Beijing Brief: Four Medals Help Canada Surpass Athens Total on Day 11

Today was a story of veterans coming through, of preformed strategies working to perfection, and of young athletes competing on a level nobody could have predicted. Three more silver medals and a bronze marked a vibrant Day 11 for Canada.

With 13 medals, the 2008 Canadian Olympic Team has already surpassed the total for Athens four years ago (12). And several more podium appearances are expected this week.

Despatie Dives to Silver

The men’s 3 m springboard competition was filled with extraordinary divers and one of them is from Laval, Que. Alexandre Despatie provided a spell of déjà vu by snatching the silver medal Tuesday night – the same medal he won four years ago in Athens. Now, the first Canadian man to win an Olympic diving medal has won his second – still the only one to do it.

Said Despatie: “I still can’t believe it! This silver medal is worth gold for me, especially with the year I had.”

In a jam-packed Water Cube with 17,000 spectators looking on, Despatie’s score of 536.65 was second only to He Chong of China who made six phenomenal dives for a score of 572.90. Despatie did beat world champion Qin Kai of China, who was third with 530.10. This comes despite fracturing his right foot in April and missing nearly two months of training.

A Second Trampoline Silver Medal

Not far away, Canada won silver from a most unexpected source. Jason Burnett (Etobicoke, Ont.), who trains at the same gym as Karen Cockburn, provided an amazing Olympic moment. He came in a stunning second place and now both he and Cockburn will head home with silver medals.

Burnett, in his first Olympic Games, was in gold medal position with one gymnast left to perform. His score of 40.7 led the field until Lu Chunlong of China took gold with a score of 41. Still, it was an incredible performance from a gymnast with great raw talent and excellent potential. In the final, Burnett and his coach Dave Ross had a simple game plan: Perform a routine with an extremely high difficulty ratio and see what happens.

Here is what happened: A three-time Canadian champion was nearly flawless and won the silver medal.

“I just felt like I was in the zone out there today, everything went the way I wanted it to,” Burnett said. “Watching Karen (Cockburn) win the silver medal yesterday and Rosie MacLennan compete in her first Olympics inspired me to do just as well.”

Aided by Teammate, Whitfield Wins Triathlon Silver

Simon Whitfield, a native of Kingston, Ont., was the beneficiary of a pre-race strategy that worked to perfection. He won silver in the men’s triathlon Tuesday morning, his second Olympic medal in the sport after winning gold in 2000.

“To have been through this four years ago and fight my way back to the podium was hard, and this was a much harder race than Sydney,” Whitfield said.

Understanding that the sport’s dynamics had changed since 2000, Triathlon Canada created a strategy to give Canada the best chance at a medal. Colin Jenkins, of Hamilton, willingly helped the veteran Whitfield as a “domestique” during the 40 km cycling portion of the triathlon. His job was to stay near the front of the cycling pack and chase down any of the serious contenders who would try to break away from the pack.

That set the stage for the 10 km run to the finish, where Whitfield is notably strong. The 33-year-old was among four triathletes heading into the last lap. In the last stretch, Whitfield upped his tempo and sped past the three others and led with about 100 metres to go. Sixty metres later, Germany’s Jan Frodeno managed to catch him and take the gold medal. It was a great performance for Whitfield, in conditions of 80% humidity.

“Jenkins was awesome today,” Whitfield continued. “The team concept worked. It is the evolution of our sport and it takes a lot of fortitude to do that.”

While Jenkins finished 50th, Edmonton’s Paul Tichelaar finished a strong 28th.

Late Surge by Lopes-Schliep Snares Bronze

Canada’s first track medal since 1996 came from an unexpected source: Priscilla Lopes-Schliep of Whitby, Ont. With a powerful last 40 metres, Lopes-Schliep snared the bronze medal in the women’s 100 m hurdles final with a time of 12.64 seconds.

“I feel like I’ve jumped out of my body, went to heaven and back,” she said. “This is a huge accomplishment, it went by so fast and here I am with a medal.”

She had been ranked ninth in the world, so while making the final was not a surprise, reaching the podium was. But in the up-and-down nature of women’s hurdles, anything can happen in a final. In July, she showed a glimpse of this medal possibility by beating a world-class field at a major meet in Stockholm.

