- Derek Drouin
- Mark de Jonge
- Mark Oldershaw
- Tara Whitten
- Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito
- Émilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel
- Carol Huynh
- Adam van Koeverden
- Antoine Valois-Fortier
- Richard Weinberger
- Men's rowing eight
- Women's rowing eight
- Ryan Cochrane
- Brent Hayden
- Rosie MacLennan
- Tonya Verbeek
- Christine Girard
- Women’s soccer
Bronze, high jump. The 22-year-old may not be well-known yet, but he snared Canada’s lone track medal
Derek Drouin may have won an unexpected medal – the only one for Canada’s young track and field team – but no one involved with Athletics Canada was surprised about his talent.
Head coach Alex Gardiner had been trumpeting his high jumpers as outside shots for the podium for months.
Only 22, Drouin may not be well-known, but the Corruna, Ont., native is widely considered one of the top jumpers in the world, with a personal best of 2.33 metres and three U.S. NCAA championships with Indiana University.
The problem was, he entered the London Summer Games coming off a devastating injury – with three torn ligaments in his jumping foot – that kept him out of the entire college season and nearly prevented him from qualifying for the Olympics.
“My doctor kept asking when the trials were,” Drouin said. “He made it very clear, if I qualified, it was going to be very, very tight. The rehab was really extensive. Basically, my goal at that point was to make it to the Olympics.
“He was like, ‘You’ll be okay, but you’re going to have a lot of stuff you’re going to have to fight through.’ And I did. It’s been a painful road.”
Where it led was to an unlikely bronze medal, as after only two competitors were able to clear 2.33 metres, Drouin and two others were left tied in third after making 2.29 metres without a miss.
That left a three-way tie for third place, which in the strange rules of the Games meant he had won a rare shared medal.
The podium may have had to be a bit bigger than normal, but Drouin wasn’t complaining.
“I got lucky 2.29 was enough,” he said. “But it’s hard to be disappointed.”
He also expects he’ll be in even better form come the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, where he expects it’ll take a bigger jump to win.
“I think I have quite a few years ahead of me,” Drouin said. “I hope I’m consistent and 2.33 or 2.35 will be an easy bar in Rio.”
And perhaps then he won’t have to share the podium.
By James Mirtle
Mark de Jonge
Bronze, canoe. Four years ago he retired, but then the Olympic gods smiled down on him, and now he has a medal to prove it
Mark de Jonge knew he would never make it in the 500- and 1,000-metre canoe races. He lacked the endurance and the lung capacity for those events. He was a sprinter.
After failing to qualify for the Canadian team for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, de Jonge, who is from Halifax, had pretty much decided to hang up his paddle. Then, a year later, the Olympic gods smiled upon him. The 500-metre race would be replaced by a 200-metre sprint at London 2012. Within a year, he had decided to return to the water.
The decision paid off. On Aug. 11, at the rowing and paddling lake at Eton Dorney, west of London. He won bronze in the 200-metre event. If he had been one-tenth of a second faster, he would have taken silver, but pronounced himself delighted with the result.
Bronze was all the more special because he broke his index finger in a weight-training accident in mid-April. He missed a few races, but kept going, training in pain, bent on making the London Games.
“I am so happy to get on the podium,” he said. “It’s the highest level of competition that you can imagine here. Just to be among the top three is really special.”
By Eric Reguly
Canada's Mark Oldershaw crosses the finish line on his way to a bronze medal win in the men's C1 1000 meter final at at the 2012 Summer Olympics near London, England, Wednesday August 8/2012. Kevin Van Paassen
Bronze, canoe. With his win, the canoeist became the first member of his famous paddling family to take home an Olympic medal
Most Olympians have their parents sitting in the stands, their hands covering their eyes or raised in the air as they anxiously watch their child put four years of work into a single race.
Mark Oldershaw’s father, however, was right there on the dock with him, and as his coach, had one final piece of advice as he attempted to win the famous paddling family’s first ever medal.
“I just told him to believe he could do it,” Scott Oldershaw said. “That he was as good as anyone else out there.”
His son proved him right.
Mark Oldershaw won bronze in one of the Games’ most gruelling events on the water – the C1-1,000 metres – where competitors have to rest on one knee and power through the water with a single paddle for four minutes.
It’s about pain tolerance and a test of will as much as anything, but with so much history riding on his race, Oldershaw was ready for both.
“Around half way, everyone’s getting super exhausted,” he said, looking back at his race. “You think it’s just you getting tired, and for a moment, you say in your head, ‘Should I stop? This is getting really, really hard and it hurts, and it’s going hurt even more every stroke.’ Then you look back over the last four years and say ‘I’ve put so much work into this and if I don’t go for it now, what have I been doing?’”
