By Charlie Pinkerton
At the end of a comfortable 19-5 semifinals win over Brazil, Canada’s women’s water polo team experienced a moment of elation 15 years in the making.
By advancing to play the United States in the finals of the Pan American Games, the team secured their spot in the upcoming Summer Olympics, ending a drought that’s lasted since their last appearance at the 2004 Games in Greece.
Even Canada’s result the next day – a 24-4 shellacking at the hands of the dominant American team – couldn’t soil the bliss of the Olympic berth-clinching victory that Ottawa goalkeeper Jessica Gaudreault and her teammates earned the day earlier.
“Our overall goal of this summer was to qualify for the Olympics, so that kind of trumps any other disappointment that we’ve had,” Gaudreault told the Sportspage in an interview after the Pan Am Games.
“Just finishing that game and just looking at my teammates and seeing how happy everybody was, I think was probably my favourite moment. And just knowing that some girls on my team had been trying to make it to the Olympics for 16 years, some girls for four – and everything in between – it was really cool to see all these different groups of girls come together,” the 25-year-old said.
An Olympic bid was awarded to the Pan Am’s top finisher that hadn’t already punched their tickets to Tokyo. The Americans, who are the two-time defending Olympic champions in the sport, qualified at an earlier event, meaning that Canada’s silver medal was enough to secure them a spot in the Olympic tournament that will feature teams from 10 countries.
“Overall that was a huge success and we couldn’t be happier, honestly. We’re just looking forward to proving everybody wrong at the Olympic Games and hopefully showing up to play the U.S. as well,” Gaudreault said about the team that will surely be their fiercest competition next summer.
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Canada and the U.S. are scheduled to host each other for at least once each before they’ll likely meet in Japan. To prepare to play the U.S., Gaudreault says it’s important to watch a lot of video on the team. The world’s top team also has an advantage unlike any other country, in that they’ve built a program rich with continuity.
The Lima, Peru-held Pan Am Games were Gaudreault’s second. She helped Canada to a silver medal in Toronto in 2015 as well. Her international experience with Canada’s water polo team dates back to 2008, when she was a gold medal winner at the Junior Pan American Championships. But since she’s been a member of Canada’s senior team, Gaudreault’s been witness to a carousal of coaching changes, which she admits has hindered the team’s ability to be competitive.
“It’s kind of hard to get into a really good groove when things are changing around you constantly,” she said.
While speaking to the Sportspage, she praised the new head coach of the national team, David Paradelo, who was promoted to the position in April. A press release from Water Polo Canada announcing Paradelo’s appointment implied that he’s the end of the line of the national team’s coaching uncertainty and the organization’s pick to lead the women’s team over the next two Olympic cycles.
With the start of the Olympics roughly 11 months away, Gaudreault and others from the team are also buying in to becoming more seriously dedicated to the team by moving to Montreal, where they’ll centralize their pre-Olympic training.
Pan Am Medal Madness
Gaudreault’s silver was one of a double-digit number that Ottawa-area athletes brought home from the Pan Am Games.
On the men’s side, water polo players Aleksa Gardijan and Bogdan Djerkovic also won silver medals.
Squash player Sam Cornett was another local standout. She brought her Pan Am medal total to eight in her third time competing at the Games. Cornett won silvers in doubles and team and a bronze in the solo competition.
Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson was another multi-medal winner, contributing to a silver and two bronzes for Canada in swimming relay competitions. A newcomer to town, University of Ottawa grad student and Swim Ottawa club member Alexia Zevnik captured 4 swimming medals of her own (a bronze and 3 silver, including the women’s 100 m freestyle).
Archer Eric Peters also contributed a notable performance by being a part of Canada’s gold-medal-winning men’s recurve team. Peters also won an individual bronze medal.
Olivia De Couvreur scored 4 tries in Canada’s undefeated romp to a repeat Pan Am Games gold medal in women’s rugby sevens. Pam Buisa was also on the squad.
Ottawa Champions players Phillippe Aumont and Evan Rutckyj helped Canada win silver behind Puerto Rico in men’s baseball.
A 4th-place finisher in the high bar event final, Sam Zakutney hit the podium with the Canadian men’s artistic gymnastics team in the bronze medal position.
Former Ottawa residents Eugene Wang and Mo Zhang teamed up to capture mixed doubles table tennis gold, while Wang also added individual bronze.
And Ottawa paddlers won a total of 6 medals across the canoe sprint and slalom competitions (see “Pan Am Games canoe slalom silver medallist amidst local Olympic paddle prospects” story for more details).
Canadian goalball team veterans Whitney Bogart (left) and Amy Burk are amongst the group of Ottawa athletes competing in the Aug. 21 to Sept. 1 Parapan Am Games in Lima. In Canada’s lone match before Sportspage press time, Burk scored all 3 of Canada’s goal in their loss to Brazil. New Ottawa resident Emma Reinke is also part of the women’s goalball team. Ben Perkins and Patrice Dagenais were set to compete in the wheelchair rugby gold medal match against arch-rival USA on Aug. 27. The U.S. won their round robin meeting by a tight 54-51 margin.