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Ottawa at the Paralympics Day 8: Wheelchair curlers taking it all in

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By Ethan Diamandas, Dan Plouffe, 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.)

Ottawa at the Paralympics Day 8: Wheelchair curlers taking it all in

There wasn’t but a few seconds between when Jon Thurston hit the final takeout in the eighth end and when the cheering started. 

Canada’s wheelchair curling team had a tumultuous Games (eight wins and four losses), but after the hammer slid down the ice and into the house, a sense of joy flooded the arena.  

Canada defeated Slovakia to win the tournament’s bronze medal Friday, and now the rink has had some time to reflect on the scope of the moment. 

“Everyone showed up to play today,” Canadian skip Mark Ideson said in a Curling Canada blog. “Jon made a couple of beauties to finish it off. We’re so happy to win the bronze.”

Thurston explained why that fateful shot felt so natural to him. 

“I actually got to practice that spot just before the game,” he said. “With similar weight too… I felt really comfortable throwing it. It was a big shot.”

Thurston’s play was important, but it was the entire Canadian team that made this feat possible. 

“Slovakia threw absolutely everything at this team,” said head coach Mick Lizmore. “ The story of this team is that we all pick up after one another. Everybody takes turns making a big shot – and today was Jon’s day.”

Ottawa’s Collinda Joseph, for example, didn’t see much action on the ice, yet she was still a critical member of the team as a support player or off-ice strategist.

“It’s incredible to see the team’s hard work payoff,” said Lizmore. “Between training remotely through COVID, staying game ready, working hard together in the lead up to the games, I’m so proud of this team and this medal, and it was hard earned.”

Day 9 Preview: Canada looking to climb ‘Mount Everest’ in para hockey gold medal game

Since the sport joined the Paralympics in 1998, the American para ice hockey team has won four out of six potential gold medals. The U.S. program is a true dynasty in the sport — no one will dispute it’s the best in the world. 

Canada won Paralympic gold 2006, yet has since been a bridesmaid in para hockey, never the bride. The other nations often offer strong competition, but from the moment Canada gets on the ice every four years, the Americans are the ultimate target. 

Players told us as much in their pre-Games interviews. 

“I think the biggest thing for me, personally, is just to defeat the Americans to win that gold medal and not be second place anymore,” Gatineau’s Anton Jacobs-Webb told the Ottawa Sports Pages. “We’ve been working and training for four years with this one game, the final game, in mind.”

Jacobs-Webb is making his Paralympic debut in Beijing, yet he understands the tone of the rivalry. The culture of animosity towards the Americans is passed down from one generation of players to another like tradition. 

And there’s plenty of emotion tied into this upcoming matchup — ask Ottawa’s Ben Delaney

“I’d probably cry,” the bronze and silver medalist said. “It would mean everything to me. It’s my dream to win a Paralympic gold medal. That’s why I started playing sledge hockey in the first place.

“It’s cool to make Team Canada, but [a gold medal] is Mount Everest for us, so I’m very, very excited for another opportunity for that.” The gold medal showdown begins Saturday at 11:05 p.m. eastern time. 

Rowland gets one more crack at the slopes

As it turns out, the Paralympics aren’t yet over for Merrickville, Ont.’s Brian Rowland. The 35-year-old so far has recorded 10th- and 12th-place finishes in the men’s sitting super-G and giant slalom, missed a gate in the downhill and did not start the super combined, and the final event on the schedule is the slalom.

“I’m determined to be one of the best in the world,” Rowland told the Sports Pages before the Games. “I’m not stopping until I get there. I try my best to be one of the elite racers.”

He certainly doesn’t lack confidence, which, as an extreme para athlete, is critical to not psyching yourself out before a big event. Rowland will carry that attitude into Saturday, where the slalom runs begin at 7:30 p.m. eastern.

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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