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Women dominate Canadian team headed to London Olympics

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Fierce. Proud. World-class. Relentless. Unbreakable.

Those are the qualities Canada's Olympic athletes wanted in their flag-bearer for the London Games. They got them in spades with triathlete Simon Whitfield. And Canadians will have no trouble spotting those very same qualities in the rest of the 277-member team who start competing for Olympic glory in just 12 days.

Whitfield, 37, was the first man to win an Olympic gold medal in triathlon when the gruelling event debuted in Sydney in 2000. And then in Beijing in 2008, he put on an astonishing show of determination to come back from what seemed to be certain defeat and sprinted himself into a silver medal.

That sprint finish -- coming at the end, as it did, of a 1.5-kilometre swim, 40-kilometre bike ride and 10-kilometre run -- was a near perfect display of the fighting spirit that often make the Olympics such a joy to watch.

While our team will be led in the opening ceremonies by Whitfield, it is women who dominate the team. More than half of Canada's London-bound athletes are women.

And our female athletes aren't just there in numbers. Canada has strong contenders in classics such as diving and cycling as well as the more recent Olympic additions for women of wrestling and boxing. Wrestler Carol Huynh and boxer Mary Spencer are certainly ones to watch.

Overall, Canadians will see a mix of new talent and familiar faces. The track and field team of 45 is one of the largest for Canada but just seven have any previous Olympic experience. Then there's Clara Hughes, who has brought home more medals in both summer (cycling) and winter (speed skating) Games than anyone else; and captain Canada, Ian Millar, who has been show jumping on the world stage for so long that other athletes call him sir.

And while 65-year-old Millar soars through the air on his mount Star Power -- in a record 10th Olympics -- Canada's youngest athlete, 15-year-old Victoria Moors, will be hoping to nail her floor routine in artistic gymnastics. Canadians with their eye on the prize -- a medal -- may have to look no further than shot-putter Dylan Armstrong who will use a combination of brute strength and finesse to hurl a 7.26-kilogram (16-pound) ball from his neck to, hopefully, somewhere over 22 metres away.

A medal is what every athlete and a great many of their Canadian supporters want, but we should never forget that just getting to the Olympics is an enormous achievement. For some, that journey has been particularly harrowing.

Olympic diving medallist Alexandre Despatie was left with a concussion and stitches across his forehead from a training accident just last month. That didn't stop him from getting on a plane to compete in London. BMX cyclist Tory Nyhaug is London bound -- without his spleen. He had the damaged organ removed so it wouldn't curtail his training. Our athletes just don't quit.

Case in point: What did Whitfield do after he got the call asking him to be the Olympic flag-bearer -- arguably the greatest honour a country can bestow on an athlete? "I went for a run," he says.

Canadians can't ask for more than that from Whitfield and all the athletes who will proudly hold up the Canadian flag in London.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 17, 2012 A6

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