By Martin Cleary
OH, SO OLYMPIC CLOSE: This was not the expected Olympic dream finish for water polo goalkeeper Jessica Gaudreault of Ottawa. Yes, her name was on Water Polo Canada’s Games’ list, but in the wrong location.
You had to go to the bottom on the list of players to find Gaudreault’s name under the category heading of Alternate. It was a great disappointment for the Capital Wave’s player, who is in her 11th year of international play for Canada.
“I don’t have any comment,” said Gaudreault, when asked during a telephone interview from Japan about not seeing her name on the core list of players. “It’s still a sensitive topic. It’s a lot to take in, after my history with the team.”
Canadian women’s head coach David Paradelo and high-performance director Justin Oliveira selected goalkeepers Claire Wright of Lindsay, ON., who has played alongside Gaudreault for many years, and up-and-comer Clara Vulpisi of Montreal.
Gaudreault, 27, has a lengthy list of accomplishments with the Canadian women’s team. She sparked Canada to its best-ever result, a silver medal, at the 2017 FINA World League Super Final, where she was the Most Valuable Goalkeeper.
That was her third of five career World League Super Finals involving the world’s top eight countries. Canada finished fourth in 2018. Gaudreault also has played in a total of five youth, junior and senior world championships.
At her most recent worlds in 2017, she was part of the Canadian roster, which placed fourth at the senior championships. Gaudreault also is a double Pan Am Games silver medallist from 2015 in Toronto and 2019, when Canada booked its Olympic ticket in Lima.
Gaudreault’s other fourth-place international finish was at the 2013 World University Games. Nationally, she was a silver medallist at the Canadian 18U championships and was awarded the Most Valuable Goalkeeper honour.
Despite not being named to the main Olympic squad, Gaudreault made the trip to Japan with the team and has felt part of it, participating in pre-Games practices and meetings.
“I’m still here to help them perform. I’m a morale booster. That’s my big priority,” she added. “Of course, I have been with the team a long time. I’m still part of the team.
“Everything is very normal. I practise with the team every time in goal. It’s good for me. My day-to-day hasn’t changed.”
The pre-Olympic, day-to-day routine is wake up and have a COVID-19 test before breakfast. Then, the team practises 90 to 150 minutes in and out of the pool before breaking for lunch. Team meetings and scouting fill the rest of the day.
When the women’s water polo competition starts for Canada, Gaudreault is certain she won’t play, but uncertain where she’ll be located. “It’s up in the air now. I don’t know. The best-case scenario is to be with the team (at poolside).”
Paradelo and Oliveira had a very difficult decision to select two goalkeepers from the three seniors available. Gaudreault’s last competition was the 2021 Women’s Water Polo World League Final in Athens in June.
Gaudreault, Wright and Vulpisi shared the goalkeeping duties during the three preliminary pool and two playoff matches. Gaudreault was in goal when Canada beat Japan 16-10 in pool play, and lost the semifinal 14-10 to Hungary.
Martin Goulet, the executive director for Water Polo Canada, has been involved in the Canadian amateur sports system for many years and experienced multiple team selections.
“This is the responsibility of my senior technical leaders to make their homework and to come up with decisions that are in the best interest of the whole team and of performance,” Goulet wrote in an email.
“The decision relative to the goalies has been taken following thorough analysis at training, scrimmages and games over the last few weeks and factoring in other elements described on our internal nominations procedures and data including pre-pandemic trends. Jessica is a fantastic athlete, sure has worked extremely hard and has done some great stuff for us in the past. No questions about it.
“But my technical leaders have come to the conclusion that for Tokyo, Claire (Wright) and Clara (Vulpisi) are the best option.”
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