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The Canadian swimming team is picking up steam for Tokyo
Canada’s Olympic swimming trials wrapped up last night in Toronto, and the team for Tokyo was announced today. Here are some key takeaways from the trials and things to look forward to in the Olympic swimming events, which begin exactly one month from today:
This could be the Summer Olympics. The breakout star of the trials was 14-year-old Summer McIntosh, who won the women’s 200- and 800-metre freestyle events and earned an Olympic spot in both. She could be a 2021 version of Penny Oleksiak. That’s a very high bar — Oleksiak won individual gold and silver and a pair of relay bronze as a 16-year-old in Rio. But, given her similarly fascinating mix of talent and youth, McIntosh might also steal the show if she can reach the podium in Tokyo. She’ll be racing against one of the most dominant swimmers ever, American Katie Ledecky, who won the 200, 400 and 800 in Rio and owns five Olympic gold medals — three short of the all-time women’s swimming record.
No one’s acting their age. Another Canadian teenager will be taking on Ledecky in the Olympic debut of the women’s 1,500 metres. Sixteen-year-old Katrina Bellio won the event last night at the trials to grab a spot in the Olympics (McIntosh was scratched after a gruelling week of races, but has looked capable of competing in the 1,500 too). On the other end of the age spectrum, 37-year-old Brent Hayden won the men’s 50-metre freestyle, earning a trip to his fourth Olympics. The 2007 world champion in the 100 freestyle was retired for seven years after taking bronze at the 2012 Olympics. In Tokyo, he’ll become the oldest Canadian Olympic swimmer ever. McIntosh won’t be the youngest, but she’s very close. Twenty-three years separate her and Hayden.
Canada’s reigning world champions look good. Kylie Masse, the 2017 and ’19 world champ (and 2016 Olympic bronze medallist) in the women’s 100-metre backstroke, broke her own Canadian record at the trials. She also won the 200 backstroke last night — hours after graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in kinesiology. Masse will be a podium contender in both events in Tokyo. Women’s 100m butterfly world champ Maggie Mac Neil has a great shot at her first Olympic medal after winning that event easily at the trials. Another Canadian with solid podium chances is the versatile Sydney Pickrem. She took bronze in the 400m individual medley at the 2017 world championships, and bronze in both the 200 IM and 200 breaststroke in 2019. Pickrem will compete in all three of those events in Tokyo.
Penny is back. This was great to see. By her own admission, Oleksiak has struggled with the weight of expectations since her life-changing performances in Rio. Her results reflected that: Oleksiak hasn’t won an individual medal at a major international full-course meet since those magical 2016 Olympics. There was a chance she wouldn’t even qualify to defend her Olympic 100-metre freestyle title. But Oleksiak delivered at the trials, winning the 100 free with her fastest time since Rio to clinch a spot in Tokyo. She’ll also compete in the 200 free (despite losing to Summer McIntosh at the trials) and will be a key member of multiple relay teams with a shot at the Olympic podium. Oleksiak was in on three relay bronze medals at the 2019 world championships. Read more about Penny’s rejuvenation here.
The Canadian Elite Basketball League returns tonight. As CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter writes in his preview of the CEBL’s third season, this league is not afraid to try stuff. Last year, it introduced the Elam Ending — an enlightened concept for closing out basketball games that eliminates the annoying tactic of intentional fouls by getting the teams to play to a target score rather than a set amount of time. The NBA tested the Elam Ending at its all-star-game in 2020 and everybody loved it. But it hasn’t had the guts to implement it for meaningful games. The CEBL also beat the NBA to the punch last year by becoming the first sports league with teams in Canada to return to action after the pandemic hit. And, this year, it’s the first league in North America to offer to pay players part of their salary in Bitcoin. The season tips off tonight with the Ottawa BlackJacks hosting the Niagara River Lions at 7 p.m. ET. You can live stream it (and every CEBL game this season) on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Eight games will also be broadcast nationally on CBC TV. For more on what to expect this season, watch this episode of North Courts, the CBC Sports show about Canadian basketball.
Canada’s Olympic and Paralympic track and field trials start tomorrow. The three-day meet in Montreal is a little different this time. Due to the pandemic and the various restrictions around it, there will be no fans in attendance and athletes are required to follow a raft of health-and-safety protocols. More importantly, competing at the trials is not required for nomination to the Olympic or Paralympic teams. So some big names who have already punched their tickets to Tokyo will be absent — including the biggest, Andre De Grasse. But others are using the trials as an opportunity to tune up for the Olympics. Decathlon gold-medal contender Damian Warner will compete in long jump and hurdles to sharpen his technique. The stakes are much higher for athletes who need a strong result at the trials in order to qualify for Tokyo. Reigning Olympic men’s high jump champion Derek Drouin, whose career has been derailed by injuries since Rio, still needs to clear the Olympic-standard height in order to be allowed to defend his title. Read more about who and what to watch at the trials in this story by CBC Sports’ Jamie Strashin. Read about how shot putter Brittany Crew and middle-distance runner Brandon McBride are preparing for the Olympics after deciding to skip the trials in this story by CBC Sports’ Doug Harrison.
The knockout stage is set at soccer’s European Championship. The group stage wrapped up yesterday, cementing the matchups for the single-elimination round of 16. It kicks off Saturday with sentimental favourite Denmark playing Wales. The Danes advanced despite witnessing teammate Christian Eriksen nearly die on the pitch in their opening match. Saturday’s other game pits impressive-looking Group A winner Italy vs. Austria. On Sunday it’s the Netherlands vs. the Czech Republic, and a tasty matchup between Belgium and defending-champion Portugal. Monday’s matches are Croatia vs. Spain and tournament-favourite France vs. Switzerland. Tuesday’s are a marquee matchup between England and Germany, plus Sweden vs. Ukraine.
With the Canadiens one win away from the Stanley Cup final, Montreal is coming alive. Pandemic-related restrictions are lifting just in time for more and more people to gather for Habs games. 3,500 fans are allowed in the arena to watch the Canadiens try to finish off Vegas tonight in Game 6 (8 p.m. ET on CBC TV, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app) and earn their first trip to the Cup final since they won it in 1993. Others will watch at small gatherings, which are now permitted, or at bars, which are open again and allowed to extend their hours to accommodate games. Read more about the scene in Montreal here.
The Islanders gave old Nassau Coliseum a proper (possible) sendoff.
The rickety barn on Long Island where the Isles won four straight Stanley Cups in the early ’80s is on its last legs. The team plans to move into a new building for the start of next season — which is a shame because the Coliseum is one of the last great dumps in sports.
For a variety of reasons, dilapidated arenas and stadiums tend to draw more boisterous crowds, making for a much more exciting atmosphere than you typically get in the sterilized modern palaces that have replaced them. And the atmosphere in the Coliseum is second to none. Even the best seats are filled with diehard fans. There’s not a corporate suit in sight. It’s like a big, fun dive bar.
Islander fans know that something wonderful will be lost when the last game is played at Nassau. So they were at their foul-mouthed, tobacco-stained, boozy best last night for Game 6 of their Stanley Cup semifinal series, with the Islanders facing elimination against Tampa Bay. And the Isles gave them what they deserved, winning in OT to force a Game 7 back in Tampa on Friday night.
If New York wins it, there will be at least two more games at the Coliseum. If not, well, the Isles and their fans were sent it out in style. “That building coming into overtime was smelling like cigarettes,” said OT hero Anthony Beauvillier. “And now it smells like beers. That place was going crazy.”
You’re up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.