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Ottawa at the Paralympics Day 7: Disappointing end to goalball tournament amid impressive performance by rookie Reinke

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

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

The Ottawa-powered Canadian women’s goalball team couldn’t make a comeback after falling behind early against China, which ends their time at the Paralympics. Canada (1-3) needed to win this game in order to avoid finishing last in their group, but the 4-2 defeat left them on the outside behind group-winning China (3-1) and three 2-2 sides: Israel, Russian Paralympic Committee and Australia.

China scored three consecutive goals in the first half, including one on a penalty shot following a 10-second penalty (Canada took more than 10 seconds to make a throw). Emma Reinke and Amy Burk scored in the second half to bring the score to 3-2, but after China scored again on a penalty shot with less than three minutes left, Canada couldn’t close the distance.

Reinke was definitely a standout player for Team Canada, and will likely be a big part of the future of the team. The 23-year-old had 8 goals over 4 games, which puts her in 8th place out of all the players in the tournament for most goals scored at the end of the group stage.

Unlike a lot of athletes who were targeting the 2020 Tokyo Games, an extra year to prepare couldn’t have come at a better time for the first-time Paralympian.

“I feel like I am 99 per cent more prepared this year than I would have been last year [when] I was kind of in a little bit of a mental rut,” Reinke said in a pre-Games call with the Sports Pages‘ Madalyn Howitt. “I was harboring an injury and my gameplay was not where I knew it could be, so I don’t feel like I would have been the best I can be both physically and mentally.”

Reinke, a key offensive threat, made her Paralympic debut as one of three rookies with the women’s goalball team, playing alongside returning veterans Burk and Whitney Bogart.

Emma Reinke (right). Photo: CPC

Reinke’s rise in goalball is due in part to the opportunity she was given to try out the sport at an early age. Reinke attended the W. Ross MacDonald school for blind and visually impaired students in Brantford, Ont., but didn’t play any competitive sports. It wasn’t until she was introduced to goalball in phys. ed class, which was part of the curriculum, that she gradually discovered she had the skills to be a high-performance player.

“I really enjoy that it is so tailored to people like us,” she said, meaning legally blind athletes. “This is the first sport that I’ve ever played where I don’t feel like I have a disadvantage.”

After joining the junior girls’ goalball team, she began playing for teams outside of school, eventually making it to the elite national level.

“It became more of a passion and more of a goal for me to get as far as I possibly could. It’s become something that I wake up every day and do, and it’s given me a lot of purpose,” noted Reinke.

Reinke got her big break at the World Championships in 2018, when team captain Burk was away on maternity leave, and Reinke finished as the tournament’s third-leading scorer.

Her dedication to the sport hasn’t gone unnoticed by her senior teammates.

“I [love] her commitment to the team,” said teammate Bogart. “She’s the one that I’ve most enjoyed watching grow. I’ve known her since she was 14 or 15 and seeing where she came from to where she is now is amazing. I’m so happy to be at her first Paralympics and getting to witness it in person.”

Burk added that she appreciates Reinke’s natural athleticism and that competitiveness.

“I very much see some of myself in her. She challenges me to be better offensively, and I see great things for Emma moving forward in her career,” Burk shared.

That career will hopefully include diving into other areas of goalball like promotion and education. Reinke intends to study biology at Carleton University after the Paralympics wrap up, but when she’s not focusing on school, she hopes to channel her energy into lifting goalball to new heights.

“Goalball is not really on the radar in terms of research. I think it would be really cool to get into something where I can start doing studies on people, doing what I can to make it public,” she said. “I’d like the opportunity to be in more of a leadership role for a younger generation.”

Camille Bérubé and Danielle Dorris. Photo: CBC

Also in action on Day 7 was swimmer Camille Bérubé. She finished 5th in the S7 100m Backstroke, the same race where fellow Canadian Danielle Dorris won silver after leading for most of the race. Bérubé was 3.77 seconds behind the gold medallist Mallory Weggemann from the U.S.

Ottawa Paralympians Day 8 Schedule:

Camille Bérubé will try and continue her streak of making it to the finals these Games with her next race, the S7 100m freestyle. As usual, she’ll need to place in the top 8 in the heats to qualify.

Jason Dunkerley’s near-Paralympic journey

Jason Dunkerley. File photo

This article could have – and perhaps should have – included a recap of the T11 men’s 1,500 metres track-and-field event for runners with no vision, however Jason Dunkerley and some of Canada’s best para-athletes were left off the team for the Tokyo Games.

Based on the team’s performance at the 2019 World Para Athletics Championships, Canada was awarded entries for seven women and nine men across all track-and-field competitions. Athletics Canada then used its own ranking system, based on world rankings, to determine which athletes from which disciplines would be named to the team. The total quota of 16 athletes is smaller than it’s been in the past; at the 2016 Games Canada’s para-athletics team had 24 members, and in 2012 there were 26.
Dunkerley’s world ranking wasn’t quite high enough to make Team Canada. Based on his 2021 results, Dunkerley is the 8th ranked runner in his discipline. In a different year, this likely would have been enough for Athletics Canada to award him a roster spot.
But, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Athletics Canada dated its qualifying period back to 2019.
Dunkerley didn’t race in 2019, after retiring in 2018. He ran a few races in 2020 before more seriously diving back into competition this spring with the goal of getting in enough races in the span of a few weeks to raise his world ranking. At the end of the qualifying window, he was ranked 12th in the world between 2019 and 2021, short of the top 8 he projected he’d need to be among to make his sixth Paralympic Games.
Had Dunkerley been on the team, he would have had the T11 1500m heats last night and then most likely the final tonight, based on where he was ranked globally. Of course, being passed over was difficult for him, but at the same time, Dunkerley told the Sports Pages‘ Kieran Heffernan that he understands that that’s sports. It was important for him to at least try to qualify.
Dunkerley retired after his fifth Paralympic appearance in Rio 2016, but he was still running to keep fit, as well as coaching with the Ottawa Lions Track-and-Field Club. It was there that he realized he was still feeling good and felt he had a chance of making the team. That the Games were taking place in Tokyo added to the appeal, as Japan is a country that he’s always been interested in.

As well, after his mother passed away from illness a couple years ago, Dunkerley has adopted a new perspective on opportunities he may never be presented again.

“Life is fleeting and I just had this feeling that I really wanted to sort of explore that and see where the road would lead,” explained the 5-time Paralympic medallist and 4-time world champion.

Now that he knows what he’s still capable of, he has plans to compete at the California International Marathon in December, and then the World Para Athletics Championships in Kobe, Japan next summer.

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

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