By Dan Plouffe, Martin Cleary & Ethan Diamandas (This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive our free newsletter here.)
It was a good final day of competition for Ottawa’s Olympians, and an even better final day of ceremonies, as triple medal winner Isabelle Weidemann carried the Canadian flag into the Bird’s Nest stadium in Beijing as the 2022 Winter Olympic Games officially came to a close.
Let’s start with the final action on Day 19. Ottawa bobsledders Mike Evelyn and Cody Sorensen moved up the standings as far as they realistically could on the second day of the four-man competition, climbing from 11th to 9th to nicely exceed their #12 world ranking.
After crossing the finish line, Evelyn rose from the second position as is the usual custom, while Sorensen popped up a moment later, standing tall with his arms outstretched as the flying sled slowly came to a stop and the bobsled circuit’s senior statesmen embraced, almost certainly for the final occasion at the Olympics.
It was time for Sorensen to soak it all in. The 35-year-old son of an Olympic wrestler made an improbable comeback for a run at a second Games after last competing in 2014. The Glebe Collegiate and Guelph/Queen’s University grad took a break from his career working in mergers and acquisitions to have another shot at sliding with his old pilot Chris Spring.
And after a crash ended his first Olympics, Sorensen standing tall at the finish was a fitting final image.
The Spring crew wasn’t a huge medal threat, but they got to celebrate a Canadian podium nonetheless when Justin Kripps’ sled came down a few minutes later in the bronze medal position.
At age 28, Evelyn may well have the chance to win medals for Canada in future years after his solid Olympic debut. The electrical engineer who played 5 years of university hockey for the Dalhousie Tigers has emerged as one of Canada’s strongest brakemen. He pushed Spring to a pair of 4th-place performances on the World Cup tour in the two-man event, and placed 7th with Spring earlier in the Games.
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We now interrupt your regularly-scheduled Olympics coverage for a quick word from… ourselves.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our daily Ottawa at the Olympics coverage throughout the Beijing Games! If you’ve only recently joined us, you may be happy to know that the Olympics aren’t just the flash in the pan where we suddenly pay attention to the amateur athletes representing our country. This is what we do 4 years out of 4, and on top of the elite level, we also cover local high school, university and community sport.
For over 10 years now, the Ottawa Sports Pages has provided a spotlight for the local sports stories that are almost always overlooked by the mainstream media. We remember when Isabelle Weidemann was thrilled to finish 4th at the Canada Winter Games, and when Jamie Lee Rattray helped the Lady Sens to Ottawa’s first junior women’s provincial title.
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Triple medal winner and Canadian flag bearer leads Ottawa’s exceptional Olympics showing
Now let’s get back to what we’re here for – recognizing our athletes who have dedicated themselves so deeply to represent our city and our country, and the next one we’re going to talk about is probably the best rep you can imagine.
In our Day 18 Ottawa at the Olympics coverage, we left you with the most burning Canadian Olympic question since “What’s Ozempic?” – who would carry the Canadian flag at the Closing Ceremony and could it be Ottawa’s Isabelle Weidemann?
The Canadian Olympic Committee did indeed select the 26-year-old speed skater to wave the maple leaf inside the Bird’s Nest Sunday evening in Beijing.
“She not only had incredible performances on the ice, she was also an amazing teammate through her support and positive attitude before, during and after competition,” Team Canada chef de mission Catriona Le May Doan, herself a 3-time Olympic medallist, said in a COC media release. “Not all the athletes are able to still be here on the ground to celebrate these successful 2022 Games, but I am confident that Isabelle represents our Canadian values and the qualities that all of Team Canada demonstrated on and off the field of play in Beijing.”
Weidemann said she felt “so, so honoured” to be chosen as flag bearer.
“It’s just been such a crazy end to such an unbelievable week here at the Olympics,” said Weidemann, whose Games just kept getting better, with a bronze medal win in the women’s 3,000 metres, then silver in the 5,000 m and finally gold in the team pursuit.
“I’m so proud to be a member of this team,” added the Gloucester Concordes product. “I don’t know how many times this week I’ve shared in other people’s joy and shared in sadness as well. It’s been so incredible to just watch everybody do their best. I love the Olympic Games. I love being part of the Canadian team, it’s just so special.”
