Bobsleigh/Skeleton Curling Elite Amateur Sport Skating Skiing

Ottawa at the Olympics Day 17: For Love of Country

By Ethan Diamandas & Charlie Pinkerton (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive it, for free, here.)

When we watch Olympic athletes on television, we observe them at the surface level. Viewers see superheroes of sport — athletes so good at what they do they can battle anyone in the world in their craft. 

But what goes unseen are the sacrifices and turbulent emotions that come with such intense competition. Canadian athletes aren’t machines, and the pressure can push people to very unhealthy mental states. 

So it’s a big deal when an Olympian opens up about their mental struggles — and it’s an even better deal when a whole country answers back with love and praise. Here’s what that looks like. 

Homan feels the nation’s love

For curling doubles duo Rachel Homan and John Morris, the Beijing Olympics were a letdown. Billed as a top-tier team coming in, the team narrowly missed the playoffs in an extra-end loss to Italy where the final Canadian stone was millimetres away from winning the match.

After the loss, Homan explained on social media she fell into “the deepest of black holes.” But now, after receiving all kinds of positive messages from Canadian fans, things are improving.

“To Canada, the smallest, biggest community I know. I just want to thank you all for your tremendous love and support,” Homan said. “After coming home, I was so overwhelmed with feelings that I had let everyone down and it was hard to navigate.”

Homan said during COVID isolation she forgot the power of connection, and that by sharing her story she hopes to help others in similar emotionally challenging situations.

“I wanted to bring back a medal for you guys and my family,” Homan told her followers. “But I know it’s not the results in the end that really matter.

“It’s not the whole story. I’m proud of our journey, sacrifice, and dedication to the success we had.”

Jared Schmidt misses medal heats

It takes several races to secure a medal in ski cross, and Jared Schmidt fell just short in his first Olympics. 

The 24-year-old finished sixth in the seeding round, and eventually progressed to the quarterfinals where the top two racers advanced. Schmidt placed third, failing to advance.

Schmidt worked hard out of the gate, tucking neatly into second place. His lone mistake came around one of the early turns, where, as the CBC broadcast team noted, he kept his skis flat on the ground instead of using his edges. Schmidt couldn’t make up lost time after that.

Overall, it was a disappointing result for the Canadian men’s ski cross team, which is highlighted by PyeongChang gold medallist Brady Leman. None of Canada’s four representatives came close to the podium, as Leman was ousted in the semifinals. 

Day 18 Preview: Four-man bobsled begins

Hundreds of pounds of pressure on top of him. His helpless body dragging along the ice surface. 

That’s how Cody Sorensen remembers his last run at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

“Having your last run be upside down and then not ever having even seen a bobsled again for almost seven years was I think the thing that haunted me the most,” Sorensen told the Sports Pages in a recent phone interview.

The crash squashed his Olympic dreams and forced him out of the final heats with a concussion.

But now, after eight years away from the sport, Sorensen, 35, is back for one more ride — and he didn’t come out of retirement for no reason. 

“I think a big part of me deciding to come back this year, after eight years [away], was not just to be a tourist out here on the circuit and [instead] try to put together a plan and the pieces to be successful at the Olympics,” Sorensen said. 

Pilot Chris Spring coaxed Sorensen back on the promise of a quality team — which includes fellow Ottawa native Mike Evelyn and brakeman Sam Giguère — and a high-performance sled. Both promises were fulfilled after Canada acquired Team Germany’s gold-medal-winning sled from the 2018 Games. 

The pieces are all in place for a podium finish, but bobsled is an unpredictable sport. Anything can happen — just look at Sorensen’s crash in 2014. Surprisingly, Sorensen said there’s less weight on his shoulders this time around. 

“I actually don’t feel the pressure as much,” he said. “Maybe that will change once we are standing at the top of the run in Beijing, but right now, at least in the last couple days, I just feel excited and happy to represent Canada once again.”

The first two heats of the four-man event begin Friday at 8:30 p.m. eastern. 

Blondin ready for redemption in her strongest event

Like Sorensen in bobsled, speedskater Ivanie Blondin remembers her disastrous tumble at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. 

Blondin held the lead, but when she bent down to hug a turn, her momentum carried too far forward. Blondin, along with two other skaters, toppled off their feet and slid into the protective padding on the other side of the sheet.

The heartbreaking fall meant Blondin wouldn’t compete in the final round. 

“At the last Olympics, I was in the same position as I am now. I was a multiple World Cup and world championship medal winner,” Blondin told the Sports Pages in a recent phone interview. “I truly believed I could come home with one medal.

“But I felt I had failed. I came home empty-handed.”In 2022, though, Blondin bounced back. Just days ago, she and teammates Isabelle Weidemann and Valérie Maltais won gold in a heart-pounding final race in team pursuit. 

The look of joy as Blondin stood on the podium told us at least some of her dreams were achieved that day.

But the upcoming mass start is her specialty, and what she wants to win badly.

“I am heading there with a goal of redemption after my last Olympic Games,” Blondin said in a press release before the Games.

“And (I’m going to Beijing with) a drive to make myself and all Canadians proud.”

If you’re in for a later Friday night, or are a weekend early riser, you can watch Blondin race. The mass start semifinals are at 2:45 a.m., and the finals are at 4 a.m.

(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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