What a week it has been in Rio de Janeiro! Leading into the Olympics, we all heard the questions, the concerns, and the problems. We knew the country was in political turmoil. We knew athletes were concerned about the Zika virus and other potential health risks they could face at the Olympic venue. We knew the International Olympic Committee (@iocmedia) was facing countless issues related to drug doping. And yet, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad got officially underway on August 5th!
As sport fans, we were unsure when these Games started. Maybe we wouldn’t be as invested because of all of the negativity we’d seen in the lead-up to the Olympics? Maybe we, as Canadians, would become quickly disinterested as our athletes simply do not perform as well in the Summer Games? Maybe this year we would be more invested in the Toronto Blue Jays, who are, yet again, putting together a strong season? We just didn’t know how these Games would go, but then the Opening Ceremonies happened, and we knew. Nothing had changed. We are sport fans, and sport fans, well, they love the Olympics.
There are many stories we could focus upon from the first week of the Games, both positively and negatively. We could focus on watching Michael Phelps (@MichaelPhelps) swim his way into the record books, becoming, arguably, the greatest Olympian of all time. We could focus on the raucous cheers that exploded from the crowd every time a Brazilian athlete has stepped up to the start line – a feeling we remember fondly from 2010. We could focus on the article from The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) that has caused outrage. But, instead, we’re only going to focus on one country. One country with sport fans back home that are normally just happy to see their athletes participate in the Summer Games. A country that is never really seen as genuine competitors at the Summer Games; no matter what they’ve been able to accomplish in the sport in the past. The country we’re obviously referring to is none other than our home and native land – Canada!
The first week of the Rio Summer Olympics (@Rio2016) has been incredible for Canadians. Like we said, Canadian sport fans normally just politely cheer as they watch Team USA, Team China, Team Australia, and everyone else dominate in heat after heat, final after final, standing on the podium event after event; but not this time. This time, Canadians are proudly waving their flags and screaming at their television sets. This time, Canadians are tuning in event after event and final after final for one reason, Canadian athletes are competing in them – and not just competing in them, they’re winning!
We always spend the first week of the Games watching the pool, usually watching Team USA dominate. This year wasn’t different, Team USA was truly impressive race after race, but this year it wasn’t just about Team USA. Team Canada (@TeamCanada) who were projected to win a single medal in the pool, came away with 6 medals, numerous Canadian records, an Olympic record, and countless personal bests. Penny Oleksiak (@OleksiakPenny), who has quickly become Canada’s darling from these Games (and will likely, at least in our opinion, be Canada’s flag bearer for the closing ceremonies), captured our attention during her first day of competition and kept us on our feet throughout the week. It wasn’t just her swimming, which was downright incredible on its own (she won 4 medals at the Games: gold in the 100m freestyle, silver in the 100m butterfly, bronze in the women’s 4x100m freestyle relay, and bronze in the women’s 4x200m freestyle), but it was her spirit that drew us to her.
Penny acted like any other 16 year old during these Games. She was excited just to be there. She couldn’t believe she was doing what she was able to do. Her spirit was simply infectious. Our favourite moment (and you have to know that this was hard to pick) was her reaction after winning the gold medal and swimming her way to an Olympic record in the 100m freestyle. After touching the wall, Penny kept her back to the cameras and the screen that would tell her where she had finished. Even after everyone watching knew what she had just accomplished, she remained facing the wall of the pool. When she did turn around, the pure surprise that lit up her face at seeing her name at the top of the leaderboard was a moment we’re all glad we got to witness.
A runner-up Penny Oleksiak moment actually occurred outside of the pool. Soon after receiving their bronze medals from the 4x100m relay, the whole team was interviewed by a CBC reporter, including Michelle Williams (@michellewill5) who only competed in qualifying (being replaced by Penny in the finals), and thus did not receive her medal on the podium with her teammates. In the middle of the interview, Penny seemed to realize that Michelle didn’t have a medal and took her own off and handed it to her to finish the interview. Sure this was a small moment, one that many may have even missed, but not one that slipped past us, and one that helped to endear Penny to us early on in week one.
Moving from beyond the pool, which we’ve got to tell you is tough to do, we travel to the pitch where, for the first time ever, women (and men) were competing in Rugby Sevens. The Canadian team was considered strong and a potential medalist heading into these Games, and these ladies simply did not disappoint. For anyone who blinked, you may have missed their games. The team played six games in 72 hours on their way to winning the first ever Olympic Rugby Sevens bronze medal! These women proved that Canadian women were not to be pushed around in Rio, looking like the strongest athletes we sent to these Games!