You can look back on our coverage of each of Weidemann’s big moments via the links below:
Ottawa’s most decorated Olympian ‘so proud of Isabelle’
With the most medals ever won by an Ottawa athlete at a single Olympics, Beijing 2022 was the culmination of Weidemann’s slow and steady rise up the ranks – a path that mirrored Ottawa’s most decorated Olympian of all time, Kristina Groves (who still owns that title thanks to her 4 Olympic medals from 2006 and 2010).
Just like her “hometown hero” did at Vancouver 2010, Weidemann produced an identical bronze medal performance in the 3,000 m, while Groves called the race as commentator for CBC.
“(Groves) has been my mentor and somebody that I’ve looked up to in speed skating for so long,” Weidemann highlighted in an interview with the Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe.
“She was the one – after winning bronze in Vancouver – that kind of ignited my own Olympic dream in speed skating,” added Weidemann, a past winner of the Kristina Groves Female Athlete of the Year Trophy from the Ottawa Sports Awards. “So it was very surreal, and incredibly special to put my name kind of alongside hers.”
Groves wrote to the Sports Pages in an email that she was “so proud of Isabelle for her performances in Beijing.”
“For sure it means a lot to have been a source of inspiration for her as she was growing up in Ottawa, just as other speed skaters were for me when I was in her place,” signalled the 45-year-old who’s now provided TV commentary for as many Winter Games as she competed in herself (3 apiece).
“But this moment is about how she performed, and how she was the one to make it happen. Inspiration can only get you for far, you still have to do the work in all areas – physiological, technical and mental – to be among the best and Isabelle did that.
“What I think she showed is how much she has grown and developed over the last four years and that takes an enormous amount of effort and maturity.”
Like Weidemann, Groves grew up skating plenty of short track, while waiting for a short season on the outdoor Brewer Oval’s natural ice surface. Neither had particularly remarkable junior careers, but just continued to stride forward bit by bit after moving to Calgary to train with the long track national team.
“I think the biggest similarity between her and I is simply that she has confidence in her own path and she’s committed to learning,” Groves underlined. “My focus was always that I wanted to get better and I went through a lot of tough but valuable lessons that eventually brought me to a place where I could win Olympic medals. I see that same commitment to growth in Isabelle.”
Groves did the colour commentary of the speed skating races from CBC’s Toronto studio around 3:30 a.m. local time, while her young daughters (and her mom) stayed back at an Airbnb (her husband was in Beijing as support staff for the speed skating team).
Kristina Groves shares in another milestone Canadian moment on multiple fronts
After bring shutout in 2018, Ivanie Blondin at last got to stand on the Olympic podium alongside Weidemann in the team pursuit, and then she got to do it again following her silver medal performance in the women’s mass start.
Blondin’s win gave Canada its first-ever medal in the discipline, and also provided a farewell gift to Groves’ CBC play-by-play colleague Steve Armitage, who called his last of innumerable Canadian medal wins over the years. It was also the final medal won by our Ottawa crew at the Olympics.
All but one of Ottawa’s Olympic medals came from speed skating, though Jamie Lee Rattray could well have a second career in that sport if she ever wanted, given the way she tormented opposing defenders with her speed on hockey ice.
Rattray and Team Canada enjoyed their most dominant run through an Olympic women’s hockey tournament yet. In capturing their fifth gold medal in seven tries, the Canadians broke their own record for most goals scored at 57 (they had 48 in Vancouver).
Take this as a perfect illustration of the dominance – Rattray’s 5 goals and 4 assists placed her 8th in scoring on Team Canada, and 10th overall out of all players in the tournament.
The Kanata Blazers/Ottawa Lady Senators product summarized the experience simply:
Ottawa’s Olympians shine even without medals
This was an exceptional Games for Team Ottawa, and we’re not just talking about the medallists.
Having picked up ski cross just a few years ago after failing to break onto the national alpine team, making it onto the powerful Canadian Olympic team and competing against the world’s best was already a victory, but they both added a little gravy to their Olympic debuts.
Though she recognized it was the grand daddy of them all, Hannah told the Sports Pages’ Ethan Diamandas that she wanted to try her best to treat the Olympics just like World Cup races, where she consistently finished alongside the world’s best this season.
It was mission accomplished as the World Cup circuit’s 9th-ranked athlete skied to 7th overall in Beijing. She called the experience “unbelievable” in an interview distributed by the Canadian Olympic Committee.
“It’s an honour to be racing against the best in the world at the Olympics,” she underlined. “It wasn’t my goal to make it to 2022. I started three and a half years ago in ski cross. I think my progression has been there, and consistency has been my goal, and I have gotten that. I can’t ask for much more.”
