Beijing Brief: One Centimetre From The Podium
More valiant efforts by Canadian athletes came up just short on day seven. At the Bird’s Nest, Dylan Armstrong came within a centimetre of bronze in shot put. On the pitch, Canadian women pushed world No. 1 U.S. to overtime before dropping a heartbreaker 2-1 in the football quarter-final.
The Canadians were under near-relentless attack from the Americans but tight defense and timely saves kept them in it. The match was knotted 1-1 after regulation time, despite the U.S. being heavily favoured to win. Then, in the 11th minute of extra time, American Natasha Kai headed in a looping pass past goalie Karina Leblanc, who had no chance to stop it.
Armstrong, of Kamloops, B.C., held the Canadian record in shot put and was coming off a gold medal at the 2007 Pan American Games. He entered the Olympic Games ranked 10th in the world and leaves ranked fourth. He was 1 cm from a bronze medal despite the 21.04 throw he made Friday night, the longest in Canadian history.
Friday marked the start of all athletics events in Beijing’s Olympic Green. Jessica Zelinka (London, Ont.) got it going with heptathlon, starting off in second spot after the 100m hurdles. Following high jump, shot put and the 200m race, she sits in eighth place overall. Canada had success in hammer throw, with Jim Steacy of Lethbridge, Alta. qualifying for Sunday’s final with a throw of 76.32 m.
“My goal was to come in and throw my best,” Steacy said. “My objective was to qualify for the final, the rest now is just gravy.”
In men’s 1,500m, two Canadians are through to the semifinals set for Sunday – Nathan Brannen of Cambridge, Ont. and Kevin Sullivan of Brantford, Ont. “It’s a dream come true to make the semis,” he said. “I was patient and made my break when I wanted. Now I’m going to get some sleep and recover to get ready to go. That was a huge race for me, a big confident boost for me.”
Good news emerged from Qingdao, China, where Canada’s sailing team competes. In the Finn class, Chris Cook of Whitby, Ont. raced Friday and finished third. That leaves him in a strong fifth place, courtesy of three top-five finishes in eight races.
Elyse Hopfner-Hibbs of Toronto represented Canada in the women’s all-around gymnastics finals early Friday, a surprise as she was not expected to make the finals. She finished 16th overall.
“She’s had a phenomenal career and she is by far Canada’s most successful female gymnast,” said coach Carol Angela Orchard. “She’s really elevated that status with her six World Cup medals and her world championship medal. Now it’s time for the next generation of gymnasts to continue what she’s accomplished. They’ve seen Elyse do it and they believe they can do it too.”
One of Canada’s strongest medal hopefuls in diving sprung into action. Blythe Hartley (North Vancouver), bronze medallist in 2004 and current No. 4 in the world, reached the semifinal of 3m springboard by finishing third overall. Montreal’s Jennifer Abel, just 16 years old, will also compete in the semifinal, staying focused to finish 10th despite having to follow Chinese diving star Guo Jinjing.
“I felt good today,” said Hartley. “I displayed a lot of consistency today, which I am very proud of. Tomorrow, it starts at zero, so my next goal is to make the top 12.”
Also in the Water Cube, Victoria’s Ryan Cochrane turned heads in the 1,500m freestyle preliminaries. He blitzed past his heat to set a new Olympic record time of 14:40.84 – the fastest ever by a North American swimmer and the first time a Canadian owned an Olympic swim record since Mark Tewksbury in 100m backstroke in 1992. Grant Hackett of Australia, Cochrane’s major competition in the final, reclaimed his Olympic record two heats later.
Vancouver’s Annamay Pierse swam to sixth place in the 200m breaststroke final Friday morning, setting a new Canadian record. Teammate Keith Beavers placed seventh in the 200m individual medley final, where American Michael Phelps won his sixth gold medal.
“I swam great today,” Beavers said. “I always knew I had it in me to make an Olympic final and today was the highlight of my career.”
Pierse said she was very pleased with her performance. “To go in and be in the race with these girls and swim a lifetime best is just amazing. The team is doing a superb job and I’m so proud to be part of it.”