Needless to say, he kept going.
Once he reached the finish line, he could barely raise his arms, something he only managed to do to cover his mouth as he gasped in disbelief when he saw the results come up.
By about seven-tenths of a second, he had become the first member of his family in nine trips to the Olympics to make the podium.
With his win, Oldershaw had carried on his late grandfather’s legacy, carrying Bert Oldershaw’s paddle from the 1948 Games halfway around the world to act as a good luck charm back in London, where it was used 64 years earlier.
The boy who had grown up at an Oakville, Ont. canoe club and lived his life in the shadow of four Olympians had surpassed them all.
“I don’t even know what to say,” Oldershaw said. “I have so many emotions and everything coming in. But I think when I sit down with my family and reflect on everything, it’ll sink in more.”
By James Mirtle
Canada's Tara Whitten competes in the women's omnium flying lap event, during the 2012 Summer Olympics, Monday, Aug. 6, 2012, in London. Sergey Ponomarev
Bronze, track cycling. Despite ‘disappointing’ fourth-place finish, veteran athlete pays tribute to Olympic journey
Some Olympians are thrilled with bronze. To rank among the top three athletes on the planet is no mean achievement. But for others, bronze hurts; to them, it is missed silver or gold.
Canada’s Tara Whitten is among those London Olympic athletes who was not entirely happy with her bronze in the women’s track cycling team pursuit (with Gillian Carleton and Jasmin Glaesser). And she was certainly not happy with her medal miss in the omnium. She thought she was capable of a better performance.
In the ominum, a six-race event held over two days, she finished fourth and seemed broken-hearted about it, especially since she was ranked third overall going into the fifth race. “I just gave it everything I had today and it wasn’t enough,” she said shortly after the race. “It’s pretty disappointing.”
Indeed, Whitten had been one of Team Canada’s great medal hopes for gold in London 2012. It would be her first and only shot for the big Olympic prize. At 32 and nearing the end of her racing career, she wanted to leave London with a bang.
Not so long ago, it never occurred to Whitten that she would be a cycling track star. She was a cross-country skier of some talent and competed in the 2005 World Nordic Ski Championships. About the same time, she took up track cycling as a form of cross training, loved it and, by 2007, had decided to make the velodrome her second home. Her hero was Clara Hughes, the Canadian sports superstar who competed to spectacular success in speed skating and cycling, though of the road variety.
The wins were impressive for a relative velodrome newbie; a testament to her natural athletic ability and fierce dedication to training and strategy. Her neuroscience studies at the University of Alberta had given her the ability to psychoanalyze her competitors, she has said.
She was twice world champion in the omnium and once in the points race. She was the Pan American champ in the omnium and the 3-kilometre individual pursuit.
That omnium loss made her well up in tears. But she is far from bitter. She is going home with an Olympic medal and the satisfaction that she knew she gave it her all. “I’ve loved this journey,” she said. “I’ve experienced success and disappointment, a bit of everything. That’s part of sport. I loved the process of trying to be my best. I would have traded it for anything.”
By Eric Reguly
BRONZE - Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito, 10m synchronize platform diving Kevin Van Paassen
Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito
The plan was to have a second delirious medal celebration, but, as it happened, this gathering was more subdued.
The parents and assorted boyfriends and relatives of Canadian divers Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito stood in a circle outside the Aquatic Centre, near the Olympic rings, talking quietly after the individual 10-metre tower competition.
Filion, 25, and Benfeito, 23, had floundered to 10th and 11th place, respectively. And while the smiles of their supporters were wan, there was genuine pride in what the two Quebec-born divers – best friends on and off the tower – had achieved.
And why not?
They leave London with a bronze medal from the synchronized diving competition – an event in which they’d finished seventh at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
“I’m extremely proud of my Games. … I competed in two events, I leave here with a bronze, I dove on my head with the most consistency I’ve ever had” said Filion, whose original career plan had her becoming a member of the Spice Girls pop group. (“It’s a good thing I stuck with diving.”)
In a roundabout way, she’ll get to fulfill that childhood ambition: Posh Spice, Scary Spice, et al, are slated to perform at the Olympics’ closing ceremony Sunday.
Benfeito may find it a little harder to enjoy the show, having blown a chance at an individual medal with an overenthusiastic first dive in the 10-metre final. She had qualified in second place.
“It’s going to haunt me for a long, long time,” said the Montreal native with a ready smile. “But there’s going to be a third Olympics in Rio, I’ll be there for sure – as long as I don’t miss my first dive.”
Filion and Benfeito have been diving together for nearly six years, over which time their lives and their families have become intertwined. The parents are as inseparable as the children, and spent the Olympic fortnight sight-seeing and watching diving together.
