By Kieran Heffernan, Charlie Pinkerton & Dan Plouffe
Track cyclist Ariane Bonhomme made her Olympic debut on Tuesday — and in doing so she helped spur Canada’s women’s pursuit team to a Canadian record and almost a medal.
Racing in the first classification round against France, Bonhomme and teammates Allison Beveridge, Annie Foreman-Mackey and Georgia Simmerling posted a time of 4:09.249. (Watch the race, here.) Along with breaking the Canadian record, the effort from the group — which placed last out of 8 teams in the qualifying round — propelled them into the bronze medal race against the United States.
“A few years ago, we said that we wanted to ride a 4:09 at the Olympics, and, to be honest, after the qualifying run I didn’t know if we could do it,” Bonhomme said after the race. “To be able to regroup after a bad performance and to go out there and to do the time that we set out to do … that’s pretty special.”
Later in the day, which was early this morning in eastern time, Bonhomme raced again for the bronze medal against the Americans, who had been the 3rd fastest team earlier in the day.
The race was close for most of the 4000 metres, with the two teams being separated by fractions of a second until near the very end, when Canada finished about 2.5 seconds slower than the U.S. Canada’s final time was 4:10.552, while the Americans’ was 4:08.040.
After the race, Bonhomme said she was feeling “a bit of a mix of emotions.”
“To be able to come back from qualifying in last to ride for a bronze medal was pretty special,” Bonhomme said.
Bonhomme is oftentimes Canada’s alternate. She served in that role throughout the 2020 world championships, which took place right before the pandemic started. For that reason, riding for the team meant a lot to her.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to race at all here, or if I was more of an alternate,” Bonhomme said. “So to be able to have the chance to step up and show what I knew I could do was pretty amazing.”
“I knew what I had in my legs and I think maybe the coaches weren’t as sure, but we were in a situation where we had to swap a rider and it was maybe a leap of faith, but I knew what I had.”
Bonhomme’s 4th place finish with the women’s pursuit team is the highest placing by an Ottawa athlete at the Tokyo Olympics so far. Fellow cyclist Mike Woods finished 5th in the road race, as did Kelleigh Ryan with the women’s foil fencing team. Vanessa Gilles of Canada’s women’s soccer team will either win a silver or gold medal in the final being played on Thursday night, eastern time.
Ottawa athletes also in action on Day 12 included:
The men’s team pursuit track cycling team didn’t have the same success as the women. Ottawa’s Vincent De Haître and Derek Gee, along with Michael Foley and Jay Lamoureux, won their first classification round race against Germany, but weren’t fast enough compared to the other teams to contend for a medal.
Ottawa Lions’ shot putter Tim Nedow had a tough qualifying round. Nedow finished last in the group of 31 throwers with his 19.42 metre toss.
Nedow had qualified for the Games by throwing 21.11m in April.
After the competition, Nedow said he was pretty sure he hadn’t finished with an under-20m throw in a competition in the last four years, which made his Olympic result particularly disappointing. He said his leg had been bothered him, making it hard to get his body as low as he needed to complete his throw.
When Nedow spoke to the Sports Pages a year ago, he said that prior to the Games’ postponement he was “feeling very satisfied with trying to make Tokyo and then calling it a career.”
Now, at 30, and following an underwhelming performance at his second Olympics, Nedow seems hungrier to continue competing.
“I would like to stick around the sport,” he said. “There’s a strong group of guys I’d like to compete against still.”
Day 13 Preview: De Haître, Gee to finish team comp on Wednesday
All Ottawa Olympians’ schedules can be found here.
Looking back: 25 years since his famous relay run in Atlanta, Glenroy Gilbert recalls the life-changing sprint
Glenroy Gilbert was not always a sprinter. He was not even always a track-and-field athlete. In fact, as a child, he was a soccer player.
“One year I made a (soccer) team. It was a regional team to go off and play somewhere, and they canceled it last minute for reasons I don’t even remember,” said Gilbert, who is partly responsible for one of Canada’s greatest Olympic moments.
“It’s been that long; but from there I was so disappointed with it, I just stopped playing soccer,” explained the 1996 Summer Games gold medallist.
It has been 25 years since Gilbert, who was raised in Ottawa, Donovan Bailey, Robert Esmie and Bruny Surin famously defeated the Americans in the 4x100m relay at the Atlanta Olympics.
While reflecting on his career more recently, Gilbert gives credit to his Grade 8 teacher at Pinecrest Public School, Glenn Munro, for encouraging him to try track and field and eventually join the Ottawa Lions. There, he started out as a long and triple jumper.
“I was told by one of the coaches — and they were absolutely right — I just wasn’t fast enough,” Gilbert said. “I was fast on the soccer field, but I wasn’t track-and-field fast.”
It wasn’t until he got hurt during college, while attending Louisiana State University, that Gilbert switched to the 100 metre and 200 metre events.
The victory in Atlanta over an American team that had a home-turf advantage, were historically dominant in sprinting, and were backed by a narrative pushed state-side that touted them as guaranteed champions changed Gilbert’s life in countless ways.
“The biggest one for me is being in the position I’m in now: to be able to contribute years of knowledge, not just as an athlete but now as a coach to a lot of the young up-and-coming athletes and coaches in our sport,” said Gilbert, who is the head coach of Canada’s track-and-field team.
After retiring from sprinting in 2001, but before beginning his full-time career as a coach, Gilbert worked as a journalist for a year — another opportunity opened up to him thanks to his historic success on the track. Miriam Fry, who was the program director with CBC Radio at the time, offered him a position as a community reporter.
“She’d listened to some of the interviews that I’d done and really thought that I would bring something to that position, if given the opportunity,” Gilbert said. “I do like to talk to people, I do like to hear people’s stories.”
“Even though I only did it for a year, I had a blast doing it because I met some of the most amazing people: from athletes, to former military people, to an 80-year-old belly dancer.”
His work at CBC made Gilbert realize the similarities between reporting and being an athlete.
“When I started, I thought it’d be pretty straightforward and easy,” he said. “But it’s not. Just like anything. People can look at athletes doing their craft and say, ‘well that looks pretty straightforward,’ but then when you get into it, you start realizing more and more. To be really good requires all the same things of perseverance, dedication, research, hard work, (and) understanding what you’re talking about.”
Just as his job as a reporter involved telling peoples stories, Gilbert, as a coach, tries to remember that there’s also a story behind every athlete. This is especially pertinent given the struggles the past year and a half has brought.
“I’m not just simply about the performance,” he said. “So when you see someone arrive at a Games or on a podium somewhere, there is a backstory to it, and you always have to be cognizant of that and handle the athletes, and the coaches, with respect and dignity.”
Read more about Glenroy Gilbert’s journey after the Atlanta Games here.
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