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Ottawa at the Olympics Day 6: Two Ottawa athletes sent packing

By Kieran Heffernan, Charlie Pinkerton, Dan Plouffe & Madalyn Howitt

Day 6 of the Olympics was a tough one for a pair of Ottawa athletes who were sadly eliminated from competition and will now be heading home from the Tokyo Games.

Mike Tayler finished 24th in the kayak slalom yesterday, but needed to place within the top 20 to move on to the semifinals.

Tayler started his first of two runs through the artificial whitewater course fast and strong, but after getting turned around backwards trying to go through one of the race’s gates, he lost some speed and seemed to get fatigued. A commentator remarked that he seemed to be injured, which turned out to be correct.

“It was a tough one for me out there today,” Tayler said afterward. “(I) really gave it my all, but I had a lot of challenges, some injuries coming in, so I was really just happy to be on the start line today and I did everything I could.”

The three-time Olympian could be heard saying “next one” at the end of his first run, knowing he needed to improve his time on the second time through.

In his second attempt, Tayler cleanly cleared the gate he had trouble with during his first run, and received only one 2-second penalty for touching a gate (compared with 4 seconds in penalties during his first time through the course). In run No. 2, he improved his time by 12 seconds.

Watch his second run in the second half of this clip, posted by Radio Canada:

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Unfortunately for Tayler, a number of other racers also boosted their finish times in their second rounds as well.

After the first run, Tayler had been teetering on qualifying — sitting in 20th. After all racers had been twice through the course, the Ottawa River Runners product had fallen four spots.

After a disappointing first-round elimination from the women’s doubles tennis tournament, Gaby Dabrowski hoped for a do-over in mixed doubles by partnering with 15th-ranked men’s singles player Felix Auger-Aliassime.

Unfortunately, Dabrowski and Auger-Aliassime fell 6-3, 6-4 to the Greek pair of Maria Sakkari and Stefanos Tsitsipas in a first round match.

The defeat ends Dabrowski’s second Olympics. At the Rio Games, she competed in women’s doubles with Genie Bouchard, with the pair reaching the 2nd round and finishing 9th overall.

Due to COVID protocols, Dabrowski’s and Tayler’s Olympic experience is over, as athletes are required to leave Tokyo’s Olympic Village within a day’s time of their final competition.

Ottawa Athletes In Action On Day 7

A leader on the rugby pitch and beyond, Pam Buisa embodies the Olympic spirit

Pam Buisa and Canada’s women’s rugby sevens team begin their tournament tonight (in eastern time), meeting Brazil for the first of their three group-stage games. In the early hours of Thursday, they’ll face Fiji.

In the lead up to the Games, Buisa spoke to the Sports Pages about her athletic career, and the activism that bridges it and her outside life.

The 24-year-old got involved with rugby in Grade 7, when a basketball coach of her’s thought her aggressive play would be better suited to the hard-hitting sport.

Since then, she’s thrived on the pitch, helping to lead Canada’s women to back-to-back bronzes at the 2019 and 2020 Rugby Seven Series, as well as a gold medal at the 2019 Pan Am Games.

As accomplished as she is in rugby, Buisa is also a distinguished leader for social justice, fighting for causes that help advance welfare and equity. When COVID-caused lockdowns meant team practices and games were all-but put on pause, much of Buisa’s energy went towards community engagement and education where she lives in Victoria, B.C. During the past year, Buisa organized anti-racism rallies in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and began working at Victoria’s Howard Johnson hotel when it became a temporary housing shelter for people experiencing homelessness and displacement.

Having graduated from the University of Victoria with a degree in political science and social justice, Buisa felt equipped to jump headfirst into those worlds.

“I felt myself completely immersed in social justice. A lot of it was based on my own identity as a Black cis woman,” Buisa said. “The elements that I [now] find myself having to work on is that recovery component. Like, how do you take a break? How do you recharge so that you’re ready for the next thing? How do I channel my energy and my efforts in a way that is effective and intentional?”