Good thing, then, the partnership was consecrated with a synchronized event medal – it’s not a dead certainty they’ll go to a third Olympics together in 2016.
“I’m going to start by taking it one year at a time,” said Filion, a Laval, Que., native who allowed the rigours of platform diving are beginning to exact a toll. “If my body allows it, yes, I’ll be there.”
By Sean Gordon
Canada’s Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel celebrate their bronze medals for the women’s synchronized three-metre springboard at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Sean Kilpatrick
Émilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel
The four-time Olympian has been a role model for Canadian divers, including partner Jennifer Abel
It’s a little-discussed fringe benefit of being an athlete at the Olympics – lots and lots of downtime.
The London Games were springboard diver Émilie Heymans’ fourth Olympics, and as a veteran she knew to pack along a few essentials, like her electronic tablet.
“I’ve been watching Private Practice, I started with season one when I got here and now I’m up to season five,” she said earlier this week with a giggle. “As you can see, we have a lot of time on our hands during the Games. But it’s relaxing, I like to be in my room and relax in my bed.”
Having battled nerves before – including a memorable “I choked” moment at the 2004 Games in Athens – the 30-year-old Heymans is a living testament to the virtues of relaxation and focus before competition.
Along with 20-year-old synchro partner Jennifer Abel, the St. Lambert, Que., native made diving history, becoming the first woman to win four Olympic medals in as many Games.
These were the final Olympics for Heymans, who has designs on a post-athletic career in the fashion industry, and has already launched a line of swimsuits.
“I’m ready to move on,” she said.
London was the last hurrah for Heymans, the leader of the women’s diving team – it’s fitting that she should win a medal in a pairing for the future of the program, the Laval, Que.-born Abel.
It’s hard to find more antithetical personalities – Heymans reserved, discomfited, Abel gregarious, sassy – but it’s a partnership that worked wonders in London.
The two are good friends away from the pool, and Abel is the first to admit that she’s received a priceless education from Heymans.
That the pair weren’t able to add to their medal haul in the individual events is a footnote to their accomplishments as a pair. Abel said after the three-metre synchro event that “I really, really wanted to win this for Emilie.”
To which Heymans jokingly replied: “perhaps she’ll go to many more Olympics and win a medal every time like I did.”
Abel, who made her Olympic debut at 16 in Beijing and didn’t make the individual springboard final, said the experience of diving against the world’s best in individual competition – she finished sixth after missing her third dive – will benefit her as she prepares for 2016.
Asked if she felt as if she’d served notice of her intent to challenge the Chinese, she said “I certainly hope so.”
“My career is only just beginning,” she added.
By Sean Gordon
Carol Huynh won Canada's first gold medal of the Beijing Olympics when she defeated Chiharu Icho of Japan in the women's 48 kg freestyle wrestling match.
Bronze, wrestling. Two-time medalist loves her sport too much to quit, promising ‘stick around for a while yet’
The question was put to Carol Huynh not long after she had won her the second Olympic wrestling medal: Was this it? The end of a brilliant career?
Still feeling the glow of her bronze-medal triumph, Huynh grinned and answered, "I’m going to stick around for a while yet. I love the sport too much to quit."
What’s not to love? In her first Olympics in Beijing, Huynh won gold and made a lasting impression with her joyous, teary rendition of O Canada. In London, she reached the semi-finals only to lose 2-1 to a Japanese rival who went on to win the gold medal in their 48-kilogram weight class.
If not for one wrong move that allowed Hitomi Obara to score a fast takedown, Huynh might have found herself wrestling for gold. Instead, it was for the bronze and she celebrated her decision over Isabelle Sambou of Sengal with an ‘Oh my gosh’ show of emotions.
"I’ll take it," Huynh said of her reward. "I want that bronze medal."
Hunyh, 31, had to work for her Olympic payoff. She lost weeks of training time because of a pair of knee injuries, more time with a damaged disc in her neck. It cut back her competition schedule at international events. In one meet, she wrestled a single round before her coach told her that was enough, no need to push things. It was Huynh’s passion for the sport that guided her through the moments of doubt.
Not that she complained about them.
"I wasn’t worried about Carol once we got here," said her coach, Leigh Vierling. "I had full confidence in her fitness level and her experience. She knew what she had to do."
And so the face of Canadian wrestling in 2008 and its happy warrior of 2012 will stick around a little longer. Maybe it’s for two years; maybe it’s for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. As long as she’s still loving it, why waste all that brilliance?