In other athletics action, Megan Metcalfe of Edmonton advanced to the final of the 5,000 m event by posting a personal best time of 15:11.23 – good for 12th overall. She did so before a crowd of 91,000 in the Bird’s Nest. And in long jump, Tabia Charles of Pickering, Ont. qualified for the final on Friday. She jumped 6.61 m to finish ninth overall.

Elsewhere, Ruky Abdulai (Coquitlam, B.C.) jumped 6.41 in long jump, not enough to crack the top 12. In the 200 m semifinal, Jared Connaughton of New Haven, P.E.I. finished with 20.58 and couldn’t make the final. Also, Halifax’s Adrienne Power didn’t advance past the quarter-finals of the women’s 200 m race. She crossed with a time of 23.51 seconds.

Van Koeverden Breaks Own World Record

So far so good for world and Olympic champion Adam van Koeverden. The Oakville, Ont. native blazed through his K-1 500 m heat in a world record time of 1:35.554. He beat the old world record held by… himself. The gold medal favourite will advance to the semifinal on Thursday.

A slew of other Canadian canoe-kayakers advanced to their respective semifinals after Tuesday’s races. Mark Oldershaw (Burlington, Ont.) finished a strong second in the C-1 500 m, just missing the chance to advance straight to the final. The men’s K-2 squad finished fourth in the 500 m; they are Andrew Willows (Gananoque, Ont.) and Richard Dober Jr. (Trois-Rivières, Que.). The women’s K-2 also finished fourth in the 500 m race; they are Kristin Gauthier (Ottawa) and Mylanie Barré (Lac-Beauport, Que.).

Kayaker Karen Furneaux (Waverley, N.S.) finished seventh in the K-1 500 m, qualifying for the semifinal. And the men’s C2 500 m (Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny of Trois-Rivières, Que. and Andrew Russell of Dartmouth, N.S.) finished fifth, also advancing.

Elsewhere on Day 11

The men’s baseball team defeated the Netherlands on Tuesday, aided by a one-hitter over six innings by Vancouver’s Brooks McNiven. Unfortunately, the team was eliminated from medal contention when the U.S. and Japan won later in the day.

In table tennis, Canada’s No. 1 men’s player Peng Zhang won his game 4-0 while Ottawa’s Pradeeban Peter-Paul lost a close one, 4-3. Zhang then dropped two more matches, 4-0 and 4-2. On the women’s side, Mo Zhang lost to a Belarus opponent 4-0.

Said Peng Zhang: “I played okay OK. When the match got a bit tight, I played it too soft. I was a bit nervous. It was exciting to hear the crowd cheering for me.”

Canada’s synchronized swimming duet, Marie-Pier Boudreau Gagnon of Levis, Que., and Isabelle Rampling of Burlington, Ont., continued Tuesday and wound up sixth after the free preliminaries.

“This program is quite unique; it really illustrates the power of dragons in our movements, expressions and accents,” Rampling said. “We had the opportunity to showcase this routine during the qualifier last April here in Beijing, and the Chinese spectators really embraced it. We’re going to review the video with our coaches and look at fine tuning a few things for tomorrow’s final.”

In cycling, Zach Bell (Watson Lake, Yukon) and Martin Gilbert (Chateauguay, Que.) finished 12th in the men’s madison final. This is a 200-lap two-man race where points are collected every 20 laps.

“We were trying to take advantage of a couple of opportunities,” Gilbert said. “Maybe we got overexcited about it. We wanted to be a bit more conservative at the beginning, but when the chance came we had to take it because we were scared we would not another one.”

Mike Leigh of Vancouver finished seventh in the medal race for the Laser sailing event, for an overall finish of ninth. He had been much farther back and cracking the top 10 can be considered a success. Elsewhere in sailing, Zach Plavsic sits in 23rd spot and Nikola Girke sits in 17th spot in the RS:X event.

Wrestler Saeed Azarbayjani (St. Catharines, Ont.) first won a match 3-0 before losing his second by that same score. He did not advance in the men’s 60 kg event.

In the Final Grand Prix Freestyle, Toronto’s Ashley Holzer finished 14th in equestrian individual dressage action.

In Pool B field hockey action, Canada defeated South Africa 5-3. Both Wayne Fernandes (Mississauga, Ont.) and Connor Grimes (Duncan, B.C.) had two goals. Rob Short of Victoria had two goals.