Buisa shared that some of the most important things she’s learned about being intentional with her energy have come from decolonial work being done by Indigenous leaders.

“Every single day that we step on the field we do a territory acknowledgement as part of our decolonial efforts,” Buisa explained, referring to a practice that her and her rugby sevens teammates have adopted.

“For me, [it’s about] understanding what it means to represent Canada at this level and its relationships with a lot of Indigenous communities, and just being mindful of how it’s important to acknowledge the lands that you’re on.”

This includes recognizing that Ottawa, where Buisa played with the Ottawa Irish Ruby Club, exists on unceded Algonquin Anishinaabe territory, she said.

Buisa’s leadership is something that’s translated and long been apparent on the rugby pitch as well, according to Sean Liebich, who coached her with the Irish as far back as 2014.

“She was sort of more of a leader or coach than a player that first year, really helping the other girls develop knowledge,” Liebich said.

Buisa credits her formative years in rugby with encouraging her to find the strength she has off the pitch.

“I learned a lot from my teammates and a lot from our coaching staff. They [have] the ability to spot your potential [and] also facilitate a trajectory towards being in your power,” she said.

“A lot of people who are starting to see the intersection of sports and social justice,” she added.

“When you’re in high-performance sports, oftentimes you’re in a bubble. In order for us to reach for greatness, we need to be more intentional when relating to each other and playing the game.”

Fencer Kelleigh Ryan will also be in action on Day 7.

Ryan will compete in the women’s foil team event in an all-day competition starting Wednesday night. The team, consisting of Ryan, Eleanor Harvey and Jessica Guo, has risen in the world rankings in the past few years, going from No. 10 in 2017 to No. 6 in the world in 2020.

All Ottawa Olympians’ schedules can be found here.

Growing for gold: Parents of Pam Buisa reflect on what it takes to raise an Olympian

In the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics, City of Ottawa Sport Commissioner Mathieu Fleury — whose Hometown Heroes column runs monthly in the Ottawa Sports Pages — spoke with Pam Buisa’s parents about raising an Olympian.

Pam Buisa and her family. (Photo provided)

“Pam had a great childhood; she was full of energy,” Pamphile Lelo Buisa said. “She had all the support that she needed to fulfil her potential in every aspect.”

When the family immigrated to Canada, they first moved to Vanier – a place Mr. Buisa said remains their community and that they consider it their home neighbourhood, despite having moved to Gatineau years later.

The proud father added that he knew Pam was not only talented, but had a calling to do well in sport – and had no worries about his daughter playing in one of the roughest sports out there.

“I wasn’t so much concerned about Pam because she was very athletic, and her height, her strength and physicality were a great asset for her,” he said. “Instead, earlier on, the other players were afraid and scared to measure with her.”

As her father, he said he always knew Pam would go far in the sport. As he watched her progress onto the Canadian development team program in 2014, he said he had no doubt she would make it to the Olympics.

When Pam made Team Canada, the family was beyond excited, Mr. Buisa said, though the news that the Olympics were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic was tough to handle.

“It was the most difficult moment for her and us as a family. She worked so hard and sacrificed so much to that point,” he said. “But I’m proud of her! Pam is a strong-minded girl. She doesn’t express much her pains or feelings. She knows how to focus on positive thoughts and behaviours. She handled the Olympics’ postponement pretty well.”

“As for us as a family, I think it was, even more, tougher for us to handle, especially since we were unable to be there physically to comfort her during that moment due to the geo-distance and the Covid restrictions,” Mr. Buisa noted.

As the show must go on, the family is happy the Olympics – Pam’s first – were not cancelled altogether, and they are looking forward to watching her succeed on the world stage.

“She gave everything she had for this,” Mr. Buisa underlined. “We want her to enjoy the moment and have fun over there. This is a great life experience for her.”

This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.

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