At Shunyi Olympic Rowing-Canoeing Park, more Canadians proved they are medal contenders. In women’s lightweight doubles, Melanie Kok (St. Catharines, Ont.) and Tracy Cameron (Shubenacadie, N.S.) won their semifinal race a second ahead of second-place China. “We took a very businesslike approach to the race,”said Cameron. “Our start is typically fast, but what we did really, really, well today was the middle 1,000 metres; we owned it.”
Also advancing to a final was the lightweight men’s four, with Liam Parsons, Mike Lewis, Jon Beare and Iain Brambell. They finished second in their semifinal Friday.
Elsewhere on day seven:
Jeane Lassen, of Whitehorse, finished eighth in the women’s 75 kg weightlifting event. She moved up a class from 69 kg, where in 2006 she won silver at the World Championships.
“On my first lift… I hesitated but was aggressive enough to come back with confidence to achieve the weight in the second attempt,” said Lassen. ”I like to kiss the weight disk because I feel that we have to be friends. I don’t fight with the bar, but we have a friendship relationship.”
The women’s softball team didn’t rest much on Friday. First they defeated China 1-0 to go 3-0 in the tournament, thanks to a solo home run by Jennifer Yee and a two-hitter from Lauren Bay-Regula (sister of Boston Red Sox outfielder Jason Bay). Bay Regula worked out of a bases-loaded-nobody-out situation in the bottom of the 7th inning. “When the bases were loaded we gathered and said, this is when we have fun,” she said. “We knew that we would have to face these kinds of situations here. We worked through it and it was a great test for us.”
Later that afternoon, Canada lost to Olympic defending champion United State 8-1. Canada led 1-0 in the sixth inning (the first time the U.S. had trailed in an Olympic Games since 2000) before the powerful Americans took control.
The men’s baseball team lost a squeaker to Korea, 1-0. Mike Johnson of Edmonton went six innings, allowing one run on three hits. The game was decided by a solo homer from the bat of Keunwoo Jeong. They face a must-win situation against the U.S. Saturday.
In equestrian competition, Eric Lamaze (Schomberg, Ont.) finished first in a Jumping qualifier. Malcolm Cone of King City, Ont. also finished first in his Jumping qualifier while Gillian Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ont. finished 14th in her qualifier.
Archer Jay Lyon of Winnipeg was in the round of 16, where he dropped a 115-110 decision to eventual bronze medallist Bair Badenov of Russia.
In other athletics competition, Taylor Milne of Calendar, Ont. finished 9th in a 1,500m heat and did not advance. In men’s 100m, Pierre Browne (Toronto) and Anson Henry (Pickering, Ont.) both advanced to the quarter-finals in the Bird’s Nest. In that race, they then placed sixth and seventh, respectively, not enough to reach the semis.
In sailing action, Oskar Johansson and Kevin Stittle finished eighth in their Tornado race and currently sit eight overall. In RS:X, Nikola Girke finished 12th (16th overall) and Zachary Plavsic placed 30th (24th overall). Mike Leigh had a strong day in Laser, finishing 5th to improve to 16th overall. Lisa Ross finished 11th in Laser Radial, good for 17th overall. The women’s Yngling team finished 15th (13th overall).
In shooting, Johannes Sauer of Vancouver finished 44th in the men’s 50m rifle prone.
In other swimming news, Montreal’s Victoria Poon placed 30th in the women’s 50m freestyle. The women’s 4x100m medley relay team (Julia Wilkinson, Annamay Pierse, Audrey Lacroix, Erica Morningstar) set a new Canadian record and will compete in the final. The men’s team of Jake Tapp, Mike Brown, Joe Bartoch and Brent Hayden finished 10th overall and won’t swim in the final.
In rowing, the men’s lightweight double team of Douglas Vandor and Cameron Sylvester finished with a time of 6:49.28 in the semifinal, not enough to reach the final. Zoe Hoskins and Sabrina Kolker finished third in the B final for women’s coxless pair.
The men’s field hockey team dropped a close contest to The Netherlands 4-2.