By Martin Cleary
Did you know Olympic women’s hockey gold medallist Jamie-Lee Rattray of Kanata averaged more than 13 minutes of ice time for Canada’s first five games, but almost disappeared in the semifinals and final, averaging slightly more than seven minutes a game?
Did you know Ottawa skeleton slider Mirela Rahneva had either the fastest or second fastest times in two of the four women’s runs and only an unconventional second run kept her out of the medals?
And did you know Isabelle Weidemann’s triple-medal performance in women’s long-track speed skating earned her multiple honors of distinction in the Canadian Olympic Committee record book?
The 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics have come and gone, but the memories, medallists and numbers will last forever in historic journals. But before we put all of those volumes of information on a bookshelf, let’s review the efforts of the 20 National Capital Region athletes through their numbers, whether it’s finish position, start times, lap times or goals and assists. Some of the numbers are quite impressive.
If you were to plot Rattray’s ice time on a chart, it would form a mountain peak. In Canada’s first three round-robin games against Switzerland, Finland and the Russian Olympic Committee, she played nine minutes and five seconds, 14:19 and 17:19 respectively. The game against ROC was her top showing for minutes and shifts (31).
But after Rattray worked her way up to those significant numbers, her time on the ice and subsequent number of shifts hit a major slope slide. She had 25 shifts for 12:51 against the United States in Canada’s 4-2 round-robin win, which included a goal by No. 47, 19 shifts and 11:28 in the quarterfinals against Sweden and 13 shifts and 7:43 against Switzerland in the semifinals.
In her first six games for the high-scoring Canadian team, she contributed five goals, four assists, was on a six-game point-scoring streak, had 22 shots on goal, and was a plus-nine. But when it came time for the gold-medal game, Rattray played only 6:49, which was the fourth lowest on the team for a forward, and only had nine shifts. Her limited time didn’t allow her to score any points, put any shots on goal and she wasn’t on the ice for any even-strength goals, either way.
Rahneva looked like she was destined for the medal podium after her first of four runs in women’s skeleton. She won the first run, set the track record of 1:02.63 (which she held for two heats) and had a narrow 0.02 advantage entering the second run. But it was that second run that ended her medal quest, when she was 18th in 1:03.14 and slid backwards to ninth place with a combined clocking of 2:05.77.
One of the most consistent skeleton sliders for the past six seasons and coming off a year out of the sport because of a neck injury, Rahneva rebounded in the third round by posting the second fastest time of 1:01.72 and made a huge climb up the standings to fifth at 3:06. Her best time at the Olympics was only surpassed by eventual gold medallist Hannah Neise of Germany. Neise seized the track record at 1:01.44 in the third run.
Rahneva finished her second Olympics with the sixth-best slide in the fourth heat at 1:02.26 for a total time of 4:09.15 and fifth place.
Weidemann had three speed skating races (two individual and one team) in Beijing and she was magnificent, scoring a medal in each one. After circling the medal podium in her Olympic debut in 2018, she opened with a bronze in the 3,000 metres and followed with silver in the 5,000 metres and gold in the team pursuit.
Here’s what her 13 minutes and 41.78 seconds of oval skating has given her in terms of honours: the only Canadian female athlete and one of two Canadian athletes to earn three medals in Beijing, second-ever Canadian to win gold, silver and bronze at a single Winter Olympics behind Cindy Klassen (2006), her bronze medal was Canada’s first at the Beijing Games and the country’s 200th all-time at the Winter Olympics, the fourth Canadian medal in the women’s 3,000 metres behind Cindy Klassen (2002, 2006) and Ottawa’s Kristina Groves (2010), the third Canadian to win a 5,000-metre medal behind Clara Hughes (2010) and Klassen (2006), Canada’s first-ever women’s team pursuit gold medal and second medal overall in the discipline after a silver in 2006, and Team Canada flagbearer for the Closing Ceremony.
Weidemann’s consistent skating saw her take a dozen 400-metre laps in the 5,000-metre race with times ranging between 31.91 seconds (sixth lap) and 32.86 (second). Her bell-lap time was 32.84 in the leg-burning endurance test. In the 3,000 metres, she opened with her fastest 400-metre lap at 30.78 and closed with her slowest at 31.99.
The team pursuit final against Japan was most interesting. As the two teams chased each other around the oval, Japan’s trio had the fastest split times at the first 11 of 12 time zones. Japan went through the second-to-last time check with a 0.32-second lead, but when one of its skaters crashed on the final corner before the straightaway to the finish line, the victory was handed to the Canadian team of Weidemann, Ivanie Blondin and Valérie Maltais of Saguenay, Que., who were closing on Japan and stormed to an Olympic record time of 2:53.44.
These were the redemptive Games for Blondin, a highly decorated World Cup and world championship medallist, but empty handed after her first two Olympics in 2014 and 2018. Planning to skate the heaviest schedule of any Canadian with five different races, Blondin’s Beijing Olympics didn’t start well with a 14th in the 3,000 metres, a 13th in the 1,500 metres and a withdrawal from the 5,000 metres.
Stepping away from the women’s longest race was a key tactical move as it allowed her more time to rest and focus on her two specialty competitions. Blondin captured her first Olympic medal, the gold, in the team pursuit and followed with a silver in the mass start, which was a first for Canada in that discipline. She also was one of four double medallists for Canada.
Gatineau’s Antoine Cyr and Graham Ritchie of Parry Sound, Ont., placed an unprecedented fifth in the men’s classic team sprint for Canada’s best-ever result in that cross-country skiing race. The previous best showing was 11th by George Grey and Devon Kershaw at the 2006 Games.
