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Canadian wrestlers hope to continue tradition of quiet Olympic success

Olympic wrestler Tonya Verbeek of Canada poses for a portrait in St. Catharines, May 11, 2012. Picture taken May 11, 2012.

MARK BLINCH/REUTERS

Canadian wrestlers often fly under the radar at the Olympics despite producing an abundance of medals over the years.

With 14 medals won, the sport has historically been the sixth most successful for Canada since 1900, behind track and field with 51 and swimming with 40. Rowing (35), canoeing (21) and boxing (17) follow.

Canada has won at least one medal in wrestling, six in total, in the last five Olympics beginning in 1992.

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The team once again has plenty of medal potential with the women leading the way at the London Olympics.

Tonya Verbeek won a silver medal in Greece, followed by a bronze in Beijing four years ago. At 34, the Grimsby, Ont., native will attempt to complete a hat trick at the London Games in the 55-kilogram category. Verbeek said she's using her age as a source of motivation.

"I feel that when I wrestle at my best I'm a hard match no matter what my age says beside my name," Verbeek said at the news conference this weekend.

"It keeps me on my toes and makes me know that I have to be ready for every match."

Carol Huynh of Hazelton, B.C., a gold medallist in Beijing, is back to defend her title in the 48-kilogram category.

"I feel physically strong, fit, fast as ever," said Huynh, 31. "I can't wait to compete. I feel like I'm really ready."

Canadian women have dominated on the international stage lately, having won 11 medals in world championships since 2008. The success could continue in London, with Quebec's Martine Dugrenier (63 kg) and Leah Callahan (72 kg), a native of Newfoundland, also competing. Dugrenier came close to winning a bronze medal in Beijing.

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Hopes are more tempered on the men's side. Matt Gentry (74 kg), who was born in the United States and is competing in his second Olympics, may have the best chance. David Tremblay of Montreal aims to finish in the top 10 in his 55-kilogram class.

Haislan Garcia (66 kg), 16th in Beijing, Khetag Pliev (96 kg) and Arjan Bhullar (120 kg) round out the men's squad.

The wrestling events will be held during the second week of the Games. For now the Canadian team has retreated to a London suburb, where it will quietly prepare for the competition.

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