Team Canada’s Sara Kaljuvee powers her way through Fijian defenders at the World Rugby Women's Sevens Series Plate semifinal last year in Langford.

Vancouver Island connections strong on Canadian Olympic team

Several athletes and a handful of officials poised to take centre stage in Brazil starting this weekend

Those looking at the summer Olympics through a Vancouver Island lens typically have their eyes trained on the water.

But the venerable sport of rowing might have company this weekend in Rio in the form of a pair of breakneck events with their roots firmly planted in the modern era.

Canada’s medal chances are high in the sports of mountain biking and women’s rugby sevens — two young programs based out of the Greater Victoria area.

Traditional powerhouse New Zealand or this season’s leaders Australia may be the gold medal favourites in a wide-open, explosive version of rugby that will be making its Olympic Games debut. But Canada, hot off a gold medal in the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto is thought to have a podium appearance within its grasp, with top-three finishes in each of the past four series leading to the Olympics, a tenacious defence, and Ghislaine Landry, the leading scorer in the world two years running.

One of its players, Hannah Darling, spent her Grade 12 year at Shawnigan Lake School and graduated from there, where she was coached by Laura Russell, captain of the national women’s rugby XVs.

Mill Bay’s John Tait coaches the national sevens squad which trains in Langford. Coming into the Olympics ranked third, Canada’s first match is scheduled for Sunday against fourth-ranked Great Britain, in a tourney that runs for three days.

BattyOff the pitch and on to the hills, Cycling Canada’s mountain bike team is based out of Langford’s Bear Mountain Centre of Excellence and is coached by Victoria’s Dan Proulx.

The team features two women with legitimate medal hopes: Catharine Pendrel (below left), a former University of Victoria triathlete-turned cyclist  poised for her third Olympics, and Emily Batty (top left), who usually calls Ontario home.

PendrelBatty won gold in the 2015 Pan Ams, and silver in the 2014 Commonwealth Games and heads to Rio ranked ninth in the world. Pendrel, a two-time world champion is ranked seventh. The final in their event is scheduled for Aug. 20.

Meanwhile, as has become their habit, Vancouver Island rowers are not expected to be slouches in Brazil either.

The Victoria women’s double sculls team of Patricia Obee and Lindsay Jennerich (below) is a legitimate podium threat after finishing fourth in last year’s world championships and winning silver in 2011 and 2014. Their heats begin Aug. 6, with a final scheduled for Aug. 11.

Also gunning for the podium will be the men’s heavy fours rowing team, which features Kai Langerfeld, who spent his teen years in Parksville, and the men’s quad sculls team (Rob Gibson, Pascal Lussier, Julian Bahain, and Will Dean), which trains on Elk Lake.

rowers2004 Brentwood College grad Brendan Hodge will row on the men’s lightweight fours team, making this the 11th Olympics in a row to feature a grad from the Mill Bay private school.

Also pulling for Canada is Victoria’s Caileigh Filmer, at 19 Canada’s youngest rower, with a seat on the women’s eights. NIcholas Pratt (men’s coxless lightweight fours) and Antje von Seydlitz (women’s coxed eight) have ties to UVic, as do Al Morrow and Adam Parfitt from the coaching staff.

CochraneAnd in the category of most familiar face, Victoria swimmer Ryan Cochrane (left) — who has more world championship medals than any Canadian swimmer in history — is back for his third Olympics, trying to add a gold to the bronze he won in the 2008 1,500-metre freestyle and the silver he earned in 2012.

Other Olympians with Island connections include:

Athletics: Coming off medals in the most recent Pan Am and Commonwealth Games, Nanoose Bay high jumper Mike Mason is back for his third Olympics after finishing 19th in Beijing and eighth in London. Victoria 1,500-metre runner Hilary Stellingwerff had a spot on the Canadian national podium for eight straight years before taking a year off to have a baby, then fracturing a bone in her comeback before qualifying for Rio. She finished 16th in the 2012 Olympics.

Beach volleyball: One of the shortest women on tour at 5’7”, Victoria’s Jamie Broder made Canadian history with her partner Kristina Valjas in April 2014. That’s when they became the first Canadians to ever win a medal on the world tour, with a gold in China.

Gymnastics: Port Alberni gymnastics judge Hardy Fink has attended 10 Olympic Games during the past 45 years. He missed 1980 in Moscow because of the boycott.

Men’s field hockey: After failing to qualify for London in 2012, Canada’s “other” men with sticks punched their ticket to Rio with a dramatic shootout win over New Zealand last summer. Island connections include Mark Pearson, who spent part of his childhood in Victoria, and Brendan Bisset, Matthew Sarmento and Keegan Peirera all of who play or played for UVic

Swimming: A 2012 Olympic bronze medallist in the marathon that is the 10-kilometre open water swimming event, Kitsilano’s Richard Weinberger is on hiatus from the economics program at the University of Victoria and got his start in the sport there. A freestyle, butterfly and medley veteran of the past two Olympics, Stephanie Horner is a UVic grad.

Triathlon: Nanaimo-born Kirsten Sweetland, who now calls Victoria home, made history as the first Canadian woman to even win a world junior title back in 2006. Since then she has managed a number of international podium finishes sprinkled in between numerous injury setbacks. Her latest obstacle was toxic mould infection. That condition had her on antibiotics for 15 months, but she shook it off in time to qualify for Rio.

Volleyball: The captain and veteran leader of the Canadian national team, Victoria’s Fred Winters will participate in his first Olympics after earning more than 250 caps for his country, highlighted by a seventh-place finish in the 2014 World championships and a bronze in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.

The Summer Olympics open in Rio de Janeiro Brazil on Friday. The stated goal of Canada’s Own the Podium program is 19 medals, one better than the showing of 18 earned in London in 2012.

For profiles of all of Canada’s Olympic athletes, click here. For your guide on schedule highlights, click here.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnMcKinleyBP

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