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Ottawa at the Olympics Day 15: Vanessa Gilles’ golden moment

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

Gold was the goal for Vanessa Gilles in her first-ever Olympics, and that’s exactly what she achieved.

In a nail-biting contest that ended with a penalty kick shootout, Canada’s women’s soccer team triumphed over Sweden in the historic gold-medal match.

Vanessa Gilles is an Olympic champion. Photo: Daniela Porcelli / Canada Soccer

The heart-stopping game pushed the players to their limits, lasting well over two hours in the still-humid Tokyo weather – each team’s sixth and final match in 17 days.

Sweden, a consistent offensive threat, put the pressure on Canada early and didn’t let up. Canada, however, put up a strong defensive line which included centre-back Gilles, continuing her impressive streak in this tournament by once again joining the starting lineup.

Gilles proved yet again why she’s become a valuable player for the Canadians, making some strong defensive plays and confident blocks, and keeping on the ball consistently. She had a couple of down moments in just her 11th international match too – Sweden’s goal-scoring shot snuck through her legs on an attempted block, and she was one of many to miss a penalty-kick attempt in the shootout – but those will be forgotten given the fantastic finish for the Canadian women.

Soccer’s all-time leading international scorer Christine Sinclair drew a penalty kick and Jessie Fleming converted to tie the game midway through the second half. The game finished 1-1 after regulation, and Canada held on through extra time to reach the shootout – the first-time ever that a women’s Olympic gold medal match would end in a penalty kick showdown.

Reflecting the enormity of the moment, each team missed 3 of 5 penalties to set the stage for a Stephanie Labbé save and the heroic winner by 20-year-old Julia Grosso.

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Watch the historic moment via CBC Sports.

Look for more coverage in our Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter and on in the coming days.

Schmidt misses out on paddling semi-finals

Maddy Schmidt (right). File photo

Moving from the soccer field to the water, Maddy Schmidt and her teammates are no longer in contention for a medal after missing out on a qualifying spot for the women’s K-4 500m semi-finals.

The Canadians couldn’t quite match Hungary and New Zealand to earn one of two direct berths to the semifinals, and then lagged in their quarterfinal race an hour-and-a-half later, placing 8th of 8 boats.

They’ll now race in the B Final to determine their placement in the final standings.

Day 16 Preview: Track cyclist Derek Gee pedalling in his second of two contrasting Olympic races

After earning Canada’s best finish since 1932 in the men’s team pursuit track cycling competition, Derek Gee will now tackle the marathon Madison event, which is a bit of a mystery for the Osgoode athlete and partner Michael Foley.

“The team pursuit is the main focus of our program,” Gee said in an interview with High Achievers columnist Martin Cleary. “It (Madison) will be quite the experience. Neither Mike nor I have ever even done a Madison in a World Cup. We’re definitely covering all the bases.”

When the Canadian team pursuit squad of Vincent De Haître of Cumberland, ON., Ottawa-born Foley of Milton, Jay Lamoureux of Victoria and Gee, qualified for the Olympics with a world No. 8 ranking, there was a bonus.

Derek Gee. Photo: COC

Each of the eight men’s team pursuit countries was allowed to enter a two-person team in the Madison, a 200-lap, 50-kilometre ultramarathon. Since Gee, 24, and Foley had worked hand in hand and won multiple national titles, they earned a second Olympic race.

The Madison is a relay race, where riders take turns on the oval. After one rider’s session, he’ll return his teammate with a hand push, while going 60 kilometres an hour. Points are awarded to the top finishers in each of the 20 sprints.

“We knew in 2017 or 2018 when the quotas came out that we got a Madison spot. But we put it in the back of our minds,” noted Gee, who’s spent the past five years training at the national velodrome in Milton, ON. “We train about once a week between our team pursuit sessions, but it’s an intense session.”

Being an endurance rider, Gee isn’t worried about the physical demands of the race. It’s the technical part that concerns him most, connecting hands and flinging Foley or being flung by Foley to complete the smooth, relay exchange.

“There are 18 teams and there’s a lot to do,” said Gee, adding the non-racing rider must get back up to speed quickly, after a brief rest on the track. “There’s a massive change in speed that you have to navigate.”

The Madison begins very early tomorrow morning in Ottawa time, at 3:55 a.m.

Alicia Brown, and possibly Lauren Gale, to race in 4x400m relay final

Early Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET, Ottawa-raised Alicia Brown will race for a medal in the women’s 4x400m relay final. Brown ran the lead-off leg in Canada’s semi-final and is expected to do the same in the final. It’s possible the youngest member of Canada’s track-and-field team, 21-year-old Ottawa Lion Lauren Gale could get the call too, after watching the semis as alternate.

After medal wins from Andre De Grasse, Damian Warner and as of Friday morning, Mo Ahmed in the men’s 5000m race, the women’s 4x400m relay team are eager to build on Canada’s momentum in track and field and put in a performance that relieves the sting of their 2019 disqualification from the World Championships.

You can read more about the team’s journey so far at these Olympics from CBC Sports.

They’ll have an uphill battle against the powerhouses of the United States and Jamaica, but relays are never totally predictable. Expect to see Canada make a strong push towards the finish line.

Speaking of Damian Warner, Martin Cleary wrote about an Ottawa connection to the decathlete’s gold medal triumph in his latest High Achievers column: Nepean’s Scott MacDonald helped create indoor training site for Olympic decathlon champ Damian Warner

Maddy Schmidt and the women’s K-4 500m sprint team will race for placement in Final B, set to air at 11:12pm Friday night, eastern time.

All Ottawa Olympians’ schedules can be found here.

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