot like the road to redemption: A loser in 2012, she’s now the comeback kid — a place on the podium is all that’s missing from the narrative.
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” she said recently after a sparring session at Montreal’s Complexe sportif Claude-Robillard. “I learned to let myself have moments of weakness, moments of sadness. Also, I honestly never stopped believing I’d go to the Olympics. That might seem boastful, but it’s inside me and I believed it.”
Fortin, along with Mandy Bujold from Kitchener, Ontario, is hoping to end Canada’s 20-year medal drought in Olympic boxing — Arthur Biyarslanov of Toronto is the boxing team’s lone male qualifier. Fortin, a two-time world champion who fights in the 75-kg category, has won medals at the Commonwealth and Pan Am Games; Bujold, two-time Pan American champion, fights in the 51-kg class.
Catherine Pendrel, Mountain Bike, Gold Medal Match: August 20
A two-time world champion — she reached the top of the podium in 2011 and 2014 — Pendrel will be competing in her third Olympic Games. She was an automatic selection after coming in fifth at the world mountain-bike championships.
“It’s a different kind of excitement. The first time it’s more about just going there and trying to do your best,” says Pendrel, who finished fourth in Beijing in 2008 and ninth in London in 2012. “The second time I was definitely a medal favourite and was very focused on that and unfortunately didn’t have the day that I wanted, but I get another chance to put it all together.”
Originally from Fredericton, New Brunswick, Pendrel was ranked No. 6 in the world at the end of May, while teammate Emily Batty was ranked 10th. Both women are a threat to reach the podium in Rio. Batty won bronze at the 2016 world championships, while Pendrel finished fifth. This year it’s all about focusing on her best performance — and using her past experiences to her advantage.
Tory Nyhaug, BMX Cycling, Gold Medal Match: August 19
Nyhaug has had his share of thrills over the years, but he has also suffered his share of spills. In 2010 Nyhaug ruptured his spleen at an event in South Africa and spent a few days in hospital. He missed a month of competition and his spleen healed. However, in his final big tune-up race before the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, he crashed again and re-ruptured it. He finished 19th in London, all the same.
The Coquitlam native has won plenty of medals including a silver at the 2014 world championships in Rotterdam, and a gold medal at the Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015, where he stole the show — winning all his heats and then the final.
The Olympics are a different beast altogether. Still, with a successful 2016 season, Nyhaug feels he will be in contention in Rio. The course is expected to be extremely fast, which will provide a good show.
“They will have it dialed for the big show so it will be really smooth and great to watch, says Nyhaug. “There is a pool of 20 guys where the podium usually comes from . . . There are so many fast guys that I just plan to go to Rio as best prepared as I can be and just go for it.”
Canadian Olympic Committee
Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley, Women's Beach Volleyball, Gold Medal Match: August 17
Hometowns: Kitchener AND Waterdown, Ontario
Ages: 29 and 28
Canada will be well represented at the tournament being held at Brazil’s famous Copacabana Beach. Team Canada qualified four teams for the Games, making them just one of four nations sending the maximum number of squads allowed. It’s also the first time Canada has had that many teams at a Summer Games since the sport was introduced in 1996.
Of the pairs travelling to Brazil, Bansley and Pavan remain our country’s best shot at a medal. The fifth-ranked team will try to put Canada on the Olympic podium for the first time in women’s beach volleyball after earning silver at the Porec Major in Croatia last month and bronze at the Moscow Grand Slam in May.
The duo complements each other on court, as Pavan, the taller of the two at six-foot-five, covers the net, while Bansley, who stands five-foot-seven, defends the backcourt. Over the years, the pair who train in California have worked to improve physically, but they’ve also spent time building a solid relationship, both on and off the court.
Back in 2012, watching the beach volleyball competition in London from home, Bansley recalls her disappointment at seeing the Canadian women fail to advance beyond pool play. Now, four years later, she has the chance to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
We continue our look at the elite homegrown athletes most likely to strike gold in Rio
Heading into her third Olympic Games, trampoline gymnast Rosie MacLennan is a defending gold medallist who has seen everything her high-flying, dangerous sport can throw at her. But the 27-year-old has never had a week like the one in late July when she received a call from Curt Harnett, Canada’s chef de mission for Rio.
Harnett, a three-time Olympic medallist, announced she would be Canada’s flag-bearer for the Games’ opening ceremony — making her the first gymnast to receive that honour.
The thing was . . . she couldn’t tell anyone for a week.
“It’s a hard secret to keep because obviously it’s something I’m incredibly proud about,” MacLennan said in a conference call from Ottawa, after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had introduced her at Parliament Hill as the flag-bearer. “I kind of mentioned to my family that they should maybe watch the announcement.”
MacLennan will lead 314 Canadian athletes into the opening ceremony in Rio on August 5. She was front and centre in a brief ceremony, flanked by Canadian Olympic Committee officials and Trudeau — and looked as though she took a breath to keep her cool as the PM introduced her.
“It was incredible,” she says. “It was great that he took the time out of his obviously busy schedule to attend the announcement and it was an honour for him to introduce me. I think he’s been a great supporter of sport and I know he’ll be cheering the team on.”
Meanwhile, Eugenie Bouchard has confirmed that she will represent Canada at the Rio Olympics, putting to rest any doubts about the participation of the country’s top-ranked women’s tennis player. Bouchard said she would wait until “the last minute” to decide whether she would accept the spot after expressing concerns about the Zika virus and safety in Rio.
Bouchard has seen fellow Canadian Milos Raonic and other high-profile athletes pull out of Rio and admits that their decisions have weighed on her. Canada will be missing its top men’s player in Rio after Raonic announced he was skipping the event due to health concerns.
Bouchard will join Gabriela Dabrowski, Vasek Pospisil and Daniel Nestor at the Games.
Here’s part 2 of TV Week’s profile of the top homegrown medal contenders for 2016...