Add to that the bonus of experiencing her first Olympics with her brother Jared, who flew through qualifying to earn the 6th seed out 32 competitors, and then and made it through his first heat before battling to 3rd in his quarter-final heat to finish 10th overall.
“Having family traveling on the road with you is definitely an awesome experience,” Hannah added. “We get along really well and we work together. It’s awesome.”
Yes, there were a few cases where athletes might have dreamed a bit bigger – our men’s hockey players and curlers probably would have liked to make the medal round – but their defeats can’t be considered bad failures.
Eric O’Dell played a leading role for the men’s hockey team, which lost a close quarter-final game to Sweden after being assembled last-minute when NHL players decided not to participate. Mason McTavish, who turned 19 just before the Games, was the youngest member of that team.
And the curlers could well have been on the podium if the tiebreak rules were different. Despite having the same 5-4 record as 4th-place Sweden, the mixed doubles pair of Rachel Homan and John Morris missed the playoffs by a millimetre, literally.
The standings were so tight for women’s curlers Lisa Weagle and Dawn McEwen in the logjam for four semi-final berths that 16 different placement combinations were possible heading in the final draw of their round robin.
After Canada demolished Denmark 10-4 in 8 ends, 6 of the 8 result scenarios would have sent them through, but it was the unlikely quarter that prevailed and denied them entry. Or should the blame lie with those who created the tiebreaking rules that couldn’t possibly separate who was best?
“It’s hard when you see teams with your record advancing,” Team Canada skip Jennifer Jones told CBC. “It’s the Olympics. We should have a tiebreaker game. We had lots of time to have tiebreaker games here and they just opted not to.”
Fifth place might not shine quite like 3rd, 2nd or 1st, but let’s not forget it’s still 5th in the world.
Loans and maxed out credit cards accompany skeleton slider Mimi Rahneva’s 5th place finish at the Olympics
Fifth place was also where slider Mimi Rahneva finished in the women’s skeleton competition, which was all the more impressive given the hurdles she’s encountered in her Olympic season.
When the Sports Pages’ Dan Plouffe asked Rahneva to detail the challenges she and her teammates have faced this season, the long-simmering hurt and frustration flowed out from deep inside.
“Every cab, every COVID test, every hotel, flight, I’ve paid out of pocket,” Rahneva noted during a lengthy phone interview upon her return to Canada. “No coach, zero support booking anything whatsoever, and zero administrative help, so everything was on us.
“And I think we managed, but that took away from performance for sure.”
There’s a lot more to this story, and there are a lot of well-known current and past Canadian sliders speaking up about similar experiences.
Beijing 2022 Paralympics on deck
Yes, it’s the end of our Ottawa at the Olympics coverage for these Games, but it won’t be long until you hear from us again, and that’s because we’re gearing up for our upcoming Ottawa at the Paralympics coverage.
As the Olympics closed, the Canadian Paralympic Committee officially unveiled its team for Beijing 2022. The size of Team Canada for the Winter Paralympics is considerably smaller than the Olympics, with only 49 athletes, but there are an impressive number of local representatives within that.
We’ll look forward to getting you fully primed for the Mar. 4-13 Paralympics soon enough, but there are seven athletes from the Ottawa area getting ready to compete in alpine skiing, sledge hockey and wheelchair curling.
And while we’re talking about other Games, we must sneak in a quick shout-out to our local star from the most recent Summer Olympics. Gold medallist Vanessa Gilles, who emerged as a star defender in her debut Olympics, scored her first international goal for the Canadian women’s soccer team in a 1-0 win over Germany today in England.
Party’s finished for now, but our draw winner leaves with a loot bag
One final (fun) piece of business before we sign off – we’ve got a prize to give away to one of our lucky Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter subscribers! As teased at the start of the Games, we’ve held a draw for a $100 gift card to Kunstadt Sports – Ottawa’s tennis, bike and ski headquarters and your number one location for everything winter.
So if you’ve got another email from us with the subject line “YOU WON $100!”, don’t mark it as spam, dagnabbit, it’s actually real for once, and we want to get it to you.
And to all our readers – thank you for following us and we hope you enjoyed our Ottawa at the Olympics coverage! Our team has loved sharing the stories of our local Olympians with you over the past 19 days, and the years before they reached the grandest stage in sport.
Thank you again, and we’ll talk to you when the next Games begin!
This article was first sent to subscribers of the Ottawa at the Olympics Daily Newsletter. Sign up to receive our free newsletter here.
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