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Ottawa at the Olympics Day 11: Vanessa Gilles guaranteed a medal after soccer semis win over the USA

By Kieran Heffernan, Dan Plouffe & Charlie Pinkerton

Vanessa Gilles

Backup-turned-star defender Vanessa Gilles will collect Ottawa’s first medal of the Tokyo Olympic Games as she and the Canadian women’s soccer team beat USA for the first time in 20 years to advance to the gold medal final.

Deanna Rose flew down the pitch to win a penalty kick and Jessie Fleming converted to give Canada a 1-0 advantage over the No. 1-ranked team in the world in the 74th minute of the game. Gilles then headed away three balls in the Canadian box during the remaining minutes as Canada held on to reach their first-ever global final.

As the Americans pressured — and struggled — to generate offensive opportunities during the match’s final minutes, CBC’s commentators suggested Gilles was “arguably Canada’s player of the match.”

Gilles’ rock-solid performance comes on the heels of her scoring the game-winning penalty kick in the quarterfinal round against Brazil, in just her 8th appearance for Team Canada.

After watching from the sidelines for Canada’s first two games in Tokyo, the 25-year-old got the start in the Canadians’ last group match against Great Britain and has since announced her arrival as one of the world’s best centre-backs.

The victory spelled redemption for Team Canada, which lost to the Americans in a heartbreaking controversial semifinal loss in extra time at the London 2012 Olympics.

That same summer, Gilles was getting her first kicks in competitive soccer after the former tennis player picked up the sport at Louis-Riel high school at age 15.

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“I couldn’t do much with my feet except kick it out of bounds, but I managed to find a club that was willing to take me on as a 15-year-old who couldn’t pass the ball in a straight line,” Gilles said as she reflected on her journey from FC Capital United (now Ottawa TFC) to Team Canada.

Gilles will have the chance to rise to the absolute top of women’s soccer when Canada plays in the gold medal final on Thursday evening in Canada at 10 p.m. eastern time.

“We’ve always been an incredible team defensively, but I think we have progressed over the years to also become a very tough team to play when we have the ball,” Gilles said in a pre-Games interview with the Sports Pages. “Ultimately, our greatest opponent to get that gold medal will be ourselves, for sure.”

Ottawa athletes also in action on Day 11 included:

Vincent De HaîtreDerek Gee and the men’s track cycling pursuit team posted the 6th fastest speed in the qualification round, clocking in at 3:50.455. That mains they’ll face the 7th-fastest German team in tomorrow’s first classification rounds.

Because of their placing coming out of the qualifying rounds, they are no longer in contention for gold or silver medals. They could, however, still win bronze. Here’s how explains the remainder of the competition.

“The winners of heats 3 and 4 in the First Round ride the final for the gold and silver medals. The remaining six teams (which includes Canada) will be ranked by their times in the First Round and will be paired as follows: The two fastest teams ride the final for the bronze medal. The next two fastest teams ride the final for 5th and 6th places. The last two teams ride the final for 7th and 8th places.”

The same qualification rules go for the women’s team pursuit. Ariane Bonhomme sat out in the qualifying round, where Canada had the slowest time of 4:15.832. They’ll race the French team, who had the 5th fastest time in the qualifying round, in the first of the classification rounds. As with the men, the best finish they can hope for is bronze. Bonhomme isn’t on this round’s start list either.

Day 12 Preview: Ottawa Bicycle Club product Bonhomme patiently waited for her opportunity in Tokyo

Hopefully, Ariane Bonhomme will get to see some action in the final round, where she and her teammates know they need to achieve some impressive times if they hope to leave Tokyo as medallists.

The 4-kilometre team pursuit event is fairly new in women’s cycling, and with that fact comes a lot of pressure for extremely high performance.

“A few teams have ridden very close to the world record in the last couple of years,” Bonhomme said before the Games. “We know that the boundaries are constantly being pushed and we anticipate very much the world record to go down by a couple of seconds [in Tokyo] — so we need to get ready for that.”

In fact, Germany broke the world record yesterday in the qualifying round.

The last time Canada’s women’s team competed together before the Tokyo Games was in February 2020 at the Track Cycling World Championships in Berlin. Like she was during Canada’s qualifying rounds, she was an alternate then and didn’t actually race.

Ahead of the Olympics, she was hopeful things may be different this time around.

“I’m really hoping that I’ll get a chance to race and I hope that I showed the coaches that I’m ready to do it,” Bonhomme said. It would be an advantage over other teams, she explained, to have five rather than four racers who can confidently ride close to world records times.

Teams can either use only four racers, or substitute in a fifth for different races.

Bonhomme and her four teammates (Allison Beveridge, Jasmin Duehring, Annie Foreman-Mackey and Georgia Simmerling) had only been back training together since May in Milton, Ontario. But there may have actually been some advantages to that time apart, Bonhomme said.

“It allowed every rider to train more individually and train their weaknesses and when we came back together last month, it was definitely evident that every girl was a lot stronger than they were last year at Worlds.”

Bonhomme’s women’s team pursuit team’s classification round’s heats will be held just after 2:30 a.m., eastern time, on Tuesday. The team’s finals — in which they’ll be racing for a placing between 3rd and 8th, based on the time they post earlier in the morning — will be held sometime not long after 4 a.m.

Other Ottawa athletes in action on Day 12 are:

Vincent De Haître‘s and Derek Gee‘s race versus Germany is scheduled to start just after 3:20 a.m., eastern time, on Tuesday. Canada’s pursuit team’s final race will be Wednesday, sometime shortly after 4:30 a.m., eastern time. The exact time — and whether or not they’ll be competing for bronze medals — is based off the time they finish in on Tuesday.

Tim Nedow (Photo: Dan Plouffe)

Two-time Olympian Tim Nedow will kick off his qualifying round tomorrow morning as well. The world No. 15 ranked shot-putter needs a 21.20 m throw to move onto the finals, or, if less than 12 athletes make that distance, he needs to be in the top 12. His season’s best throw was 21.11 m.

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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