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Ottawa at the Paralympics Day 1: Let the Games begin!

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

One of the greatest parts about the Beijing Olympics was the sheer number of athletes representing Ottawa.

From gold medal-winning hockey player Jamie Lee Rattray to flagbearer and triple-medallist-skater Isabelle Weidemann, the first Games of the year gave all of us plenty to cheer about. The now-underway Paralympics provide that same opportunity. 

At the Sports Pages, our focus will be narrowed to eight of Canada’s participants from Ottawa — from para ice hockey players, to a wheelchair curler, to a para alpine skier, and a guide. 

If your thirst for Olympic action wasn’t quenched in February, that’s alright, because the Paralympic Games are off to a blazing start — and Ottawa athletes are right in the thick of it. 

We’ll start today with a recap of the action on Day 1.

Day 1 Recap: Tristan Rodgers guides skier to silver medal in visually impaired event

Visually impaired alpine skiing is one of the most interesting events at the Paralympic Games. 

Skiers who are either fully blind or visually impaired are aided by a guide’s direction as they rip down slopes at speeds as fast as 120 km/h.

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For decorated skier Mac Marcoux, that guide is Ottawa’s Tristan Rodgers, a 23-year-old with strong experience as a youth skier. It’s Rodgers’s first Winter Paralympics, but that didn’t impact Marcoux’s performance in the slightest. 

Marcoux shredded the event, finishing with a time of 1:13.81, cool enough for a silver medal. 

Trust in each other, as Rodgers told the Sports Pages before the Games, is key to success in this sport. 

“I’ve got to know Mac, have respect for him and have developed a relationship that has kept me in it,” Rodgers said. “I do it for myself and take a lot of pride in it. But for me, the relationship with Mac keeps me going.”

That relationship carried the duo to silver in Beijing. 

Para hockey takes a beating

In a sport like hockey, you win and lose as a team. It’s a cliché, because it’s true. 

In Saturday’s preliminary matchup versus the U.S.A, Canada’s para hockey team, highlighted by SHEO standouts Tyrone HenryRob Armstrong, Ben Delaney and Anton Jacobs-Webb, struggled badly.

The U.S. went ahead after Canada took a rare tripping penalty halfway through the first period, netting a beautiful one-time goal on the rush. The Americans would pad their lead before the first horn, potting two more in the second period to put the game out of reach, as Canada would lose 5-0. 

“We need to focus on creating more offence and better scoring chances,” Canadian head coach Ken Babey told CBC. “We need to be a little more accurate with our shots and make sure we hit the net when we do have scoring opportunities.

“We need to realize that we are a bit of the underdogs in this tournament and that we are going to need to fight for pucks and find ways to score.”

Canada’s coach sees his team as underdogs, and in this first game of the Beijing Paralympics we saw how much harder Canada needs to work to avenge its gold medal loss from 2018 in PyeongChang. 

Guimond a tick off the podium in downhill standing

For standing downhill skier Alexis Guimond, the pandemic was no excuse to stop training. 

“My hard work over the years has kept me on track. I feel prepared and ready,” Guimond told the Sports Pages before the Games. “I took every opportunity to train that I could. When I couldn’t train on the slopes, I was in the gym.”

Expectations are high for the Gatineau product, who won a bronze in giant slalom at the 2018 Games, yet he was just a tick slow in his first alpine event in Beijing. 

Despite an error-free run down the hill, Guimond finished 1.85 seconds behind the gold medalist, France’s Arthur Bauchet, good for fifth place. 

“In some cases, I even went a little more aggressive than I thought and it still cost me a lot of time,” Guimond told Sportcom in a French-language interview after the race. “Despite everything, I really liked my performance. Of course, I made a few mistakes and that deserves adjustments, but I am still satisfied.”The 22-year-old isn’t finished just yet, as he’ll compete in additional downhill skiing events later in the Games. 

Sitting downhill skier Brian Rowland, of Merrickville, Ont., was disqualified from his event Friday evening. At the moment, it’s unclear why he was disqualified, but we’ll provide an update once new information emerges. 

Wheelchair curling sets the tone in early games

After defeating host China 7-3 in its first matchup of the Paralympics, Canada’s wheelchair curling team continued its strong start in an early Saturday showdown against Switzerland.

Canada has defeated the Swiss in each of the last three Paralympic Games, and that trend continued, with Canada jumping ahead in the early ends and holding onto its lead throughout. 

The 8-4 victory was about as sound as it gets, and Ottawa’s Collinda Joseph — who served as an alternate in the Swiss matchup — said Canada is determined to sit atop the podium in Beijing.

“We’re expecting to medal,” Joseph told the Sports Pages before the Games. “We do have the gold medal in our sights and that’s what we’re going for.”

Through two games, undefeated Canada is safely in first place. 

Day 2 Preview: Super-G skiing begins, curling slides on

After his disqualification in the downhill event, Brian Rowland will look to get back on track in the super giant slalom event (super-G), which has more turns than the downhill course. 

Rowland, who will again compete in the sitting division, said he’s honoured to compete in his first Paralympic Games. 

“It’s getting pretty real,” Rowland told the Sports Pages in a phone interview before flying to Beijing. “It’s a bit overwhelming. I have worked so hard in the last five years. It’s a dream come true.”

There’s no doubt Rowland was disappointed with his disqualification in downhill, but adversity isn’t anything new for the 35-year-old Paralympian who broke his back and suffered spinal cord injuries during a motocross accident in 2015.

Rowland told the Sports Pages’ Martin Cleary about his mindset after finishing lower than expected in this year’s World Cup.

“I didn’t get the results I wanted, but I’m determined to be one of the best in the world,” he emphasized. “I’m not stopping until I get there. I try my best to be one of the elite racers.”

Rowland, along with Rodgers and Guimond, begin the super-G event Saturday at 9 p.m. eastern.

Joseph and the wheelchair curling team also continue their quest to secure a playoff spot, this time facing Latvia on Sunday at 1:35 a.m. eastern. 

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