SILVER - Adam van Koeverden, K1 1000m kayak Kevin Van Paassen
Adam van Koeverden
Silver, men’s kayak. After training like a madman with his heart set on a second gold, the Canadian proves classy in defeat
He craved gold, he settled for silver, but he was so gracious in his disappointment that he deserves gold for sportsmanship. Canada’s Adam van Koeverden was more evidence that nice guys don’t finish last; they finish on the podium.
Van Koeverden won his silver Wednesday in the men’s single kayak (K1) in the 1,000-metre race. He had won gold in Athens in the 500-metre version of the same event, since banished from Olympic competition, and trained like a madman to take a second gold in London. When the game plan came up a little short, he smiled then congratulated his worthy golden rival, Eirik Veras Larsen of Norway.
“He’s a classy guy and I respect him so much and trust him implicitly,” van Koeverden said, his silver medal dangling from his neck. “If I had to lose to somebody, Eirik’s an okay guy to lose to.”
Then he went on to congratulate Mark Oldershaw, perhaps his best friend, who won bronze the same morning in the canoe race – the first medal won by three generations of Olympian Oldershaws (Mark’s father, Scott Oldershaw, is the coach for both Mark and van Koeverden). “Mark, oh man I’m happy for him,” he said.
There was a time, not so long ago, when being a winner meant ripping a page from Margaret Thatcher or Ayn Rand. It was all about individualism, me, me, me, having little empathy for the loser and resenting the winner. The brattish John McEnroe comes to mind. Thankfully, that era is either dying or dead, as shown by the Canadian paddlers at London 2012. Some sports, especially, the smaller ones, are tight-knit global fraternities, where rivals can be great friends. Van Koeverden has trained endlessly with his Norwegian rival.
Larsen took gold; van Koeverden took silver. There was no resentment. Just back slapping, sincere expressions of congratulations, a few tears and a lot of smiles. Mutual respect, in other words, among athletes who gave it their all.
By Eric Reguly
Bronze medallist Canada's Antoine Valois-Fortier celebrates during the awards ceremony for the men's -81kg judo competition at the London 2012 Olympic Games July 31, 2012Toru Hanai
Bronze, judo. He’s just won Canada’s first medal in the sport in 12 years, but his coach says that’s just the tip of the iceberg
Antoine Valois-Fortier emerged from the shadows of Canadian judo obscurity and shone a light on his sport by winning a surprise bronze medal in London.
He, like many of the other Canadian judokas, had the worst of draws at the Games, having to fight world champions and defending Olympic champions, and burly masters of the sport that were far more seasoned.
Valois-Fortier was up to it, winning five of six matches, that left him in tears of joy, in a blood spattered robe, and blissfully happy.
“I knew all along he was capable of doing that,” said his coach, Nicolas Gill, who was the last athlete to win an Olympic judo medal for Canada in 2000. Valois-Fortier broke a 12-year drought.
During tournaments in February and May in Austria and Russia, Gill tweaked to the fact that his young, lean, gangly student not only had potential for a medal in 2016, but he had potential in 2012. He quickly began to adjust the kid’s training regimen.
“I knew that all the guys he faced that day, I thought he could beat them,” Gill said. “But it’s one thing to be able to do it and another thing to actually do it.”
Valois-Fortier did it.
Gill called it “one of the biggest accomplishments in the history of judo.”
But Valois-Fortier was the master of his own success. He decided long ago that he wanted to win.
“I wanted it badly,” he said after winning bronze. And every day, he’s been working toward that goal.
Valois-Fortier’s strong points? He has fire and desire. And he works so hard, his teachers sometimes have to slow him down. “I wouldn’t say he’s the most gifted physically, and technically, he’s not that bad,” Gill said.
But where he excels is in his understanding of judo and his tactical knowledge. “He’s really aware of what he does and what time he needs to do it,” Gill said. “His decision making is just perfect.”
Still, there’s work to be done, the teacher says. Gill is back at home in Montreal, while Valois-Fortier remains in London for the closing ceremonies. There will be a few workouts for Valois-Fortier to do in coming weeks, Gill said.
“He still has things to learn and some adjustments to make,” he said. “He’s made a great step in his career, but there is plenty more ahead.”
By Beverley Smith
BRONZE - Richard Weinberger, marathon swimming Frank Gunn
Bronze, marathon swimming
Richard Weinberger was giving a long list of thanks Friday to everyone who helped him win a bronze medal in the 10 kilometre swim when his coach, Ron Jacks, piped up with one more addition.
“What about my dogs?” Jacks said, interrupting Weinberger’s running list of family members and friends. “They inspired you.”
Weinberger shot back, “You know that Harlow [an Irish terrier] bites me all the time when I go over.”
