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HIGH ACHIEVERS WEEKEND WRAP: Rideau’s Emily Deschênes skips Canada into world women’s junior curling championship

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By Martin Cleary

The streak remains alive, but this time there was an extra-large international step required to keep it going.

Ever since the world junior women’s curling championship started in 1988, Canada has been front and centre almost every year on the ice and on the podium. In the 34 world championships, Canada has only missed the playoffs four times and has captured a world-best 30 medals (13 gold, nine silver and eight bronze), which is double runner-up Scotland at 9-4-2-15.

When the Canadian rink skipped by Isabelle Ladouceur finished the 2022 worlds in Jonkoping, Sweden, in ninth place out of 10 countries with a 3-6 record, it not only missed the playoffs, but also didn’t automatically qualify for the 2023 global championship.

Would Canada’s 34-year string of participation at the worlds come to an end? No.

The World Curling Federation had an option for the four bottom-dwelling teams – Canada, Scotland, South Korea and Denmark – to qualify for the 2023 world women’s junior A championship Feb. 25 to March 4 in Fussen, Germany.

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Those four countries joined 21 other curling nations last week at the world women’s junior B curling championship in Lohja, Finland, with the three podium teams qualifying for the 2023 worlds.

Reverting to its winning form and under the direction of replacement skip Emily Deschênes of Ottawa’s Rideau Curling Club, the Nova-Scotia-based team from the Halifax Curling Club went undefeated and won the gold medal at the world women’s junior B championship Monday.

Canada clinched a top-three berth and a ticket to the 2023 worlds by capturing its semifinal 6-4 over Bo Bae Kang of South Korea. A four-point score in the fourth end allowed Canada to take control of the match at 5-1.

In the final, Canada led from start to finish and defeated Fay Henderson of Scotland 5-4. Canada scored one in the first end and added two in the second for a 3-0 advantage. Scotland reduced its deficit to 3-2 by stealing one in the fifth end, but Canada counted two in the sixth. Scotland added one in the seventh and eighth ends, but fell one point short.

Korea also qualified for the 2023 worlds with an 11-10 decision over Turkey.

Deschênes was brought in as the skip for the team of third Lauren Ferguson, second Alison Umlah and lead Cate Fitzgerald because former skip Taylour Stevens wasn’t eligible this year as she had graduated from junior competition because of age. Deschênes, who also will skip Canada at the 2023 worlds in Fussen, lost the 2022 Canadian junior women’s championship final to Stevens 7-5.

Stevens, however, made the trip to support the team along with coach Mary Mattatall and national coach Lori Olson-Johns.

“Winning the semifinal felt amazing, a huge relief lifted off our shoulders with the qualification,” Stevens told Curling Canada.

“Although we knew we had a second life in the bronze-medal game, if necessary, we wanted to take the pressure off ourselves and qualify as soon as possible. It made the last game feel like way less pressure and that we could just play for ourselves.”

In round-robin matches, Canada won its pool by defeating Italy 11-1, Brazil 8-3, Turkey 5-4, Slovakia 5-2 and Poland 8-6. Canada turned back Hungary 8-6 in the quarter-final round.

Competing with her Ottawa-based rink, Deschênes won the Ontario U18 title and was second at the Canadian U18 championship in the 2018-19 season. A member of Canada’s mixed curling team at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games, she recently was a recipient of a For the Love of Curling scholarship.

Meanwhile, the Rideau Curling Club has had a December to remember as it has emerged with three champions at three different levels in the past 10 days.

Following Howard Rajala’s rink winning the Canadian men’s senior championship in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and a day before Deschênes led Canada back to the world women’s junior A curling championship, the Rideau rink skipped by Brian Lewis excelled at the Ontario men’s masters championship in Simcoe.

The Lewis rink was unbeatable as it won all seven round-robin games and advanced directly to the provincial final. Lewis, third Graham Sinclair, second Michael Johansen and lead Dave Stanley defeated two-time defending champion Al Hutchinson of Blue Water Curling Club in Owen Sound 9-4 in the final.

It was the third time Stanley was on a provincial men’s masters championship rink. He also played lead on the Bruce Delaney rink, which was the last Ottawa rink to win the Ontario title in 2016 and 2017. Rick Bachand and Brian Henderson completed the Delaney quartet.

