Every gold medal is sweet, but there is nothing like the pure bliss of winning when no one expected you to.
Canada’s days as a rowing power were long behind it. At the most recent world championships, the women’s eight finished a not-particularly-close fourth. The pandemic hasn’t tended to improve anyone’s performance.
But what happens on the day, in this particular case, for six minutes, is all that matters.
Mid-morning on Friday, Tokyo time, Lisa Roman, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Christine Roper, Andrea Proske, Susannne Grainger, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne, Avalon Wasteneys and coxswain Kristen Kit returned this country to gold-medal territory and rowing glory.
Defending world champion New Zealand was second. It was a very near thing – less than a second separating the boats after two kilometres of head-to-head racing. The bronze was another surprise – China.
It ended with what surely will be one of the great images of these Games – Kit, the cox, leaping to her feet in the boat, all 18 or so inches across of it. She threw herself into the arms of the closest rower to her, and then jumped up to wildly pump her fists.
If it was a gold-medal performance of rowing, it was followed by a gold-medal performance of balance on watercraft.
The rowing medal pushed Canada’s gold-medal count to three, all won by women. In fact, every medal here has been won by a woman.
Don’t worry. There are men here in Tokyo wearing the Maple Leaf. Maybe they’re just late sleepers.
All golds are emotional as well, but this one seemed even moreso. After the usual clichés – “gutsy race”, “executed” the plan – it was left to Kit to sum up the accomplishment.
“We came out on the course today representing a legacy,” she said.
Kit called out several of the Canadian heroes of the ‘92 Games, including Tokyo 2020 chef de mission, Marnie McBean, and her rowing partner, Kathleen Heddle.
Heddle died this year, aged only 55, of cancer.
“We continued that legacy today,” Kit said.
At that point, most of the other winners standing behind her were weeping. It was a profoundly Olympic moment.
It was also an important reminder as we near the halfway mark of this event – traditionally the point at which attention begins to flag.
That even when the Games disappoint, the athletes never do.
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