Our favourite moment from the Rugby Sevens pitch came after the final game, when the Canadians had secured their place on the podium. Team Captain, Jen Kish (@jen_kish), came around the corner and saw her father in the stands. Steve Kish has quickly become one of our favourite stories from these Games. He worked two jobs for years in order to make ends meet for Jen and her brother, but, on top of this, Kish has also battled cancer. He has been in remission for a couple of months, but traveling to Brazil was not an easy feat as he has been dealing with the pain and side effects from chemotherapy. The moment she jumped into the stands and they embraced, we couldn’t tell who was crying harder: Jen, her father, or us. It was an emotional moment that has us wanting to write “Ruck Cancer” on our wrist tape too (I mean, that is if we wore wrist tape) to show our support, just like Jen, for those “battling cancer who would love to play rugby, or who’d love to do something but can’t.”
Our next favourite memory also comes from the pool, but this time it was courtesy of our Canadian divers Meaghan Benfeito (@MegBenfeito) and Roseline Filion (@Roselinefilion). The reason these women are included is not so much based on what they did in the pool, which was incredible, don’t get us wrong, but focuses more on the obstacles they had to overcome leading into these Games. Their bronze medal performance came after months of uncertainty following Roseline’s broken ankle which happened during a practice session last December.
This duo has been partnered together for 11 years and when Roseline tried to tell Meaghan that she should find someone else to partner with for the Rio Games, Meaghan wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, she spent time training, perfecting the skills on her own, driving Roseline to her doctor’s appointments, and waiting for her partner to be given the all clear. Luckily for these divers, that all clear came in time for Roseline to compete at the Rio qualifiers and the two were able to punch their ticket to Rio.
All of that uncertainty made the women stronger, which was important, as they were off the podium heading into their final dive in Rio which they nailed, grabbing their spot on the podium and not letting go! This duo is a perfect example of why you can’t give up on your partner (whatever that partnership may look like in your life)!
While we know this list is starting to get a little lengthy, leaving Rosie MacLennan (@RosieMacLennan) off just feels wrong. Rosie came into these Olympics with a lot of pressure on her shoulders. She was the flag bearer at the Opening Ceremonies. She was Canada’s only gold medalist at the London Games in 2012. For many athletes, this pressure would become overwhelming, but not for Rosie. Rosie, with her headphones in, showed that she was focused and ready to go. She performed well in the qualifying round, knowing that she needed to perform just a little bit better if she wanted to find herself on the podium again this year.
When she stepped onto the trampoline, she did all she needed to do. She floated through the air, making each and every flip look completely effortless. When she landed and all was said and done, she was in first place, but there were still two athletes still to compete. Rosie knew she would be on the podium, but she didn’t know which step of the podium she would be on. Our favourite part of her routine actually came after she had competed, while she was waiting on these other competitors. She looked calm and collected (although we’re sure she was anything but on the inside). She was right beside the young British athlete when she realized she had secured herself a medal and burst into tears.
But it was when the final competitor’s results were posted that Rosie’s calm broke. She broke down into tears. Her pride at what she had just done flowed over. Rosie realized she had just become the first ever Olympian to win back-to-back medals on the trampoline. She also realized she had just done exactly what she had set out to do, and whether she realized it or not, she had just, once again, inspired an entire nation. Rosie, we once again tip our hats to you and your total dominance, regardless of the obstacles you faced along the way!
Finally, and we know we’re missing a TON of phenomenal moments from the first week of competition, we would be completely remiss if we didn’t mention the obvious fact that all of Canada’s medals from the first week were won by women. From the pool to the velodrome to the athletics stadium, the women wearing the maple leaf have been stepping up and picking up medals! Many of these women were not predicted to win coming into these Games (yes Penny Oleksiak, we are looking at you here), but that hasn’t put any doubt into their minds.
All we’re hoping is that the strength from these women in week one will carry over into the second week here at Rio. It’s now time for our other athletes to step up and continue Canada’s daily medal haul (with the team winning at least one medal each day thus far in the competition)! To start it off, tonight we’ll be watching Andre De Grasse, hoping to see him become one of the fastest men in the world! Here’s to you Team Canada, what else do you have up your sleeve?