Mon, September 23, 2013

Farewell Games for several Canadian stars

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Triathlete Simon Whitfield speaks after being named Canada's flag bearer for the opening ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games, on Parliament Hill in Ottawa July 12, 2012. (CHRIS WATTIE/Reuters)



On a shocking sunny morning 12 years ago, a little known Canadian athlete ran and swam and biked his way to history at the Olympic Games -- and Simon Whitfield was never little known again.

He won a gold medal in triathlon in the remarkable Summer Games of Sydney, followed it up eight years later in Beijing with a silver that was even more heart-stirring -- and here we are just days before the London Olympics and Whitfield will be central to Canadians viewing the spectacle that is the Olympics.

At age 37, this is his fourth Games. He is not necessarily alone in what can be called the Swan Song Olympics for so many members of Team Canada. Vancouver was a coming-out party for the Canadian team in numerous venues. For many like Whitfield, this is quite likely their last shot.

The grand goodbye for a bevy of Canada's storied summer athletes.

The Canadian team in London is full of names you will know, many of whom have performed so well in other years, other Games, other decades even; so many of whom already have won their Olympic medals, have pushed the limits and may be hard-pressed in London to equal their career best.

Whitfield is just one on a list of previous medal winners -- some multi-medal winners -- who probably will be taking their final international bows at the Games of 2012.

The momentous Clara Hughes turns 40 a month after the Games and just can't seem to stay away. It isn't often you see an athlete competing in an Olympics after having been inducted in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, receiving the Order of Canada and having her footprints in Canada's Walk of Fame. But here she is, after speed skating in Vancouver, cycling in London.

Yes, this may be the end for Hughes at the Olympics, but she's a contender in the cycling time trials. She has a chance to bring home her seventh Olympic medal -- more than any other Canadian in history. She has won four in the Winter Games, two in the Summer, and now Hughes is part of Team Swan Song. It's not her way to go out quietly.

It's not just Whitfield and Hughes: Run down the roster of the Canadians and there are the names who have been there, done that, with the best in the world. The goal of the Canadian team heading into the Olympics is to finish among the top 12 countries. Four years ago, Canada won 18 medals and tied for 13th overall in the standings. Expecting the Canadians to win 18 medals this time may be asking too much -- especially considering the age of circumstances of so many of the contenders.

This is the fourth Games for Emilie Heymans, 30, the intense competitor from Quebec. She won a silver in diving in 2000, a bronze in 2004 and, maybe most impressive, a silver in 2008 when her two main competitors from the host country, China, were less half her size. She's three-for-three at the Olympics. Four-for-four is not out of the question.

Heymans heads up the Canadian diving team which is under a cloud of unknown with Alexandre Despatie, also in his fourth Games, in doubt because of the concussion he suffered while training for the Games. Despatie, 27, may be young of age when compared with Whitfield, Hughes or other Canadian team members, but not of excellence or experience.

Daniel Nestor, 39, is back on the tennis court and Adam van Koeverden, 30, is back in the kayak, and then there's equestrian Ian Millar, 65, appearing at his 10th Games. The Goodbye Games begin officially on Friday for Canada. Expect to shed a tear or two.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

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