At the Stadium Alberta Curling Series mixed doubles competition in Leduc, Ottawa’s Rachel Homan and Tyler Tardi of Peachland, B.C. won five consecutive matches to finish first overall.

After winning three round-robin games, Homan and the left-handed delivering Tardi defeated Korea’s Min-Ji Um and Yoonho Nam 6-4 in the semifinals and Selena Sturmay of Edmonton and Kyler Kleibrink of Calgary 7-0 in the final, which was conceded after four ends.


Katherine Stewart-Jones. Photo: SportCom

Nakkertok Nordic’s Katherine Stewart-Jones of Chelsea, Que., just keeps getting better and better on the World Cup women’s cross-country skiing circuit.

She posted her best-ever result in Davos, Switzerland, when she was 11th in the women’s 20-kilometre individual start skate-ski race in 50:23.7 and bettered her previous World Cup result by two placings.

American Jessie Diggins won the race in 48:43.2.

After a conservative start, the 2020 Olympian accelerated for the final two of four laps to improve her standing.

“It was a great way to end period 1 (on the World Cup),” Stewart-Jones said in a press release. “I got caught by Delphine Claudel (France) at about the seven-kilometre mark and skied with her to the finish. It allowed me to ski relaxed and consistently.”

Gatineau’s Antoine Cyr was 24th in the men’s 20-kilometre individual start skate-ski race in 44:06.2. He also reached the men’s sprint quarterfinals and was 29th overall.

During the second weekend of the Eastern Canada Cup in Mont Ste. Anne, Que., Tory Audet of Chelsea Nordiq was a triple winner, capturing the women’s open/U18 sprint and 10-kilometre classic as well as the U18 10-kilometre free race.

The region’s other winners were: Kanata Nordic’s Helen McCulligh, open women’s 20-kilometre; Nakkertok’s Katherine Mason, senior women’s 20-kilometre; Chelsea Nordiq’s Ry Prior, men’s U20 sprint; Nakkertok’s Bronwyn Williams, women’s open 10-kilometre classic; Chelsea Nordiq’s Isabelle Haag, women’s U18 20-kilometre classic and Nakkertok’s Luke Allan, men’s senior 10-kilometre classic.

University of New Hampshire junior Jasmine Lyons of Ottawa placed second in the United States Eastern Cup series women’s 10-kilometre classic in Lake Placid. She was timed in 32:58.2 and was 2.1 seconds behind winner Alexandra Lawson of Green Racing Project.


Iman Shaheen. Photo: Squash Canada

Ottawa’s two highest profile high-performance squash players – Samantha Cornett and Iman Shaheen – had various degrees of success recently on the courts.

Cornett, who is Squash Canada’s events and national teams co-ordinator, was one of four players on the Canadian women’s squad at the World women’s team squash championship in Cairo.

Canada finished seventh overall with a 3-3 record. In round-robin action, Canada defeated Wales 2-1 in the best-of-three match format and Switzerland 2-1, but lost to No. 1 seed and eventual gold medallist Egypt 2-0.

Canada fell 3-0 to No. 2 and eventual silver medallist the United States in the quarterfinals and lost 2-0 to France in the semifinal for fifth- through eighth-place positions. In the seventh-place match, Canada downed Scotland 2-0.

Cornett, a four-time Canadian women’s champion who has retired from the pro circuit, lost a tough five-game match to Switzerland’s Ambre Allinckx 10-12, 12-14, 11-7, 11-8, 11-9. In her match against Egypt, she lost to Nour El Tayeb 11-9, 11-1, 11-4 in 19 minutes.

At the Canadian junior open squash championships in Niagara on the Lake, Shaheen won four straight matches for her first girls’ U19 title. She defeated Amal Izhar of Oakville 8-11, 11-7, 11-5, 11-9 in the semifinals and Spring Ma of Richmond, B.C. 11-2, 5-11, 11-9, 11-8 in the final.

Shaheen advanced to the United States junior open championships in Philadelphia and reached the round of 16 in the U19 draw. After winning her first two matches, she lost to Caroline Fouts of Rye, New York, 11-4, 15-17, 11-3, 11-6.

Ottawa’s Laila Bayaha posted a 1-1 record in the girls’ U11 class, losing in the round of 16 to Hana Elbaz of Kirkland, Washington, 11-9, 11-8, 12-10.


