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How Canada could send a record number of teams to the Tokyo Olympics


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A record number of Canadian teams could be in the Tokyo Olympics

Canada will be well represented in the various team sports at the Olympics this summer. Eight Canadian squads have qualified so far: men’s and women’s rugby sevens, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, women’s water polo, women’s softball, men’s volleyball and men’s field hockey. If one more gets in, Canada will match its national record for team-sport entries at a single Summer Olympics, set in 1976 in Montreal.

Four Canadian squads still have a shot to qualify for team-sport events in Tokyo. Here’s a look at who they are and what they need to do:

Men’s basketball

Canada’s last-chance qualifying tournament runs June 29-July 4 in Victoria. Six teams are involved, and only the winner gets to go to Tokyo.

Canada is grouped with Greece and China for round-robin play. The other group has the Czech Republic, Turkey and Uruguay. The top two teams from both groups cross over for the semifinals, and the winners of those games play for the Olympic spot.

The Canadian team has two big advantages: it’ll be playing on home soil, and it should have far more proven NBA players than any other country in the tournament. Assuming they want to play — and that their NBA teams are eliminated from the playoffs in time — Canada could be anchored by an excellent young backcourt of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Jamal Murray. The supporting cast could include the likes of Andrew Wiggins, Lu Dort, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Kelly Olynyk and Tristan Thompson, and there are other solid role players to choose from.

Greece has two-time reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, but no other NBA stars. Unfortunately for them, the qualifier falls around the time the NBA conference finals should be taking place, and Giannis’ Milwaukee Bucks have a good chance of reaching them. The other four teams in the qualifier are very light on NBA talent.

If the Canadian men manage to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since Steve Nash led them to the 2000 Sydney Games, we know what their round-robin schedule will be in Tokyo. Canada would open against Iran on July 25 at 9 p.m. ET, then play France on July 28 at 8 a.m. ET, then face the United States’ NBA players for the first time ever in the Olympics on July 31 at 8 a.m. ET.

Men’s 3-on-3 basketball

This version of the sport is making its Olympic debut in Tokyo. Four of the eight spots in both the men’s and women’s tournaments are still up for grabs, but Canada is only in contention for a men’s berth.

Three of the spots will be decided at a 20-team world qualifying tournament May 26-30 in Austria. Canada is ranked eighth in the world and is grouped with Latvia (fifth), the Netherlands (sixth), Croatia (23rd) and Austria (46th) for the opening stage. The top two teams from each group advance to the quarter-finals, where single-elimination play begins. The Olympic spots go to the two teams that reach the final and the winner of the third-place game.

The final berth in the Olympic tournament goes to the winner of the so-called “universality” qualifying tournament in early June. This is only for countries who haven’t had a basketball team (men’s or women’s) in either of the last two Olympics. Canada is ineligible because its women’s team competed in both of them. So the world qualifier in May is Canada’s last chance to get in.

Men’s soccer

The Canadian women’s team will be going for its third consecutive Olympic medal in Tokyo. But Canada hasn’t reached a men’s podium since a club team from what is now Cambridge, Ont., won gold in 1904. Canada’s only other appearances in the men’s tournament came in 1976 (as the host country) and 1984.

Fourteen of the 16 spots in the Tokyo men’s tournament are already filled, with only the two entries from Canada’s region (known in soccer as CONCACAF) to be decided. That’ll happen in an eight-team tournament March 18 to 30 in Mexico. The teams are divided into two groups, and the top two from each advance to the cross-over semifinals (the top seed in each group plays the No. 2 team in the other). The winners of those matches get to go to the Olympics.

Neither Mexico nor the United States is in Canada’s group. But that means if Canada is able to survive its group with Honduras, El Salvador and Haiti, it’ll likely have to beat one of the two regional powers for a spot in the Olympics.

The Olympic men’s event (and qualifying for it) is restricted to players born Jan. 1, 1997 or later. That could have worked in Canada’s favour because its two best players — Bayern Munich’s Alphonso Davies and Lille’s Jonathan David — were both born in 2000. But Canada begins qualifying for the 2022 World Cup on March 25, so Davies and David will be doing that instead. Read more about Canada’s potential roster for the Olympic qualifier here.

Baseball

Canada is down to its final two strikes. It’s next swing at qualifying for the six-team Olympic tournament will come at the Americas region qualifier. Only the winner gets a direct ticket to Tokyo, and the competition will be fierce with strong baseball countries like the U.S., Cuba and the Dominican Republic competing. The tournament was originally scheduled for last March in Arizona before being postponed due to the pandemic. New dates still have not been released.

In the (quite likely) event that Canada doesn’t win the Americas qualifier, it can keep its Tokyo hopes alive by finishing second or third. Those teams earn a spot in the last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament against China, Taiwan, Australia and the Netherlands. Only the winner goes to Tokyo.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander could lead the Canadian men’s basketball team to its first Olympic appearance in two decades. (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Quickly…

Some big-name skips will compete in this year’s Canadian mixed doubles curling championship. The 35-team field was announced today for the March 18-25 tournament, which will take place in the Calgary bubble where the Scotties was just held and the Brier is about to happen. Reigning Olympic champions Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris are not playing together. Morris now usually competes with Rachel Homan, but the Scotties finalist is eight months pregnant so Danielle Schmiemann will replace her. Lawes is playing with her nephew Connor Lawes. Six-time Scotties champion Jennifer Jones and her husband, Brent Laing, are once again playing together. And how’s this for a powerful pairing: Kerri Einarson, who just won her second consecutive Scotties, and reigning Brier champ Brad Gushue. You can see all the teams here.

And finally…

Mark Stone was a big helper last night. The Vegas winger had the primary assist on all five of his team’s goals in an overtime win over Minnesota. It was only the second time this century that a player recorded at least five primary assists in a regular-season game (Artemi Panarin did it for Columbus in 2017) and it’s only been done 28 times in NHL history. Wayne Gretzky (big surprise) holds the record for most primary assists in a game with seven. Gretzky, Ron Francis, Bernie Nicholls, Don Grosso and Elmer Lach each had six in a game once. The playoff record for primary assists in a game is five — shared by Gretzky, who did it twice, and Doug Gilmour, who also had five in a regular-season game twice.

Coming up from CBC Sports

Ski jumping world championships: Watch the final of the women’s 137-metre hill event Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. ET on CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app.

CBC Sports U: Anyone pursuing a career in sports media might want to check out this free, interactive virtual summit on Wednesday. CBC Sports is bringing together some well-known sports-media personalities to give students an inside look at their experiences and an opportunity to ask questions. Get more details and sign up here.

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