The Canadian women’s basketball team just squeaked into the Olympic draw by winning their final game at a last-chance qualifying event.
It seems like ancient history for a group of players who are proving they belong at the sport’s highest level.
The Canadians have split their first four games in London and have already locked up a berth in the quarter-finals. They will close out its preliminary round schedule Sunday with a game against Australia.
“You can’t get to where you can’t see,” said head coach Allison McNeill. “None of the Canadian kids have seen us at the Olympics before so this is so big for the growth of our program.”
The Canadians opened the Games with a close loss to No. 2-ranked Russia. They topped Britain, lost a tight game to France and pulled even with a six-point win over Brazil.
“When we qualified I made sure we are not going to get five-ring fever and be something we are not,” McNeill said. “We are now going to prepare for Australia, slow the game down and take it one step at a time.”
Ottawa’s Courtnay Pilypaitis said the team has shown it can hang with the top teams in the world.
“To represent your country is a great honour, but to exceed expectations and get into the top eight is huge for Canada Basketball,” she said.
Australia is tied for second in the world rankings and will be another stiff test for the 11th-ranked Canadians, who are making their first Olympic appearance in basketball in 12 years.
After a three-medal day Saturday, Canadians are competing in a just handful of medal events on Sunday.
Track cyclist Zach Bell of North Vancouver, B.C., a silver medalist at the world championships earlier this year, will look to rebound from a rough first day in the final rounds of the omnium.
Bell was seventh in the 250-metre flying lap, 13th in the points race and 10th in the elimination race Saturday to stand ninth overall after the first day of competition.
Gymnasts Ellie Black of Halifax and Brittany Rogers of Coquitlam, B.C., are in the women’s vault final.
Jennifer Abel of Laval, Que., and Emilie Heymans of St-Lambert, Que., both advanced to Sunday’s women’s three-metre springboard diving final. Abel was fourth in qualifying with 353.25 points while Heymans followed in eighth with 331.35.
Also Sunday, Elise Marcotte of Quebec City and Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon of Riviere-du-Loup, Que., enter the pool for the duets technical routine as the synchronized swimming competition kicks off.
Russia, Spain and Japan made the podium in the duet in 2008 while Boudreau and Isabelle Rampling were sixth.
Canadian highlights at the track include Nathan Brannen of Cambridge, Ont., in the 1,500-metre semi-finals while Justin Warner of Markham, Ont., runs in the 100 semis.