EDMONTON — One by one they walked down the stairs of Edmonton's City Hall, throwers, jumpers, sprinters, decathletes, world champions, Olympic medallists.
Canada will field its largest — and arguably strongest — Olympic track and field team next month in Rio.
Four years removed from a young squad who captured one medal at the London Olympics — Derek Drouin's bronze in high jump — the team is that much older and better, and poised for a parade to the podium in Brazil.
"I think the switch kind of happened in London, in 2012 we saw the torch being passed from some of the older, more experienced athletes, to all of us," said Brianne Theisen-Eaton, a world silver medallist in the heptathlon.
"Derek won our only medal, and for me at least, it was: what are you doing here if you're just participating? Why aren't you trying to win a medal? And that has lit a fire in a lot of us to be like, you know what? We can be contenders on this stage for medals, not just there to experience it."
The Canadian team, introduced in a ceremony Monday at City Hall, now has embarassment of riches virtually across the board. Where once Canada dominated only in men's sprints or women's hurdles, this team has contenders in virtually ever discipline from the 100 metres in world bronze medallist Andre De Grasse, to the multi-events in Theisen-Eaton and Damian Warner, the world decathlon silver medallist.
"Seeing Derek win that medal in 2012, you couldn't help but feed off that, and I think it's making everybody pick up their game," said Warner, who was ranked 18th going into London, and finished fifth. "(Drouin's bronze) showed me it was possible.
"Now people are a lot older and ready to compete, and it's just exciting to be a part of this team."
Lanni Marchant received some good news when she was named to the team for a rare double — both the women's 10,000 metres and marathon.
Marchant, the Canadian record-holder in the marathon, said she was originally told her focus would be the 10,000 metres in Rio. While Athletics Canada didn't gave her a firm "no" on running the marathon, she wasn't on the original list when determining the marathon team for Rio, sparking a "#LetLanniRun" social media campaign.
"I'm really excited and happy," Marchant said. "We kind of just stayed the course. My coach, his philosophy since the end of May was forge on (regardless of the decision). We control what we can which is training, and everything else will fall into place as it's supposed to."
It did sometime after midnight, when emails went out to those athletes chosen. Marchant had planned on waiting up for the news.
"Then I was like, you know what? It's out of my control, I'm going to go to bed," Marchant said. "I got up in the middle of the night to use the washroom and that's when I checked. And then I couldn't go back to sleep.
"I forwarded to my coach, we had to keep it quiet otherwise, I didn't even get to send it to my mom, and she's been such a big supporter."
Among other notable members: Shawn Barber, the reigning world champion in the pole vault, and race walker Ben Thorne, a world bronze medallist.
The athletes can take comfort in the depth of the team — there's enough of them to share the spotlight, and the pressure that comes with it.
De Grasse, a 21-year-old from Markham, Ont., will feel the spotlight more than most in his first Olympic appearance, as a contender in track and field's marquee event. He's not worried.
"I'm out there having fun," De Grasse said. "My family, my supporters they do a great job of keeping the pressure off of me, so I'm going to go out there and have fun and don't think about it too much.
"For me, this is my first Games, so I'm excited to be here. Obviously I want to get on the podium, so I'm going to do my best."
The team was named following a cut-throat four days of Olympic trials in Edmonton.
"The competition started early, so if you got through these trials and placed well, that's when you're going to get on the team," said Athletics Canada head coach Peter Eriksson. "As you can see, I have the greatest and biggest team ever of athletes. We're ready to go when it counts."
Among the noticeable absences: veteran sprinter Justyn Warner, who was on Canada's relay team that finished third only to be disqualified in London, and distance runner Cam Levins, who was a finalist in both the 5,000 and 10,000 metres in 2012.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press
©2016 The Canadian Press
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