Contenders, Underdogs, and Rookies: The Canadian Athletes to Know at the Rio Olympics

Everything you need to know about the top athletes Canada has sent to Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics.

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Aug 5 2016, 7:55pm

Photo by Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

Every four years sports fans around the world get a chance to be patriotic and cheer on their home nation for the Summer Olympics—an entertaining mixture of sports including soccer, volleyball, swimming, athletics, and much more. Despite the long list of documented concerns prefacing this summer's Games, the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are here.

Although Canada has always excelled more on the ice than in the sun, the nation is sending over 300 athletes to Rio with the goal of winning at least 19 medals and a top-12 finish, giving Canadians plenty to be excited about. Whether it's 18-year-old Brooke Henderson emerging as Canada's golf hero, the women's soccer, rugby, and basketball team contending for gold, or Athletics Canada putting forth its best team in history, VICE Sports has Canadians covered on everything you need to know about the 2016 Summer Games.

READ MORE: What You Need to Know About the Rio Olympics: The VICE Sports Guide

The Rookies

Women's Rugby: Rugby sevens will make its Olympic debut in Rio and is sure to be one of the most popular and exciting events. Sports fans will be in for a treat watching the best seven-a-side nations compete in an entertaining test of speed, strength, and skill. Although the Canadian men's squad failed to qualify for the competition, Canada's women are poised to make some noise in Brazil.

The Canadian women's rugby team enter the Olympic Games ranked No. 3 in the world. Led by head coach John Tait, the Canadians were runners up at the 2013 IRB World Cup Sevens in Moscow and won gold at the 2015 Pan Am Games in Toronto. Jen Kish, the elite 27-year-old who has captained the squad since 2012, will hope to lead the Canadians to victory on the newest and most riveting stage of all.

Brooke Henderson: After a 112-year hiatus, golf will be returning to the Olympic Games in 2016 and Canada has a reason to be hopeful. Enter Brooke Henderson, the 18-year-old phenom who is quickly becoming the face of Canadian women's golf and could be a Canadian sports icon for years to come.

READ MORE: Brooke Henderson Is the Future of Women's Golf in Canada

After being named the Canadian Press athlete of the year in 2015, Henderson outdid herself in June 2016 when she became second-youngest woman ever and first Canadian in 48 years to win a major championship. Henderson comes into her first Olympic Games ranked No. 2 in the world and the pressure is on for the youngster to medal for Canada.

Henderson is one of the biggest Canadian stars competing in Rio. Photo by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Penny Oleksiak: Oleksiak only started swimming five years ago, but at the age of 16 the swimming phenom has comfortably qualified for the Olympics in Rio. Oleksiak is the current junior world record holder in the 100-metre freestyle and Canadian record holder for both the 100-metre freestyle and butterfly.

Oleksiak first started making waves when she won six medals at the 2015 FINA World Junior Swimming Championships at the age of 15. For Oleksiak, her first Olympic Games feel like a dream, but the potential for this 16-year-old swimmer is endless and Canadians should be on board to watch her continue breaking records and collecting medals for years to come.

Arthur Biyarslanov: He's known as The Chechen Wolf. After fleeing from the war-torn region of Chechnya as a child, Biyarslanov migrated to Toronto, where he started boxing as a mode of self-defence. Because of his tumultuous journey, Biyarslanov says, "Fighting is nothing compared to what I've been through." Now 21 years old, Biyarslanov is a three-time Canadian champion and Pan Am gold-medal winner in the light welterweight category. Competing in his first Olympics, Biyarslanov is Canada's best boxer and the nation's only male boxer going to Rio. Although he is unknown to many, the Chechen Wolf hopes to raise some eyebrows in Rio.

The Chechen Wolf (blue) celebrates after winning gold at the Pan Am Games. Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

The Underdogs

Eugenie Bouchard: She was once considered the future of Canadian women's tennis, and maybe she still is. But now she has to prove it again. At just 22 years of age, Bouchard is the No. 39 ranked women in the world and a three-time Tennis Canada Female Player of the Year. After an impressive 2014 campaign, where Bouchard was the runner-up at Wimbledon and ranked as high as No. 5 in the world, the Montreal, Quebec, native saw a losing streak and concussion slow her down in 2015. Bouchard is ready to find her form once again in 2016, where she hopes her first Olympic appearance will reignite her flame and bring back her winning ways.

Bouchard has a chance to change the narrative. Photo by Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

Also look out for the Canadian doubles teams of Bouchard and Gabriela Dabrowski on the women's side, and Vasek Pospisil and Daniel Nestor on the men's side, after No. 7 ranked men's player, and recent Wimbledon finalist, Milos Raonic pulled out.

Ariane Fortin: After earning the distinction as Boxing Canada's Female Boxer of the Year in 2006, 2008, and 2009, Ariane Fortin is back. The female middleweight's career took a wrong turn when she lost the chance to fight for Canada at the 2012 Olympics, a loss that came at the hands of long-time friend and teammate Mary Spencer. After missing the opportunity of a lifetime, Fortin showed toughness as she continued to train and improve her boxing, winning bronze at the 2014 World Championship, silver at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, and Bronze at the 2015 Pan Am Games. Fortin's determination to qualify for the Olympics has finally paid off, as she defeated Spencer to qualify for Rio. Although it will be Fortin's first Olympic Games, the Canadian boxer is one of the fastest and toughest in the competition and will be determined to medal after a tumultuous journey.

Also look out for veteran Canadian boxer Mandy Bujold, a 2011 and 2015 Pan Am Games gold medallist in the flyweight category, who earned her first Olympic birth after winning gold at the American Continental Qualifier.

