For Canadian athletes, the path to Tokyo 2020 runs straight through Australia's Gold Coast.
The 2018 Commonwealth Games begin on Wednesday Down Under and, for the 283 Canadians competing, the event is a proving ground.
Situated about halfway between the Rio and Tokyo Summer Olympics and Paralympics, the Commonwealth Games offer a mission that is twofold: Canadians will try and eclipse their previous medal tally while showing the country will be a force to reckon with in 2020.
Four years after winning 82 medals at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Canada is sending a mix of defending champions such as decathlete Damian Warner and wrestler Erica Wiebe and first-time Commonwealth competitors like swimmer Penny Oleksiak and beach volleyball teammates Sarah Pavan and Melissa Humana-Parades to shoot for the Canadian team's stated goal of 100 medals.
The last time Canada managed to reach the triple-digit plateau was 2002 in Manchester, when it took home 117 medals.
Canadian Chef de Mission Claire Carver-Dias, a two-time Commonwealth Games champion in synchronized swimming, is optimistic her squad is capable of topping its goal.
"We have an impressive team here at Gold Coast, made up of Commonwealth, Olympic and Paralympic medallists, as well as NextGen athletes who will likely compete in Tokyo 2020 and Birmingham 2022," Carver-Dias says.
Standing in their way are 69 other nations and territories with similar goals, including star athletes such as South Africa's Wayde van Niekirk and Caster Semenya, and Jamaica's Elaine Thompson and Yohan Blake.
Unlike the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games have able-bodied and para events running concurrently. And at the Gold Coast Games there will be, for the first time, an equal number of medals for men and women. The following 23 sports are on the programme:
- Artistic gymnastics
- Beach volleyball
- Mountain biking
- Road cycling
- Track cycling
- Field hockey
- Lawn bowls
- Para powerlifting
- Rhythmic gymnastics
- Rugby sevens
- Table tennis
Other notable Canadians slated to compete are swimmers Kylie Masse and Taylor Ruck, pole vaulters Shawn Barber and Alysha Newman, racewalker Evan Dunfee and rugby sevens stars Ghislaine Landry and Nathan Hirayama, among many others.
There are some notable absences for the Canadian squad — sprinter Andre DeGrasse, high jumper Derek Drouin, boxer Mandy Bujold and swimmer Katerine Savard are among those not competing.
However, this event is not entirely about big names winning medals. A hallmark of the Commonwealth Games is the emphasis on developing young athletic talent on the world stage.
The biggest Canadian example of this strategy is diver Alexandre Despatie. At just 13 years old, he won gold in the 10-metre event at the 1998 Games in Kuala Lumpur, foreshadowing a pair of Olympic medals and a trio of world titles.
More than half of the 265 athletes who were members of Canada's 2014 Commonwealth Games team in Glasgow went on to make the 2016 Rio Olympic team, and 21 of the 28 Canadian medallists in Rio had Commonwealth Games experience.
Each Commonwealth Games has a different programme of sports; while there are 10 core events, hosts choose seven of 17 optional sports to include.
The Gold Coast edition features three sports never before contested at a Commonwealth Games: para triathlon, women's rugby sevens and beach volleyball, where the Canadian duo of Pavan and Humana-Parades come into competition as the no.1-ranked women's team in the world.
Also of note is the reintroduction of basketball to the programme. While it has been part of the Commonwealth Games programme in the past, it will be the first time Canadians will participate in the tournament.
The Games begin with the opening ceremony on Wednesday (watch on CBC Television and CBCSports.ca at 6 a.m. ET) and run through Sunday, April 15.
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