Dogs aside, Weinberger and Jacks have developed a unique bond that has helped turn the 22-year-old into one of the best open-water swimmers in the world. Coming into the Olympics, Weinberger had won a World Cup race in Portugal and had two other top-three World Cup finishes during the last season. He had also won an Olympic test event in London and took gold at the Pan American Games.
He felt ready for a medal in London. He got it by some smart swimming Friday, sticking close to the leaders and avoiding the pushing and shoving that is common to open-water events. He also has an infectious, joyous attitude. “I’ve just got to have fun,” he said after taking bronze. “That’s pretty much my position going into every single race is I’m here to have fun. I’m here to race these guys and to compete. The racing is just the best.”
There is much more to come from Weinberger, who lives in Victoria and attends the University of Victoria. He is among the youngest of the elite long-distance swimmers and many of his older rivals are retiring. And he’s not afraid to put in the work, doing as much as 200 laps daily in a pool.
Now that he an Olympic bronze medalist, his goal for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro is simple: “I want to be Olympic gold medalist in Rio.”
By Paul Waldie
SILVER - Brain Price, Will Crothers, Jeremiah Brown, Andrew Byrnes, Malcolm Howard, Conlin McCabe, Rob Gibson, Douglas Csima, and Gabriel Bergen, men's rowing eight Armando Franca
Men's rowing eight
Silver, eight The Canadian boat’s accomplishment is one to be appreciated as the men build on a rich tradition
Conlin McCabe has always been fascinated by the history of it all.
When he competed for Canada at the 2010 under-23 world rowing championships, the team doctor was Darren Barber, a member of the 1992 Olympic men’s eight crew that won gold in Barcelona.
McCabe wanted to know everything: what it was like, how it felt to give it all on that day.
Now, McCabe has a finer appreciation for those emotions. The strapping 21-year-old from Brockville, Ont., helped power Canada to a silver medal and add to the rich history of the men’s eight.
In their race at the Eton Dorney lake course, the Canadians fought off the British and Australians over the last 500 metres and pushed the unbeatable Germans right to the finish line. It was as much as Conlin and Co. could have done and a fitting tribute to the nation’s eight tradition.
“I’ve always taken that [history] pretty seriously,” McCabe said. “I loved being able to talk to Darren. He was in the No. 4 seat of the 1992 team. Derek Porter, he started with that eight and was one of the most physically gifted rowers ever. That’s what I appreciate.”
The men’s eight Olympic tradition is deserving of appreciation. It won its first Olympic medal in St. Louis in 1904. Combined, Canadian male crews have won 11 Olympic medals (three gold, five silver, three bronze).
The women’s eight have been enhancing the brand, too. Their silver-medal showing in London means they’ve now won Olympic gold, two silvers and a bronze in the last 20 years.
And the best news for McCabe is there is likely more to come. He is, after all, only 21. He could have another two Olympics in his future.
History beckons those who appreciate it.
By Allan Maki
SILVER - Lesley Thompson-Willie, Andreanne Morin, Darcy Marquardt, Ashley Brzozowicz, Natalie Mastracci, Lauren Wilkinson, Krista Guloien, Rachelle Viinberg, and Janine Hanson, women's rowing eight Natacha Pisarenko
Women's rowing eight
Silver, the Canadians feel they’re closing in on the superb Americans, but the gold medal remains elusive
The U.S. women’s eight rowing crew was a formidable force. It was unbeaten since 2005 and history shows that athletes who win world championships tend to take home Olympic gold. No one thought the U.S. women would be the exception.
Well, almost no one. The Canadian women’s crew thought its U.S. counterpart was beatable. The Canadians came to that realization after placing second in the 2010 world championship and second again – losing by mere centimetres – at the 2011 worlds. Suddenly, the Americans looked vulnerable to the Canadians.
So the Canadians headed to the Olympic rowing ponds at Eton Dorney with gold in mind. For years, they had been training to beat no other crew and it looked as if all the heavy lifting was on the verge of paying off.
The Americans, as it turned out, remained unbeatable. The Canadians took silver, though fought hard. They posted the fastest splits in the last half of the two-kilometre race, finishing just a second behind the U.S. boat.
“You always race to win and it didn’t happen, so there is always a bit of disappointment,” said coxswain Lesley Thompson-Willie, the 35-year rowing veteran who took home her fifth Olympic medal at London 2012. “Hats off [to the Americans]. They had to be awfully strong to beat us.”
The good news? The Canadians have substantially narrowed the gap to the Americans. If they keep improving like they have in the past couple of years, their rivals will indeed be beatable. But they’ll probably have to do it without Thompson-Willie, who is 52 and wants to “wean” herself off the sport to which she’s given her entire adult life.
