Elite Amateur Sport Fencing Rugby

Ottawa at the Olympics Day 7: Ryan exits competition early, contributes to Canada’s best-ever women’s foil result

By Kieran Heffernan, Charlie Pinkerton, Dan Plouffe & Martin Cleary

Kelleigh Ryan fenced in one match for the women’s foil team in Canada’s pairing with France in the quarterfinals of the team competition.

Kelleigh Ryan

In her short stint of action, Ryan, who made it the farthest of any of Canada’s women in last weekend’s individual competition by reaching the top 8, scored 5 touches against France’s Anita Blaze, who scored 6 of her own.

Following Ryan’s match, the score was 13-13, and Canada would go on to lose 45-29.

Ryan, who appeared to be grasping her wrist at times during her match, was replaced by Alanna Goldie and didn’t return to the piste for any of the following bouts. The Sports Pages hopes to provide more details soon about why she didn’t return. 

Canada won its next two classification matchups against Hungary and Japan, neither of which Ryan fenced in.

Canada’s team finished 5th overall, its best ever result in the team foil event.

Pam Buisa and the women’s rugby team had a strong start to their tournament, shutting out Brazil 33-00.

Their next match, just seven hours later, against Fiji resulted in a surprising 26-12 loss. Here’s a recap of the Canadian women’s first day of action, from the National Post.

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Day 8 Preview: Melissa Bishop-Nriagu fast and fit heading into 3rd Olympics

Melissa Bishop-Nriagu begins her competition in the 800 metre tonight. The three-time Olympian needs to place either top 3 in her heat, or be in the next fastest 6 after that, to make it to the semifinals on Saturday morning.

Melissa Bishop celebrates at the Pan Am Games in Toronto in 2015. (File photo)

Ahead of the Games, Martin Cleary spoke to her about her stellar spring performances, and getting back into the game after having her first child.

Seven days after achieving the Olympic standard of 1:59.50 with a run of 1:59.40 at a twilight meet in Chula Vista, California, Bishop-Nriagu was chasing another goal.

The outcome at Chula Vista became a perfect backdrop for her on May 9 at the Golden Games in Walnut, California. The competition would be tougher, which could drive a faster time, on her third and final West Coast mini-tour meet.

Racing in her usual 800m, Bishop-Nriagu had a tight battle with a pair of Great Britain runners – Jemma Reekie, 1:58.27, and Laura Muir, 1:58.46 – who were 1st and 2nd, while she took 3rd at 1:58.62.

However, the finish, thanks in part to race rabbit Rebecca Mehra of the United States, felt more like a weight-off-the-shoulders victory for Bishop-Nriagu, who was back racing seriously for her first season since 2017.

Bishop-Nriagu ran a season-best 1:58.62 on the Hilmer Lodge Stadium track, which filled her with joy and confidence to continue her preparing for her third Summer Olympics.

“Especially after that 1:58, the smile on her face told me everything,” her coach Trent Stellingwerff told the Sports Pages. “She took the lead on the backstretch and ran with poise with two of the best women.

“She didn’t win it, but she was right on their heels. She had a huge smile because she knew she was back racing with the best in the world. The talent doesn’t go away. It just needs to be polished.”

After the 2015 world championship silver medallist placed 5th at the 2017 worlds, Bishop-Nriagu stepped off the track to marry Osi Nriagu in October and have their first child, Corinne, in July 2018.

Bishop-Nriagu was keen to qualify for the Canadian team that went to the 2019 world championships, but in four 800m races she couldn’t break 2:01.

Injuries had followed her pregnancy and subsequent return to training.

“Corinne was an absolute blessing for Melissa as it made her more balanced and stable,” said Stellingwerff, a sport scientist with Athletics Canada who is researching elite female runners returning from pregnancy.

He explained that women have lower bone mineral density after delivering and certain hormones are released. The runner can also be sleep deprived and fatigued, which can affect training along with breastfeeding.

In her short, unproductive 2019 season, Bishop-Nriagu suffered a pelvic stress fracture. And then came the shutdown COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which may have been a good thing for her, as it allowed her to rehab and recover.

“There’s a drastic increase for the risk of stress fractures and tendon pulls (after pregnancy),” Stellingwerff added. “I’ve seen it over and over and as long as women are patient, we’ve seen (many) come back faster and stronger.”

Bishop-Nriagu is a good case in point. After a rare blazing start to her season in early May, the Ottawa Lions Track and Field Club athlete pulled back a tad over her next four races, including matching the Olympic standard of 1:59:50 at the Canadian trials.

“She’s as strong, as fit and as fast as she has been in her entire career,” said Stellingwerff, who knows she’ll have to run faster and may have to break her four-year-old national record of 1:57.01 to find the success she’s looking for in Tokyo.

The top 6 women she’s up against have run 1:56, including leader Athing Mu, an American 19-year-old who won the United States trials in 1:56.07. Another 7 runners have hit 1:57 before you find Bishop-Nriagu ranked at 16th.

Reflecting her long-time success with Team Canada, Bishop-Nriagu was also named one of the team captains for Athletics Canada.

Other Ottawa athletes in action on Day 8 are:

Vanessa Gilles and the women’s soccer team face Brazil in the quarterfinals early tomorrow morning, after finishing 2nd in their group, with one win and two ties.

The final game of the group stage for Pam Buisa and the women’s rugby team is tonight against France. The team will need a big win to secure 1st place over the undefeated French team.

All Ottawa Olympians’ schedules can be found here.

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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