08/12/2012 02:10 EDT | Updated 10/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Strong performances by young athletes provide plenty of optimism for Rio Games

LONDON - Whether it was Rosie MacLennan bouncing to gold on the trampoline, or Derek Drouin soaring to bronze in the high jump, youth was an underlying theme in Canada's performance at the London Olympics.

The results bode well for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, four years from now, where the curtain could come up on a whole new generation of Canadian stars.

"What was so exciting was the enthusiasm of the new people at the Olympic Games," said Mark Tewksbury, Canada's chef de mission. "That kind of energy was I think really what helped us be so relentless and be consistent through the Games and get such a nice outcome at the very end."

More than 60 per cent of the athletes on the Canadian team were making their Olympic debuts, and plenty of them came up big, promising big things for Brazil.

MacLennan, a 23-year-old from King City Ont., who worked as a volunteer at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games, cemented her status as Canada's new trampoline star in London when she captured Canada's only gold medal.

Her Twitter followers exploded from 900 to more than 14,000.

Milos Raonic will be one to watch in Rio. The 21-year-old from Thornhill, Ont., played his way into the history books in his second-round loss to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. It was the longest three-set tennis match in Olympic history, their third set alone lasting three hours.

A year ago, Paula Findlay was considered a medal threat in the triathlon in London, but the 22-year-old from Edmonton had a miserable race and finished last. Findlay managed just six weeks of quality training coming into London because of a hip injury that plagued her for a year. Assuming she can get healthy, Findlay will be a contender in Rio.

Canada's track and field team had 35 Olympic rookies, and it was the young athletes who shone. Drouin, a 22-year-old from Corunna, Ont., whose bronze was Canada's first medal in high jump since Greg Joy's silver at the 1976 Montreal Games.

"When you look at how young the group is, how talented we are, people like Cam Levins and Derek Drouin and the relay team, and other young athletes on the team, I'm really thrilled," said Alex Gardiner, head coach for Athletics Canada.

Just a few months ago, Levins, a 23-year-old from Black Creek, B.C., was the best runner almost no-one had heard of, but he's garnered a huge following in the track and field community. He held his own in a star-studded 10,000 en route to finishing 11th and then battled a chest cold to finish 14th in the 5,000.

"I'm going to be 27 and 31 the next couple of Olympics, those are supposed to be my prime years, hopefully I can be a medal contender by then," Levins said.

Damian Warner, a 22-year-old from London, Ont., finished fifth in the decathlon.

Judo's Antoine Valois-Fortier won a surprise bronze medal, Canada's first in the sport since Nicholas Gill won silver in 2000. At just 22, the Quebec City native has a bright future.

In track cycling, Gillian Carleton, a 22-year-old from Victoria, and 20-year-old Jasmin Glaesser of Coquitlam, B.C., made up two-thirds of the Canadian team that won bronze in the team pursuit (along with veteran Tara Whitten).

Monique Sullivan, 23, of Calgary was sixth in the women's keirin. She also competed in the women's sprint, placing 11th.

"For the whole competition she's raced above her level," Canadian coach Richard Wooles said of Sullivan. "She's a real star for the future."

A couple of young swimmers had strong performances.

Richard Weinberger, a 22-year-old from Victoria, outduelled the reigning world champion over the final metres of the men's 10-kilometre marathon swim race, winning bronze in an event dominated by older athletes.

Sinead Russell of Burlington, Ont., finished eighth in the 200-metre backstroke, making her Olympic debut at the age of 19.

Jason McCoombs, 19, of Dartmouth, N.S., made his debut on the international canoe circuit this season, but qualified for the B final in the C-1 200 metres.

"He's going to be one of our stars in 2016 and 2020," said Peter Giles, a 1996 Olympian who heads up CanoeKayak Canada. "If you look at guys like Mark Oldershaw and Adam van Koeverden, they're 30 or late 20s, so he's got a lot of time."

Canada's veteran diver Emilie Heymans competed in her fourth and final Games in London, becoming the first athlete in Canadian history to win a medal in four consecutive Olympics. But she's blazed a trail for Jennifer Abel. The 20-year-old from Laval, Que., teamed up with Heymans to capture bronze in the women's three-metre springboard event.

Others to watch include cyclist Joelle Numainville, a 24-year-old from Laval, Que., who was 12th in the road race despite crashing, and Tory Nyhaug, a 20-year-old from Coquitlam, B.C., who sacrificed his spleen for his sport just two months ago, missed out on the semifinals of BMX racing by a single point.