The silver medalist rowers in the boat were: Janine Hanson (Winnipeg), Rachelle Viinberg (Regina), Krista Guloien (Port Moody, B.C.), Lauren Wilkinson (Vancouver), Natalie Mastracci (Thorold, Ont.,), Ashley Brzozowicz (London, Ont.), Darcy Marquardt (Vancouver) and Andréanne Morin (Montreal).
SILVER - Ryan Cochrane, 1500m freestyle swimming Kevin Van Paassen
Ryan Cochrane’s silver in the 1,500 freestyle in London has done more for distance swimming in Canada than anything else before it
Until Ryan Cochrane came along, there wasn’t much of a tradition. Canada’s top Olympic swimmers had all been short or middle-distance specialists. Victor Davis in the 200-metre breaststroke. Alex Baumann, Curtis Myden, Marianne Limpert in the 200 and 400-metre individual medley.
The 1,500 freestyle, the longest distance in the pool, was a no-go zone for Canadians. And then Cochrane splashed onto the scene and suddenly he was there with the Australians, the Americans, the leaders of the pack. He showed that in Beijing and he proved it again in London.
In the last individual race of the 2012 Olympic swim meet, Cochrane improved on his bronze medal from 2008 by battling Tunisia’s Oussama Mellouli and beating him to the wall for the silver. The gold went to Sun Yang of China, who took the lead early and never surrendered it. Yang may have been uncatchable on this August night but Cochrane was delighted with how he had paced then pushed himself through the final 100 metres.
“This is the happiest I’ve felt after any race in my career,” he said. “I know this was second place, but I’m still progressing. To be faster than four years ago, with the [banned] suits, I think is fantastic.”
Cochrane is only 23. He will return to Victoria and renew his training and by 2016 in Rio de Janeiro he hopes for a rematch with the unsinkable Yang. Between now and then, Cochrane will work at his craft, perfecting an event while making it one to follow. Swimming Canada national head coach Pierre Lafontaine said it best before the Olympics: “Grant Hackett was one of the greats of the greats [in the 1,500] and he was following a culture of distance swimming in Australia. Ryan is creating that culture in Canada.”
And doing a mighty fine job of it.
By Allan Maki
With no medals in Athens or Beijing, Canada’s Brent Hayden capped off his career with a bronze in the 100-metre freestyle. Kevin Van Paassen
Bronze, 100-metre freestyle swim Ending Canada’s 52-year drought in swimming’s marquee event even caught the attention of some guy called Phelps
As much as the medal meant to him, this was special, too. Something completely unexpected.
In the warm-up pool next to the main pool at the London Aquatics Centre, Brent Hayden was getting ready for his final swim as a member of the Canadian men’s relay team when all of a sudden Michael Phelps swam over for a quick chat.
“He actually climbed halfway up over the rope, extended his arm all the way out and said, ‘Hey Brent, I didn’t get a chance to congratulate you for your 100-metre free. That was a fun race to watch,’” Hayden recalled. “I’m just thinking, ‘This is really cool.’”
Hayden’s bronze medal in the 100-m freestyle, – “my baby,” as he called it – was a fitting sendoff to an athlete who has endured much and won much but had never won anything at an Olympics until his last individual race.
In Athens, Hayden was too young to appreciate what he was getting into. In Beijing, he was too confident, believing his status as the reigning silver medalist in the 100-m free would guarantee him a spot in the final. It didn’t.
In London, he declared he’d leave nothing to chance and didn’t. He made the final then stayed with the leaders through the final 50 metres, splashing the water with elation when he saw his name listed third behind American Nathan Adrian and Australian James Magnussen.
That Hayden had needed three spinal adjustments hours before the race to get himself properly aligned only added to his story and accomplishment. Finally, the Olympics had smiled upon the hard-luck Hayden and he revelled in the warmth.
“There are so many times when you can dream of something, but a million out of a million and one times it won’t come true,” he said. “This was one of the things that I was very fortunate as a human being to have happen to me.”
It was something really cool.
By Allan Maki
Canada's Rosannagh Maclennan performs during the women's trampoline qualification at the 2012 Summer Olympics, Friday, in London.Julie Jacobson
Gold, trampoline She burst from relative obscurity to capture Canada’s first and only gold medal. Inspiration came from teammate Karen Cockburn and MacLennan’s grandfather, whose own Olympic dreams were shattered by the Second World War
Rosie MacLennan was Canada’s first gold medalist of the 2012 London Olympics. The nation didn’t realize she would be the only one.
There were so many Canadians considered serious contenders for gold before the Games – Catharine Pendrel, Dylan Armstrong, Tara Whitten. But few observers made the 24-year-old trampolinist from King City, Ont., into a poster-girl for medal success at the London Games.
