De Grasse, Brown provide hope for more medals

TOKYO — Canada threatened to add to its medal total Tuesday at the Tokyo Olympics but, despite a few close calls, the nation was left without any hardware to celebrate for the second straight day.

Once again, however, Canadian athletes set themselves up for success in the coming days. Sprinters Andre De Grasse and Aaron Brown both won their semifinal heats in the men's 200 metres.

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De Grasse cruised into Wednesday's 200 final with a Canadian-record time of 19.73 in his semifinal. The 26-year-old from Markham, Ont., made it look easy and in classic De Grasse style, he got off to a pedestrian start before laying down a scorching second half, easily reeling in the competition.

He will be looking for his second medal in Tokyo after taking bronze in the 100 metres. And he will also try to get a medal in the 200 for a second straight Games. De Grasse took silver in the event at the 2106 Rio de Janeiro Olympics when he set his old Canadian-best mark of 19.80 seconds.

"I knew I had it in me. My (personal best) was from 2016, and I knew I was better than that, especially coming off of the personal best a couple nights ago," De Grasse said. "I didn't expect to go that fast. I wanted to save it for the final, but the American Kenny (Kenneth Bednarek) was pushing me a little bit, so I knew I had to make sure I qualified for the final.

"My coach told me 'make sure you get first because you want to have a good lane for tomorrow night.'"

Brown also ran an impressive semifinal in 19.99 seconds, but his qualification was a little more complicated.

Brown, Joseph Fahnbulleh of Liberia and Noah Lyles of the United States all crossed the line with the same time, and a photo was needed to determine the placing.

Brown and Fahnbulleh received the automatic berths in the final, while Lyles finished third and had to wait until the heats were over before his time was confirmed as good enough to advance.

With three gold, four silver and seven bronze, Canada was 16th in the medal standings following Tuesday's events, behind the Czech Republic and ahead of Switzerland. Canada's 14 overall medals were good for a tie with Brazil in 13th spot. New Zealand is in 12th with 15 medals.

China continued to own top spot on the podium with 32 gold medals, eight more than the United States. The Americans have the most total medals with 73. China has 69.

Canada entered Thursday's competition in good shape for a women's beach volleyball medal, but both of the country's teams were defeated in the quarterfinals.

Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Paredes lost in three sets to Australia's Mariafe Artacho del Solar and Taliqua Clancy in Tuesday's quarterfinals immediately after teammates Heather Bansley and Brandie Wilkerson suffered the same fate against Latvia's Tina Graudina and Anastasija Kravcenoka.

Pavan and Humana-Paredes — the sport's reigning world champions — hadn't trailed at all in the event, but dropped the opening set 21-15 against the Australians.

They battled back to take the second 21-19 before falling 15-12 in the third at a windy Shinokaze Park.

Bansley and Wilkerson, meanwhile, lost 13-21, 21-18, 11-15 thanks in large part to 13 serve errors compared to the Latvians' eight.

"It definitely stings," Wilkerson said. "It definitely hurts.

"We know we have what it takes, so to not have that manifest on the court is tough to deal with emotionally."

Canada just missed the podium in a few of Tuesday's other events, with the women's pursuit track cycling team losing a bronze-medal showdown with the United States and gymnast Ellie Black finishing fourth in the balance beam competition. It was an impressive result for Black, who missed last week's all-around final with a left ankle sprain.

The 25-year-old from Halifax registered a score of 13.866 points, returning to action after aggravating a previous ankle injury dismounting from a beam during training.

She completed difficult elements in her final routine with a few wobbles, but stuck her landing. Black then hugged her coach David Kikuchi and wept.

"Obviously coming fourth is hard, but to be able to compete and take part in the final and hit my beam routine, I'm very, very happy with that," Black said.

Simone Biles of the United States picked up the seventh medal of her Olympic career, taking bronze with a score of 14. Biles competed in her first final in Tokyo after pulling out of the team and all-around events to focus on her mental health.

China took the top two spots, with Guan Chenchen earning 14.633 and Tang Xijing finishing with 14.233

Meanwhile, Camryn Rogers of Richmond, B.C., impressed in her Olympic debut. She finished fifth in the women's hammer throw with a toss of 74.35 metres.

Also on the track, Mohammed Ahmed was second in his heat of the men's 5,000, the distance in which he raced to bronze at the 2019 world championships. The 30-year-old from St. Catharines, Ont., hung near the back of the pack for the first half before taking the lead to push the pace. He finished in 13:38.96.

Justyn Knight of Toronto cruised to third in the other 5,000 heat in 13:30.22, setting up what could be an exciting final on Friday.

In women's pursuit track cycling, the team of Calgary's Allison Beveridge; Annie Foreman-Mackey of Kingston, Ont.; Ariane Bonhomme of Gatineau, Que.; Vancouver's Georgia Simmerling and Jasmin Duehring of Coquitlam, B.C., finished the bronze-medal race in four minutes 10.552 seconds, just over two-and-a-half seconds behind the Americans.

The United States got out to a strong start, and every time the Canadians cut into the lead star rider Chloe Dygert would move to the front of the American pack to increase the gap between the teams.

Canada had won bronze in the event in the previous two Games.

Germany posted a world-record time of 4:04.242 to beat Britain in the final.

In other events Tuesday, Kyra Constantine of Toronto clinched a spot in the women's 400 semifinals. Constantine was fifth in her heat, but her time of 51.69 was fast enough to advance.

There was less success for the men's volleyball team, which lost 3-0 to the Russians in the quarterfinals. It was a bit of deja-vu for the Canadians, who were eliminated at the same point in the tournament five years earlier in Rio.

Gord Perrin led with 15 points as Canada lost to the Russians 25-21, 30-28, 25-22. Ryan Sclater added 14 points for Canada, which opened the tournament with back-to-back losses to Italy and Japan before recovering with wins over Iran and Venezuela. A loss to Poland closed out the preliminary round for the Canadians.

But while the result is the same on paper, Canada's Nicholas Hoag says the team has evolved since the loss in Rio.

"You can tell that this game was way more competitive than the one in Rio," said Hoag, who had 10 points. "It was so much fun to play. We were more comfortable today and we know we can beat those guys.

"There's no regrets because we had a great tournament overall."

The Canadian women's water polo team didn't fare any better, falling to the mighty U.S. squad in the quarterfinals by a score of 16-5.

The back-to-back gold medallists set the tone early, pulling ahead 5-0 on as many shots. They kept the pressure on throughout the first half, building a seemingly insurmountable lead of 11-3.

The Canadians, in their first Olympics since 2004, had one win and three losses in the preliminary round.

The team's preparation was complicated, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the players isolating themselves from their families in order to form a bubble that would allow them to train with contact.

They've been on the road since May, and garnered an impressive fourth-place finish along the way at the FINA Women's Water Polo World League Super Final in June.

Canadians also missed the medal podium in canoe and kayak spring events. Andréanne Langlois finished ninth in the women's kayak single 200-metre on Tuesday, while fellow Canadians Roland Varga and Connor Fitzpatrick finished sixth in the A final of the men's canoe double 1000-metre.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 3, 2021.

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