Six Torontonians To Watch For at the Rio Olympics
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Six Torontonians To Watch For at the Rio Olympics

Your guide to the athletes repping the 6ix this summer.

The Rio Olympic Games are almost here, and with qualifying and trials all done and dusted, it’s an important time for Torontonians who will be competing on the world’s biggest sporting stage. The Canadian squad will take more than 315 athletes that will compete in 27 events—that’s 38 more athletes than London 2012.

The Olympics is more than just an amateur sport showcase: for the athletes training every day for four years, it’s about self-sacrifice. The games offer an opportunity for countries to come together. In pitting their best against one another, they embrace those three Latin words that form the Olympics motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius: Faster, Higher, Stronger.

Here are six athletes who call the 6ix home that are poised to play a significant role in Rio.

1 Penny Oleksiak, 200-metre freestyle swimmer

So excited to go to Rio with team ANADA today.. hahaha ??? #sofunny #flowchop

A photo posted by Penny Oleksiak (@typicalpen) on

After an impressive swim at the Canadian Olympic trials this spring in Toronto, where the 16-year-old finished top two in the individual 200-metre freestyle, the Beach resident is heading to Rio as the youngest Canadian athlete. Last week at the Toronto Pan Am Centre (TPAC) as the swim team were put through their final paces before Rio, Oleksiak told Torontoist Toronto is the perfect place to prepare for the Olympics. “It’s pretty great to have my training here. It’s where my family are, my everyday life,” she says. “It keeps me distracted from all the big stuff that is coming.” Oleksiak is competing in five events in Rio and has been called “the vanguard of Canada’s new swimming generation.” The swimmer says she’s proud to be representing Canada on such a big stage. “It’s your country and it’s the best of the best from your country that are competing,” she says. “I feel like the support for the people representing Canada will really help them. I know it’s going to help me. I’m going to try and make Canada as proud as I can.”


2 Rosie MacLennan, trampoline gymnast

If form has anything to indicate, MacLennan will arguably be Canada’s best chance for a medal at the Olympics. After her gold medal in London 2012, the King City native, who lives in the Fashion District, won her first world title the following year and has continued her dominance at the Pan Am Games with back-to-back gold medal performances in 2011 and in Toronto last year.

“Competing at the Olympics, to me, represents the journey to get there: all of the success, the failures, the challenges faced and overcome and the amazing support I have from family, friends, teammates, coaches—everyone who has contributed to my being there,” she wrote in an email. “The Games are about bringing the country together and even more so, the world together and particularly in trying times, they are a reminder to celebrate humanity and the traits that connect all of us around the world.”

MacLeannan did most of her training at the Toronto Athletic Club and the Skyriders facility in Richmond Hill, where she has trained for 19 years. She calls it one of the top facilities in the world. The 27-year-old has also been awarded the honour of leading Canada out as the official flag bearer and concussion scares aside. MacLennan will be looking to claim back-to-back Olympic gold medals. “I’m really excited to be among other Torontonians, but I am incredibly proud to be a part of an amazing Team Canada,” she says.


3 Crispin Duenas, archery

This will be Duenas’s third consecutive Olympics, but the North York native, who now calls Scarborough home, will be looking to grab his first Olympic medal at Rio. Duenas started archery when he was just 13 years old, and has used the Ontario Science Centre as his backyard to improve his shooting skills. The 30-year-old has now won silver medals in 2007 and 2011 at the Pan Am Games; he also won a bronze at the World Championships in 2013, becoming the first Canadian to do so in 41 years. The University of Toronto physics major has held a world rank as high as fifth. Duenas says he’s pushing himself for that perfect round and will take nothing but confidence into the Olympics.


4 Kristina Valjas, beach volleyball

Kristina Valjas honed her volleyball expertise with the University of Toronto’s Varsity Blues team between 2005 and 2010. The Willowdale resident then fell in love with beach volleyball after using it as her off-season training. In 2010, the 29-year-old qualified for the national team. In order to qualify for the Olympics, teams played in events and collected points on the FIVB tour between April 2015 and June 2016 . The top 17 teams in the world qualified based on their best 12 results. Valjas and her partner, Jamie Broder, finished in 13th position and won gold at the first qualification event in Fuzhou, China last year—it was the first medal ever won by a Canadian women’s beach volleyball team.

Valjas said in an email that most of her training was completed at the National Team centre at Downsview Park in the winter, and in the summer they served it up at Ashbridge’s Bay. But most of the time they are around the world competing on the FIVB tour.

“It’s important for me to train in Toronto because our national team is based here, but on a personal level, my entire family lives here and I just think it’s the best city in the world,” she says. “I am so proud to be competing alongside other Torontonians at the Games. I’m inspired that each athlete that hails from Toronto has worked so hard on their journey to the Olympics, and since our city is pretty big I may not have met them yet, but it’ll be pretty cool to connect with people who I know will have something in common with me.” There are four beach volleyball teams heading to Rio in both men’s and women’s, a first for Canada.


5 Andre De Grasse, 100-metre and 200-metre sprinter

On My Way!?? #GIG

A video posted by Andre De Grasse (@de6rasse) on

There are big expectations for Andre De Grasse when track and field events begin on August 12. The Markham native exploded on the scene last year when he turned pro. Ever since, he’s won won two NCAA Championship races in the 100-metre and 200-metre. The 21-year-old won double gold in the 100m and 200m at the Pan Am Games in Toronto, where he set a national record for the 200-metre at 19.88 seconds. This is De Grasse’s first time competing in the Olympics, and he calls it the “big show that really counts.” The sprinter will have to beat the sensational Usain Bolt to claim gold, but there’s nothing to suggest that he couldn’t become the next king of the 100-metre at the Olympics in the future.


6 Tamara Tatham, basketball forward

The trip to Juno beach today was amazing…and our win yesterday was awesome! I must say France has been good to us??? #GameDay #WeAreTeamCanada #RoadToRio #TeesJourney A photo posted by Tamara Tatham (@ttatham) on

The Rio Games will mark the second time 30-year-old Tamara Tatham makes an Olympic appearance. The Brampton resident is one of 12 women who make up the national team, which includes seven returning players from London 2012. Tatham will bring more than 100 games of experience to Rio. She’s versatile and an elite defender who can drive to the basket, making her one of the more difficult players to match up on. “You’re one of 12 women that get to represent your country on the highest level, and I know each one of us is very honoured to do it,” she told the Toronto Sun. “We feel a lot of pride to have that responsibility.” Tatham has been playing with the national team for nine years, and is also an ambassador for women in basketball in Toronto and across the country.

When she’s not in the 6ix, Tatham is playing for her professional team, Dynamo Novosibirsk. “[There’s] no feeling like having the word Canada written across my chest as I rep my country in the sport I love,” she said in an interview with Canada Basketball.

The national team will have to defeat the likes of the United States, France, and Australia if they want to bring home a medal. And there’s every chance that is possible. Last year Canada won gold at FIBA Americas and Toronto’s Pan Am Games (they defeated the United States).

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