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Excitement builds in London and on Twitter as opening ceremony approaches

07/26/2012 05:00 EDT | Updated 09/25/2012 05:12 EDT
LONDON, UK - From the pool to the tennis courts, and even back home across the Atlantic, Canadian athletes are getting their game faces on as the opening ceremony of the London Olympics fast approaches.

Some athletes took to social media to express their excitement or support for the Canadian team.

"Loving the Olympic village! Great energy here!" modern pentathlete Melanie McCann on Twitter.

Others, like swimmer Julia Wilkinson, were more direct in showing their Olympic spirit. The backstroker from Stratford, Ont., had her nails painted red, white and gold this week.

"They're really obnoxious," she laughed.

They're also an example of the swagger Canada's swim team is bringing to London. After being kept off the podium in 2004 and winning a single bronze medal in 2008, the nation's swimmers are targeting a three-medal performance in London and hope to place swimmers in 13 to 15 finals.

"It's completely different," Wilkinson said. "Four years ago, it was 'we hope we can make some finals.'

"Now, it's 'who is going to be the first one to win a medal?' We've kind of come in with this swagger and we believe we can do it."

Victoria's Ryan Cochrane won Canada's only swimming medal in Beijing when he claimed bronze in the 1,500 freestyle. He's a medal favourite in that event once again, but he also thinks he can win some hardware in the 400 metres. The 23-year-old was fifth in the event at the world championships last year.

"I'm really excited to race that event, especially after last year's world championships," Cochrane said. "It was the first time — was in the mix, in the medal hunt. I think I made some mistakes over the years in that event, but it's part of the learning process."

While Canada's swimmers are anxious for the Games to begin, they won't be showing it at Friday's opening ceremony.

A number of Canadians, including the swim team, are planning to skip the big show in order to better prepare for their events.

Swimmer Brent Hayden said the team will watching the ceremonies on TV at the village and will be there "spiritually and emotionally with the rest of the team."

"It's one of those things," Hayden said. "All my friends (ask) 'What is it like to walk in the opening ceremonies?' I don't know."

The swim team only has to look at Canada's chef de mission in London for a precedent. Mark Tewksbury watched the opening ceremonies of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics from the cafeteria of the athletes village, then went on to win gold in the 100-metre backstroke.

While the swimmers are using past experience as motivation in London, tennis star Milos Raonic mentally prepared for his first Games by talking to none other than Wayne Gretzky.

"He told me that the competition is a big thing for sure, but he said the most special thing was meeting other athletes and just learning from them and hearing different stories," Raonic said of his meeting with The Great One, which took place in Los Angeles last winter.

A philosophical view may serve Raonic well, as his draw in London could potentially be as tough as a Grand Slam. The world's 25th ranked player opens competition against No. 69 Tatsuma Ito of Japan, but a potential second-round matchup against sixth-ranked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France looms after. A possible match with No. 2 Novak Djokovic of Serbia could stand between Raonic and a shot at a medal.

The Canadian team also received well wishes from Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, who was a medal favourite in hurdles before coming up short at the Olympic trials.

"Good luck to all my friends and competitors at the Olympics, can't wait to see you all back on circuit," tweeted Lopes-Schliep, who won a bronze medal in Beijing.

Twitter has proved a popular voice for athletes and supporters alike, but at least one Canadian Olympian will be taking a tweeting hiatus.

"Exiting twittersphere," posted rower Lindsay Jennerich. "Time 2 focus & put 12 yrs training 2 the test. Thanx everyone for the support. Will b back to tweet the parties!!"

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