MacLennan had sat at the family cottage one weekend in 2008, listening to her grandfather’s story about how he qualified for the 1940 Summer Olympics as a gymnast, but never got to go. Those Games, scheduled for Tokyo, never happened because the Second World War broke out, and his skills were needed for special design work in Canada. Back then, Canadian athletes had no funding, team uniforms or fancy travel. He missed his chance to be an Olympian and moved on with his life.
MacLennan took perspective from her grandfather’s experience and an appreciation for her own opportunity.
She was the youngest of the three Team Canada trampolinists from Sky Riders Trampoline Club in Richmond Hill, Ont., the only one coming to London without an Olympic medal to her name. She had finished seventh at the Beijing Games, where Canada’s Jason Burnett and Karen Cockburn both earned a silver medal.
Cockburn had won three medals in three straight Games, so any buzz that might have surrounded trampoline was mainly focused on her chasing a fourth consecutive podium finish.
There were signs it would be a tight battle between the Chinese and the Canadians in women’s trampoline. But there were also signs that MacLennan could top the podium.
Doing her own individual work with personal trainer James Cummins at the Toronto Athletic Club, MacLennan improved her ability to fire her muscles quickly, jump higher and achieve more difficulty in her routines. Her results had improved steadily since the 2008 Games. She won the London test event early in 2012, earned silver at the world championships, and won the final World Cup event over two Chinese trampolinists, with Cockburn right behind her in second.
In London, MacLennan focused not on beating the Chinese, but on setting a personal best, which she did – 57.305.
“It was definitely the highest score that I’ve ever gotten,” MacLennan said. “It’s one of the highest scores that I’ve ever seen for women.”
Cockburn instantly embraced MacLennan as the Chinese had still to compete.
“She said, ‘You’re going to win, that’s going to take it,’” MacLennan recalled about Cockburn. “And we hoped that her score would be strong enough to hold on too. She hugged me and was so proud.”
China’s 2008 Olympic gold medalist, He Wenna, was gunning hard to repeat, but tumbled on her final landing. She still ended up with enough points for bronze behind her teammate, Shanshan Huang. That kicked 31-year-old Cockburn off the podium.
“It’s definitely bittersweet,” MacLennan said. “Our dream was to be on the podium together, no matter which way.”
SILVER - Tonya Verbeek, 55-kg freestyle wrestling Ryan Remiorz
Bronze, women’s wrestling Although she was denied the gold, medalist has plenty to be proud of
Canada’s Tonya Verbeek walked into the Olympic wrestling gym all-business as the solid beat of the White Stripes’ song Seven Nation Army boomed in stride with her. Focused like a pro, she smacked down hard on the hands of her two coaches, then took to the mats to compete in the Olympic final.
“I didn’t think about it being my last Olympic match,” said Verbeek. “I just thought it was the day I could make it happen.”
“It” was a victory over highly-decorated Japanese wrestler Saori Yoshida, the one wrestler who had repeatedly beat Verbeek and denied her Olympic gold medals and world championship titles. Although she is as enduring a tournament wrestler as you’ll find, the Canadian didn’t earn that coveted gold in her final Olympics. But just shy of 35, she had the perspective to appreciate a career that spanned three Olympic Games.
Back in 2004, she became Canada’s first-ever Olympic medalist in women’s wrestling by earning silver in the 55-kg weight category in Athens. Four years later, the wrestler with great athleticism and devastating moves took bronze in Beijing. Verbeek added another silver medal to her robust collection in London before a big group of her family and friends.
She was born in Grimsby, Ont, raised in Beamsville, wrestled at Brock University in St. Catharines, and now is settled in Thorold. During a lifetime in Ontario’s Niagara area, the community has embraced her. “I know I’ve been a star in their eyes,” she said.
Verbeek said she can appreciate her accomplishments over the years and is proud of that fact that she never lost steam.
“I want to be remembered as one that never quits, one that knows it doesn’t matter about your age,” said Verbeek. “You have to believe in your physical and mental ability and enjoy it. I’ve done that for the last three Olympics. I went out fighting right until the end.”
By Rachel Brady
Canada's Christine Girard competes on the women's 63Kg weightlifting competition at the ExCel venue at the London 2012 Olympic Games July 31, 2012. She won the bronze medal. PAUL HANNA
Bronze, women’s weightlifting. After finishing fourth in Beijing the 27-year-old pulled off a Canadian first in London
Moving across the country is challenging enough for your average Canadian.
Doing so when you’re an elite athlete who lives next to their coaches, facilities and competitions is even harder.
But that was the challenge facing Christine Girard in the lead-up to London, as the pint-sized weightlifter from Rouyn-Noranda, Que., relocated to White Rock, B.C., with her RCMP officer husband.
