Weekend Roundup: Canada wins Billie Jean King Cup; women’s basketball team advances to Olympic qualifier
Team Canada dazzled on the global stage this weekend. Canadian tennis players won the Billie Jean King Cup for the first time in the nation’s history with some headline-stealing performances by the team’s youngest stars, Marina Stakusic and Leylah Fernandez.
The women’s national basketball team went undefeated at the FIBA Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament to take their next step towards Paris 2024. Plus, the action on the ice keeps heating up, with more gold medals for figure skaters Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier and Deanna Stellato-Dudek & Maxime Deschamps while Ivanie Blondin kicked off the long track speed skating season with a bang.
Here’s what you may have missed:
Tennis: The ‘Billie Blue’ jackets go to Team Canada
In the final of the Billie Jean King Cup, Marina Stakusic and Leylah Fernandez swept both their singles matches to give Canada a 2-0 victory over Italy. Canada was unstoppable in its path to the title. In its ties against Spain, Poland, Czechia, and Italy, the team only lost one match.
Stakusic took the first match in the best-of-three tie between Canada and Italy. Playing in the biggest match of her life and one of the biggest matches in Canadian tennis history, she defeated Martina Trevisan 7-5, 6-3.
In the second match, Fernandez made quick work of Jasmine Paolini in straight sets 6-2, 6-3 to give the country its first-ever Billie Jean King Cup trophy.
“It feels amazing and I’m extremely proud that I was able to get to represent Canada on the biggest stage,” Fernandez said in an on-court interview. “To do it in front of Billie Jean, it means the world to me, to us and hopefully we can keep going, celebrate tonight and just have fun.”
To get into the big final, Canada shocked the tennis world by beating No. 5 Czechia in the semifinal. The historic win gave Canada its first ever shot at playing for the Billie Jean King Cup.
It was none other than Fernandez who carried the Canadians with their backs against the wall. After Stakusic dropped her opening match in straight sets, Fernandez needed to deliver against world No. 7 Marketa Vondrousova, and she did exactly that, winning 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.
In the decisive doubles match, it was once again Fernandez who teamed up with Gabriela Dabrowski to clinch the semifinal win over a heavily favoured opponent. Dabrowski has been the stalwart of the Canadian team. Her 19 career Billie Jean King Cup nominations date back a decade to when Canada was trying to advance from the Americas zone into the World Group.
Basketball: Canadian women take next step towards Paris 2024
The Canadian women’s national team went 3-0 at their FIBA Pre-Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Medellin, Colombia to secure their spot in one of the four FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in February.
Team Canada opened with a dominant 81-39 win over Venezuela, following by a 70-53 victory over the host nation. That ensured they would finish among the top two teams, keeping their Olympic hopes alive. They closed out the competition in style, defeating Puerto Rico 77-68.
Bridget Carleton and Kayla Alexander led the way offensively for Canada, recording 11 and 10 points per game, respectively, while Laeticia Amihere was just behind with 9.7. In her return to the national team following her maternity leave, captain Natalie Achonwa put up 16 points against Puerto Rico.
“I’m excited that we came here and we did what we wanted to do,” Achonwa said. “We won three games, we qualified for the Olympic qualifiers, that was our main goal. Now we get to take some things that we learned in this tournament and apply it to the next round.”
Canada will face off against Spain, Japan, and Hungary in the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament that will take place February 8-11, 2024 in Sopron, Hungary. The top three teams there will all earn their tickets to Paris 2024.
Figure Skating: Two golds and a double podium at Cup of China
Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier and pairs team Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps each won their second gold medal of the ISU Grand Prix series, earning victories at Cup of China. Gilles and Poirier shared the podium with fellow Canadian Olympians Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha.
Gilles and Poirier had to come from behind for the win, as it was Lajoie and Lagha who had finished first in the rhythm dance after the reigning world bronze medallists struggled on their required twizzle sequence. In the end, Gilles and Poirier got the gold medal by 1.81 points and secured themselves a spot in December’s Grand Prix Final. Lajoie and Lagha are well-positioned to qualify for the final with two second-place finishes on the series this fall.
Stellao-Dudek and Deschamps also locked up their spot in the Grand Prix Final after finishing more than 10 points ahead of the runners-up.
Canada’s only other entry at Cup of China was Madeline Schizas, who placed in fifth in women’s singles. The next stop on the series this weekend is the ISU Grand Prix Espoo in Finland where the Canadian headliners will be Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Soerensen.
Long Track Speed Skating: Gold and silver at World Cup opener
Ivanie Blondin started the long track speed skating season on the right note at the ISU World Cup in Obihiro, Japan.
The three-time overall World Cup champion in the mass start delivered another gold on Friday, out-sprinting Esther Kiel of the Netherlands at the finish by 0.34 seconds. Teammate Valérie Maltais ended up just off the podium in fourth place, 0.47 seconds behind bronze medallist Mia Kilburg-Manganello of the U.S.
On Saturday, Blondin and Maltais were joined by Isabelle Weidemann to win silver in the team pursuit. The Canadian trio finished 1.22 seconds behind Japan who won the title on home ice. The reigning Olympic and world champions tried out a brand new strategy, opting to have Maltais lead the trio from start to finish rather than make exchanges throughout the race.
On the men’s side, Antoine Gélinas-Beaulieu finished fourth in the mass start. He finished a mere 0.41 seconds behind third-place finisher Livio Wenger of Switzerland. Ted-Jan Bloemen finished the 5000m in fourth place.
Trampoline: Quota spot earned for Paris 2024
There were more than just medals on the line at the FIG Trampoline Gymnastics World Championships in Birmingham, Great Britain. It was the first opportunity for countries to claim quota spots for Paris 2024. Sophiane Méthot finished fifth in the women’s individual trampoline final, a result that gives Canada one Olympic quota spot that will be allocated to a specific athlete next year.
A nation was only able to qualify one berth per gender at the worlds, which required a top-eight finish. The bulk of the remaining Olympic spots will be allocated based on results from the FIG World Cup series from February 2023 to April 2024.
Alpine Skiing: Two top 10s in World Cup slaloms
Two Canadian women posted top 10 results in slalom races over the weekend at the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup in Levi, Finland. Ali Nullmeyer delivered back-to-back sixth place finishes on Saturday and Sunday, while reigning world champion Laurence St-Germain skied to seventh place in Sunday’s race.
Track Cycling: Bibic tops Track Champions League
Dylan Bibic finished as the top men’s endurance rider after the five rounds of racing in the UCI Track Champions League. Though he did not record a victory in Saturday’s grand finale in London, he earned four wins over the past few weeks. That included the elimination race at the opening stop in Mallorca, the scratch race in Berlin, and then both of those events in Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines — the Olympic venue for track cycling at Paris 2024.