Ivanie Blondin. Photo: Dave Holland/Speed Skating Canada

Orleans’ Ivanie Blondin continues to carry a heavy workload on the World Cup women’s long-track speed skating circuit, but she’s handling it well.

On the fourth World Cup stop, which was the second half of back-to-back meets in Calgary, Blondin competed in six races, won two silver and one bronze medals and set one personal-best time.

Paired with Olympic 5,000 metres silver medallist Isabelle Weidemann of Gloucester, Blondin opened her meet with a bronze-medal in the 5,000 metres in 6:54.81. Weidemann placed seventh at 7:00.66.

“I didn’t think that I would ever step on the 5000 m podium again in my career because I’m working more on the middle distances,” Blondin said in a Speed Skating Canada media release. “I feel like I haven’t pushed myself in the 500 0m like that in a long time, so it was pretty satisfying. It was a great race for me, and I was really happy with how I skated.

“My objective going into the race was to go with [Weidemann] and try to maintain consistent lap times at the beginning of the race to see where it gets me.”

On the second day of the meet, Blondin was fifth in the 1,500 metres at 1:54.07 and then joined teammates Carolina Hiller and Brooklyn McDougall to continue her newfound success in the team sprint event, capturing the silver medal in 1:25.73.

“It’s such a fun event,” Blondin highlighted. “We’re getting use to skating with each other and making the right moves. It was really close to a gold medal, but I think we can be happy about this performance.

“I’m not a fast sprinter like these two girls (Hiller and McDougall), so I really have to chase and try to stay with them. Once I’m with them, I feel good. In the last lap, I just put everything on the line and go as hard as I can.”

And the final day of the meet, Blondin skated a personal-best time of 1:13.82 to finish sixth over 1,000 metres, and then concluded the meet with a silver in the mass start in 8:09.36 after qualifying sixth in the semifinal.

“I was happy with the end of the race,” Blondin signalled. “[Irene] Schouten got away from me in the final sprint, but there’s only so much I can do with the legs that I’ve got after a big day – and big weekend – of racing.”

Here’s a fun fact about Blondin. According to Marcel’s Skating Stats Twitter site, Blondin skated the second fastest combined time for the 1,000, 1,500 and 5,000 metres in history, which converted to a point total of 116.414. The fastest time/point total was recorded by Japan’s Miho Takagi at 115.963 during the same meet.

Weidemann also placed 14th in the 1,500 metres in 1:57.47.

In B class races, Vincent De Haître of Cumberland was third over 1,000 metres in 1:09.09, Jake Weidemann of Gloucester was 17th in the 1,500 metres in 1:47.43 and Cedrick Brunet of Gatineau took 19th in the 500-metre race in 35.57.


Julie Brousseau. Photo: Nepean-Kanata Barracudas

Nepean-Kanata Barracudas’ Julie Brousseau swam to three silver and one bronze medals in the women’s 18-and-under class at the Ontario junior international short-course swimming meet in Toronto.

Brousseau was second in the 400-metre individual medley in 4:38.72, the 400-metre freestyle in 4:07.50 and the 200-metre breaststroke in 2:27.15. She tied for third place in the 200-metre freestyle in 1:57.14.

Olivier Risk of ROCS set four club and four personal-best records. Competing in the men’s 18-and-under division, his best result was a fourth in the 1,500-metre freestyle at 15:23.19.


Mimi Rahneva. Photo: IBSF

Ottawa’s Mirela Rahneva heads into the Christmas break as the No. 3 women’s skeleton slider on the World Cup circuit.

The three-stage North American tour ended in Lake Placid, New York, with Rahneva posting top-five start times, but finishing eighth overall in 1:51.69. Germany’s Tina Hermann won in 1:51.06.

Rahneva is ranked third overall in the World Cup standings, a position she held at the end of the 2017 season. This season, she won the race in Park City, Utah, and was seventh at Whistler, B.C.

Ottawa’s Pat Norton made his World Cup debut as a bobsleigh driver and placed 11th in the four-man race with William Ashley, Sean Fraser and David Caixeiro and 13th in the two-man with Kenney-Luketa M’Pindou.

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

Martin can be reached by e-mail at and on Twitter @martincleary.

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