After placing fourth in their semifinal, Cyr and Ritchie, who were fifth in the same event at the 2021 world championships, finished in 19:45.30, leaving them 22.31 behind champion Norway and almost 18 seconds out of the bronze.
“This is so incredible to pull this off and throw down such a good result for Canada. It is overwhelming, especially to do this with such a good friend like Graham. It is really special,” said Cyr, who struggled in his first three individual Olympic races. “Sport isn’t a precise science. It comes with its highs and lows. It was such a disappointing start to the Olympics for me, but to finish off the Beijing Games like this is incredible.”
Cyr was well off his pace in his first Olympics, finishing 42nd in the men’s 30-kilometre skiathon, 56th in the skate sprint and 37th in the 15-kilometre classic. He also helped Canada finish 11th in the 4×10-kilometre relay.
Katherine Stewart-Jones of Chelsea, Que., showed well in her five races with four top-30 results. In her Olympic debut, she placed 23rd in the women’s 15-kilometre skiathlon and followed with a 36th in the 10-kilometre classic, a ninth in the relay, a 12th in the classic team sprint with Dahria Beatty of Whitehorse and a 30th in the bitter cold 30-kilometre free technique mass start.
Chelsea’s Laura Leclair experienced her first Winter Olympics by finishing 58th in the skate sprint and 51st in the 30-kilometre free mass start.
Hannah Schmidt of Dunrobin, Ont., was gaining momentum in women’s ski cross, but fell one place short of qualifying for the Big Final and a chance to race for a medal. After finishing fourth in the opening seeding race, Schmidt won her round-of-16 race and was second to Marielle Thompson of Whistler, B.C., in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, she was third behind Sweden’s Sandra Naeslund and Thompson, who went on to win gold and silver respectively. Schmidt placed third in the Small Final for seventh overall.
Jared Schmidt, who is Hannah’s brother, placed sixth in the men’s seeding race, second in the round of 16 and was eliminated after a third-place effort in the quarterfinals.
Four years ago, Mike Evelyn of Ottawa was playing hockey for Dalhousie University, but once he connected with bobsleigh he has made the most of the opportunity. Driver Chris Spring and brakeman Evelyn formed Canada’s best team in the two-man competition with a seventh-place result. They were 0.14 seconds out of fifth place and 0.68 from the bronze medal.
Despite their slowest start and third slowest finishing time, they had their best result in terms of placement with a fifth in the fourth and final slide over the course.
Evelyn and Ottawa’s Cody Sorensen supported Spring in the four-man and the oldest team in the competition got better with every run. After a concerning 12th-place finish in the opening run, they moved up to 11th and then 10th and completed their final Olympics as a team in ninth. Their start times, race times and individual race rankings were all consistent. They finished in 3:56.99 and 2.69 seconds behind the German gold medallists.
Former Carleton University football player Jay Dearborn of Yarker, Ont., was a crew member for Canada No. 3 driver Taylor Austin, who was 23rd after the first three runs and didn’t qualify for the fourth and final run as part of the top 20. They also showed consistent results, but didn’t have enough speed throughout.
Ottawa was represented in the mixed doubles and women’s team curling, but their identical 5-4 round-robin records weren’t good enough to promote them to the playoffs.
Rachel Homan and John Morris, who are two of Canada’s most accomplished curlers, lost their mixed doubles opener 6-4 to Great Britain, but rebounded by defeating Norway 7-6, Switzerland 7-5 and China 8-6. After a 6-2 loss to Sweden, Canada downed the United States 7-2 and Czech Republic 7-5.
But Canada dropped its final two matches 10-8 to Australia and 8-7 to Italy, which scored two in the eighth to tie the match and stole one in the extra end for the victory. Homan’s final shot stopped a millimetre or so short of being the counting stone for the win, which later became an extraordinary mental burden for her.
Dawn McEwen and alternate Lisa Weagle were part of Jennifer Jones’s women’s rink, which started the round robin slow at 1-3, but went 4-1 from there. Canada defeated Korea 12-7 in its first game, but lost 8-5 to Japan, 7-6 to Sweden and 8-4 to Switzerland. In the second half of the preliminary round, Canada caught fire beating the Russian Olympic Committee 11-5, eventual gold medallist Great Britain 7-3, the United States 7-6, falling to China 11-9 and defeating Denmark 10-4 in its final match.
The men’s hockey team went 2-1 in round robin action by defeating Germany 5-1, losing 4-2 to the United States and blanking China 5-0. In its playoff qualification game, Canada again downed China 7-2, but was sent home after a 2-0 quarterfinal loss to Sweden.
Playing in his second consecutive Olympics, Eric O’Dell of Ottawa averaged about 15 minutes a game, counted two goals and three assists, put nine shots on goal and was a plus-four. Mason McTavish of Carp, playing for his sixth team this season, had one assist, nine shots on goal and was a plus-one, while averaging about 14 minutes of ice time each game. Former Carleton Place Canadians junior A goalkeeper Devon Levi dressed for one game, when he was the backup for Canada against China in the round-robin, but didn’t see any ice time.
Alpine skier Valérie Grenier of St-Isidore, Ont., had a short-lived second Olympic experience as she didn’t finish the first run of the women’s giant slalom, which was a repeat of her 2018 Winter Games showing. She only had one race in Beijing, after competing four times at the 2018 Games and placing sixth in the alpine combined.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
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