The situation saw her funding drop roughly $15,000, which had been coming from the provincial government, which forced her to work with a rotating cast of coaches.
Where to train was also a challenge, one her parents took upon themselves to fix. They came in from Quebec to transform a run-of-the-mill open carport in the couple’s home into a weightlifting arena fit for an Olympian, building a wall and platform to lift on.
After finishing fourth in Beijing by just three kilograms, Girard was determined to get on the podium this time around, something that had been a dream since she was a tiny 10-year-old able to only lift an empty bar.
In London, she pulled it off, hoisting an incredible 133 kilograms in the clean and jerk to win bronze by a single kilogram.
Girard became the first Canadian women to ever win an Olympic medal in the sport.
“I started when I was 10 so it’s a big part of my life,” she said. “It’s part of me. I’m actually really happy to have the first medal for a female. It means so much to me. I really hope it will get people involved in weightlifting because it’s a great sport.
“I grew up thinking it was practically impossible to win an Olympic medal. I’m really glad I listened to my heart and not my head because it is possible.”
Even when you train on your own and in your garage.
Canada's women's soccer team poses for a team photo after being presented with their bronze medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics in Coventry, England, Thursday August 9/2012. Kevin Van Paassen
Bronze, Women’s Team. Their performance was he most significant accomplishment for the country ever in the sport, taking the dominant Americans to extra time in the semis. Some players had long been familiar to Canadians, first coming to the country’s attention when they were just juniors. But as the team ages, there is concern about whether a new generation can fill their shoes
If Diana Matheson is the Paul Henderson of Canada’s bronze-medal winning women’s soccer team, then Christine Sinclair is Phil Esposito.
Seen through the prism of our national sport, Matheson’s cool rolling in of Canada’s winning goal against France is Henderson scoring on Vladislav Tretiak in 1972. Henderson falls behind the net, gets up and pokes the poke in. Matheson, a 28-year-old product of Oakville’s minor soccer program, started the play in midfield and finishes it, giving the most popular sport in our country – in terms of participation – a signature moment. Sinclair was Esposito: the emotional core, the person who spoke up when it needed to be done, except instead of pleading for support from Canadian fans she called out an out-classed Norwegian referee. The omni-present one.
Bad sportsmanship? Let’s be honest: it was an atrociously refereed semi-final between Canada and the U.S., the latter of which seems to have its own section of the FIFA rulebook relating to handballs. Where Sinclair stepped over the line is suggesting the referee had determined the result ahead of time. Hyperbole? Look: any event that makes FIFA and the IOC bedmates ought to be viewed with cynicism. But in a sport rife with gambling scandals, such matters are not to be taken lightly.
There is a backstory to this medal, of course. The core of the team captured the country’s attention in Edmonton in 2002 at the FIFA U-19 Word Cup, rekindled its interest with a solid showing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and then crashed out of the 2011 World Cup. Sinclair, a 29-year-old native of Burnaby, B.C., has been there for it all (she scored 10 goals and was named most valuable player in the 2002 tourney, when Canada finished second to the U.S.) so there was a profound message behind her saying following the bronze-medal win that “this is for all my teammates who’ve been with me through the highs and lows.”
Better yet, Sinclair, Matheson – all of them – have put the women’s soccer program on a pedestal heading into the 2015 World Cup. There is reason to be worried: as Canadian head coach John Herdman said, we have fallen behind in developing 12 to 17-year-old soccer players. Sixty per-cent of the team will be over 30 when the World Cup is played. Sydney Leroux is part of the U.S. team’s future; she turned her back on Canada. If that’s the beginning of a trend, the women’s program will fall into the same netherworld as the men’s program, where Canada is Plan B for players of dual citizenship.
At a news conference on the day after their bronze-medal win, Herdman sat on a platform with Sinclair, Matheson, Marie-Eve Nault and Rhian Wilkinson. Later, in an aside, he essentially predicted that one of the four will eventually take his job.
“My job is to do myself out of a job, in that way,” Herdman said, chuckling. “I’m hoping that when some of these girls retire, that they’ll start filling in those roles.”
There is a special quality to this group that endears them to anyone who spends time around them. Women’s professional soccer has never taken off in North America, and not all of these players finds jobs in Europe. Matheson – who went to Princeton – was pretty much telling the truth when she told reporters in the mixed zone that “soccer is pretty much all I’ve got on my resume.” Sinclair has been linked with a move to Frankfurt’s women’s team, and based on how she wowed the soccer cynics in this country, she could probably waltz in and play for any women’s team. “Unbreakable,” is how Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewksbury described Sinclair in naming her flag-bearer for the closing ceremonies. Sounds familiar to those of us of a certain age.