Beach Volleyball: This is sure to be one of the most popular sports at the Olympics in Brazil, and for the first time since 1996, Canada is sending a full quota of four competitive duos to the Games. The men's duo of John Binstock and Sam Schachter recently qualified after winning the Canadian trials at the Continental Cup, while the other three duos qualified based on their world rankings—all among the top 15 in the world.

Of the Canadian duos competing in Rio, the women's tandem of Sarah Pavan and Heather Bansley are Canada's best shot of winning gold. Ranked No. 5 on the Provisional Olympic ranking, Pavan and Bansley have steadily climbed up the world rankings since joining forces in 2013, winning six FIVB medals together. The two veterans have a combined 20 years on the Canadian National Volleyball Team, and hope to pull off an upset against the favoured Brazilians.

Women's Basketball: The Canadian women's basketball team has never medalled at the Olympics and finished eighth in London 2012, but this year's team looks poised for an upset. Currently ranked No. 9 in the world, the Canadian women have been dominant on their road to Rio, going undefeated en route to a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games. The team qualified for the Olympics after winning the 2015 FIBA Americas Women's Championship, where 19-year-old phenom Kia Nurse was named MVP. The Canadian women will look to improve on their eighth-place finish from four years ago, and their recent dominance makes them an exciting story to follow.

READ MORE: Siblings Kia and Darnell Nurse Pushing Each Other to Shine in Crowded Sports Family

The Contenders

Women's Soccer: The Canadian women's soccer team is rolling into Rio with high hopes. After winning bronze in London 2012, the team's first medal in Olympic history, the Canadian women have grown and improved. Currently ranked No. 10 in the world, the Canadian women comfortably qualified for Rio and are out to prove that their last Olympic showing wasn't a fluke.

The Canadian women's team will look to Christine Sinclair to propel it to a medal. Photo by Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The squad owns an average age of 25, featuring a mix of veterans and rookies, including 12 players making their Olympic debut. The pressure will be on goaltender Stephanie Labbe, who has taken over from the injured Erin McLeod as the country's No. 1 goalkeeper. Christine Sinclair, 33, will wear the captain band in Rio, as she has been the backbone of the Canadian team since making her debut in 2000, leading the nation in goals with 162 and caps with 243. Sinclair will look to propel the young Canadians to victory in what could be her last Olympic Games. What a farewell that would be.

Mark De Jonge: Kayaker Mark De Jonge is considered Canada's best hope to win gold in Rio. The 32-year-old holds the world record in his event, the K-1 200 meter sprint, with a speed of 33.9 seconds recorded in 2014. After winning bronze in his Olympic debut at London 2012, De Jong continued to improve, winning the World Championships in 2014 and 2015, and winning gold at the 2015 Pan Ams. Predict the reigning back-to-back world champion to bring home gold for Canada.

When you win gold. Photo by Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Cochrane: The 29-year-old freestyle specialist, who saved Canadian swimming, continues his quest for gold in Rio. Cochrane is the most decorated swimmer in Canadian history as a two-time Pan Pacific Swimming champion, a two-time Commonwealth Games champion, and six World Championship medals. Cochrane also helped rescue the nation's swimming program when he became the only Canadian to medal at the 2008 Olympics, where he won bronze. He medalled again in 2012, taking home a silver.

For Cochrane, the ultimate goal is to win an Olympic gold medal, but China's Sun Yang has denied him at every turn. Yang is viewed as virtually unbeatable by many, winning two gold medals at the 2012 Summer Games and holding the world record in the 1500 meter freestyle event. Although Cochrane clearly has a tough path ahead of him, he is coming off a two-medal performance at the 2015 World Championships and is a real threat to win his first gold in Rio.

Also look out for Cochrane's teammate Richard Weinberger, one of the world's best open water swimmers. Weinberger won gold in the 10k marathon event at the 2011 Pan Am Games and bronze at the London 2012 Olympics and is looking to improve on that result in Rio.

Canada Athletics: Canada is sending its best athletics team in history to Rio. Head coach Peter Eriksson has selected a versatile group of 65 track and field athletes to represent Canada at the 2016 Summer Games, proving to have strength in numbers. The Canadian team is coming off a national-best eight medals at the 2015 IAAF World Championships, where Shawn Barber (pole vault) and Derek Drouin (high jump) won gold; Brianne Theisen-Eaton (heptathlon), Damian Warner (decathlon), and Melissa Bishop (800 metre) won silver; and Andre De Grasse (100 metre), Ben Thorne (20-km race walk), and the men's 4x100 metre relay team won bronze.

De Grasse, who signed a Puma deal worth $11.25 million in December 2015, will be the posterboy for the Canadian Olympic athletic team, as the 21-year-old Torontonian is Canada's sprinting phenom. De Grasse has already won two Pan Am gold medals and two IAAF bronze medals. He'll be in the spotlight for good reason, as the sprinter is a serious medal contender in all three of his events (100 metre, 200 metre, and the 4x100 relay).

De Grasse is turning into one of the most recognizable faces in Canadian sport. Photo by John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Rosie MacLennan: After capturing Canada's only gold at the London Olympics four years ago, MacLennan quickly became a national hero. MacLennan is a trampoline gymnast from Richmond Hill, Ontario, and has remained dominant in the four years since her gold, winning the World Championships in 2013 and Pan Am gold in 2015. MacLennan heads into the Games ranked No. 5 in the world in the individual trampoline event, and will have the honour of carrying the flag for Canada for the opening ceremonies.