Beijing Brief: Saturday is Medal Day

It took less than an hour for Canadian athletes to turn the tide and reach the podium in Beijing. On day eight, one of those three medals was gold.

Carol Huynh, born in the small town of Hazelton, B.C., struck gold in acute fashion. The 27-year-old dominated Japan’s Chiharu Icho – defending Olympic champion and three-time world champion – by scores of 4-0 and 2-1 in the 48 kg event. On her coaches’ shoulders, Huynh paraded around the stadium with the Canadian flag following the bout.

Huynh said everything happened quickly. “It’s amazing, a little surreal right now,” she said. “I knew I had to set the pace, the tone, if I wanted to win the final match and I did. On the podium, I was thinking of how proud I was to be Canadian.”

It is the first Olympic Games for the wrestler who trains at the University of Calgary.

Teammate Tonya Verbeek made it two medals for Canadian wrestling so far at the 2008 Olympic Games. Verbeek, of Beamsville Ont., won bronze in the 55 kg event. She made the most of her points by defeating Theres Nerell of Sweden 1-0, 1-0. This is Verbeek’s second Olympic medal, after winning silver in Athens four years ago.

“The key was keeping to my strategy and I did,” Verbeek said. “This medal is different from the one in Athens. I won my match to get on the podium so it’s a very different feeling. The last four years were a character building for me; it’s great to end it that way.”

First on the podium for Canada was in fact a pair of rowers. The men’s pair, Scott Frandsen (Kelowna, B.C.) and Dave Calder (Victoria), rowed to a silver medal on Saturday. They rowed in a time of 6:39.55, just two seconds back of the Australian crew who won gold.

“We knew that if we had a good first 1,250 metres, the Australians would be right with us,” said Frandsen. “They were and they pushed us all the way. Although they won, it was a great race and we wound up right there with them. We’re very happy.”

At the Bird’s Nest, Carline Muir of Weston, Ont. successfully reached the women’s 400m semifinal. Her personal best time of 51.55 seconds was third in her heat. She will race again Sunday. “I pushed hard right to the end. It was an awesome way to start my first Olympic experience,” said Muir.

In heptathlon action, Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont. achieved a new Canadian record in finishing sixth place with one event left to go. The Pan American Games champion in 2007 set a season best long jump mark before throwing a personal best in javelin. Only the 800 m event remains.

At the Water Cube, Blythe Hartley of North Vancouver, B.C. is moving on to the final for women’s 3m springboard. She finished 10th to do so and will need a stronger performance to compete with gold medal favourite Guo Jingjing of China. Jennifer Abel of Montreal finished 13th, just one spot off the qualifying mark.

“It wasn’t a good competition for me today,” Hartley said. “It was a challenge because I didn’t feel like myself there. Just before the fifth and last dive, I looked at the score board and I was a little panicked. Tomorrow is a brand new day. We start at zero for the final.”

Canada’s strongest gymnasts coming into the Games were arguably in trampoline. None suggested otherwise on Saturday as Canada qualified three for the final. The top Canadian was Rosannagh MacLennan of King City, Ont., who finished third in women’s preliminary (in a field of 16). Two-time Olympic medallist Karen Cockburn (Toronto) was right behind her in fourth spot.

“I watched the other gymnasts a bit but once you’re out there you want to focus on your own routines, because if you thinking too much about the other competitors and the Olympics then you’re not focusing on what you have to be doing,” said MacLennan.

Cockburn, aiming to be among the rare Canadians to win an Olympic medal in three successive Games, said she had a rough compulsory routine and at one point was close to coming off the trampoline. “I knew I had to be aggressive on my second routine and I couldn’t make too many mistakes if I wanted to get into the final, so I just went out and was really aggressive and came out with a good score,” she added.

Toronto’s Jason Burnett was seventh to reach the final set for Tuesday. The Olympic rookie, like MacLennan, has hinted that he will plan a risky, challenging program for the final in an attempt to impress judges and reach the podium. That means a maximum degree of difficulty. Cockburn’s stature will allow her to play it safer for her medal bid. All three gymnasts, notably, are from the Skyriders Trampoline Place in Richmond Hill, Ont.

Elsewhere on day eight:

The men’s baseball team suffered its third straight heartbreaking loss, this time 5-4 to the United States. The team led 4-0 about halfway through. Winning a medal will now be difficult.

“We were hitting the ball on the barrel all day long,” said Terry Puhl, team manager. “We did a good job hitting and had some clutch hits, but we continue to lose by one run. A very tough loss, but we’ll come back strong in two days regardless to try to run the table.”

The Canadian men’s water polo is still searching for its first victory following a 13-7 loss to Greece on Saturday. Said Nathaniel Miller of Beaconsfield, Que.: “We’ll have to be more consistent in our next game against Hungary, who are double Olympic champions. Our tournament is not over yet. We still can achieve our objective of finishing eighth.”

In cycling, Zach Bell of Watson Lake, Yukon (one of two Olympians from that territory) finished 7th in the track points race with 27 points.

On the softball field, Canadian women couldn’t get their bats going and wound up dropping a 2-0 decision to Venezuela. Pitcher Danielle Lawrie was excellent for Canada, going seven innings and striking out nine, allowing just four hits.

In women’s pole vault, Kelsie Hendry of Saskatoon cleared 4.3 m but couldn’t squeeze past the 4.4 m mark. She did not advance.

In equestrian, Ashley Holzer competed in her second qualifier for dressage, with a performance of 68.760. She placed 15th in Saturday’s Grand Prix Special to qualify for the Individual Final at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong.

After Saturday’s sailing action, Mike Leigh sits in 12th spot in laser, Lisa Ross is 12th in Laser Radial, the Tornado crew is sixth, the men’s 470 team is 29th and the 49er is 14th.

In two rowing B finals, the men’s lightweight double sculls finished 6th and the women’s quad sculls finished 2nd.

The biggest non-Canadian news came in the pool and on the track. Michael Phelps won his seventh gold medal of the games in the 100m butterfly – this time barely, finishing .01 seconds ahead of Serbia’s Milorad Cavic. And Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt set a new world record in the 100m – 9.69 seconds – to easily win gold.