RIO DE JANEIRO – It was only fitting that Canada’s first medal of the Rio Olympics came from a team of women athletes.
Canada capped its opening day in Rio with bronze in the women’s 4×100-metre swim relay, adding some hardware to what was a fantastic day for the nation’s women’s teams.
There was a dominating performance from the sevens rugby team, where Ghislaine Landry scored Canada’s first Olympic try just 30 seconds into its first match with Japan. Canada would go on to beat Japan and Brazil by a combined score of 83-0.
There was another strong performance by the soccer team, with star captain Christine Sinclair adding to her international goal total and potential heir apparent Janine Beckie notching her second and third of the tournament in a 3-1 win over Zimbabwe.
And there was the basketball team’s 90-68 rout of China, a thorough dismantling of a team a spot ahead of Canada in the FIBA world rankings.
The rugby team are strong contenders for a medal, and the soccer and basketball teams certainly have a shot at a podium finish. But any hardware from those teams will come further down the road.
Canada’s Olympic Committee set a goal of 19 medals heading into Rio, and the swim team of Montreal’s Sandrine Mainville, Winnipeg’s Chantal Van Landeghem and 16-year-olds Taylor Ruck of Kelowna, B.C., and Penny Oleksiak of Toronto gave them a good start with a strong swim in the 4×100 relay final.
Oleksiak, who earlier qualified for the final in the women’s 100-metre butterfly, held off the Netherlands with a strong anchor leg as Canada finished in a time of three minutes 32.89 seconds. It’s Canada’s first medal in the event since the 1976 Montreal Games.
Toronto’s Michelle Williams, who didn’t swim in the final but participated in the earlier heats, will also get a medal.
Australia won gold, while the United States took silver.
Earlier, Canada shone on the pitch at Deodoro Stadium, were sevens rugby is making its Olympic debut.
Landry, from Toronto had two tries and three converts, and Montreal’s Bianca Farella added another pair of tries in Canada’s 45-0 thrashing of Japan. Farella continued her torrid scoring with two more tries as Canada followed up with a 38-0 rout of host Brazil.
Women’s team sport in Canada has been on a steady rise since Sinclair led the soccer team to bronze four years ago in London. Gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games for the basketball team and a string of excellent performances from both the sevens and 15s rugby squads have kept the momentum going.
Landry said the sevens team is “absolutely” aware what it can do for the future of its sport.
“But it’s not what we’re thinking about in the moment,” she said. “If we put on a good performance, that’s going to kind of do leaps and bounds for the sport. Worry about the process and our game, and I think the rest will take care of itself.”
Sinclair knows what it’s like to have a stellar performance translate into support at home. The Burnaby, B.C., native’s hat trick in London in a heartbreaking semifinal loss to the Americans put her team on the map.
Sinclair is picking up where she left off with two goals so far in Rio, giving her 164 for her career. But Canada’s talismanic captain is joined this time by a younger cast including 21-year-old forward Beckie, who scored Canada’s other two goals.
Canada has an early flight Sunday for Brasilia where it will take on No. 2 Germany on Tuesday in Group F play.
“These tournaments are brutal with the (short) turnaround and the travel that catches up on players. So it puts us in a good situation to have a good go at Germany,” said Canada head coach John Herdman. “There’s some history to be made there. And to give rest where it’s needed to players that have been putting big shifts in.”
In women’s basketball, Tamara Tatham of Brampton, Ont., had 20 points as Canada opened its quest for a first ever Olympic medal with a win over China. Team captain Kim Gaucher of Mission, B.C., led all players with 10 rebounds.
The lopsided score came as a bit of a surprise as China is ranked eighth in the world, one spot higher than Canada.
“A great way to start, I couldn’t be happier,” said head coach Lisa Thomaidis. “There are still some things to shore up at the defensive end but we’re feeling good moving forward.”
Canada will play Serbia on Monday.
Elsewhere, tennis star Eugenie Bouchard of Westmount, Que., was victorious in her Olympic debut, making short work of American Sloane Stephens with a 6-3, 6-3 win. Bouchard won on a break when Stephens sent her volley long while facing match point.
Vancouver’s Vasek Pospisil wasn’t as fortunate on the men’s side, falling 6-1, 6-3 to France’s Gael Monfils.
Victoria’s Ryan Cochrane failed to qualify for the finals of the men’s 400-metre freestyle on Saturday at the Rio Games, falling short of the medal round for a third straight Olympics.
Cochrane finished his heat in 3:45.83 to place 11th overall. The top eight swimmers advance to Saturday night’s final.
“It’s frustrating, but I know I’m fortunate enough to have two chances at the Olympics and not a lot of people get that second chance,” said Cochrane, who will race in the 1,500 freestyle – his best event – on Friday. “I’m an old-enough athlete to know where to see what I need to work on and I have six days to do that.”
Carling Zeeman of Cambridge, Ont., advanced to the quarter-finals in the women’s single sculls as the Olympic rowing competition kicked off in windy conditions. Two other Canadian crews failed to advance and will have to row in repechage rounds.