By Martin Cleary
For the second consecutive weekend, Ottawa athletes produced eye-popping results internationally and nationally.
On the heels of great performances last weekend by alpine skier Valerie Grénier, cross-country skiers Antoine Cyr and Katherine Stewart-Jones and skeleton slider Mirela Rahneva, another avalanche of elite athletes struck it rich this weekend and reached the medal podium.
Fourth-year University of Ottawa biology student Shilo Rousseau wasn’t sure how she would fare against her international competition at her first FISU World Winter University Games, but once she calmed her nerves she won Canada’s first medal – a gold – in women’s biathlon.
Former Gloucester Skating Club athlete Kaiya Ruiter missed the entire 2021-22 Olympic season, but rebounded from a gruesome leg injury to win the women’s senior singles silver medal in dramatic fashion at the Canadian figure skating championships in Oshawa, ON.
The world skeleton championships are only 10 days away and Ottawa’s Mirela Rahneva is showing she’s capable of challenging for her second career medal at the global gathering. Her fourth-place showing on the Altenberg, Germany, track has put her in third spot in the overall World Cup standings.
Ottawa rinks have earned three of the four berths to represent Ontario at the Canadian U18 boys and girls’ curling championships in Timmins. Katrina Frlan of the Huntley Curling Club and Emilie Padbury and Nicholas Rowe, both of the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club, won either the first or second final at provincials in Oshawa to qualify for nationals.
Here’s the breakdown on how these winter sport athletes enjoyed their weekend, some interesting OUA men’s and women’s basketball games and a few other notable tidbits.
GEE-GEES’ BIATHLETE TURNS NERVES INTO CONFIDENCE, GOLD MEDAL
In the moments before making her debut at the FISU World Winter University Games in Lake Placid, New York, biathlete Shilo Rousseau was having doubts about how everything would evolve.
“I was kind of nervous,” the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees nordic ski team member from Thessalon, ON., told U Sports. “I wasn’t sure how I would stack up against the competition. (As for) shooting, I had not done too many biathlon races this year. I just tried to calm the nerves and have a nice, solid race.”
She executed that “nice, solid race” plan perfectly and produced a golden result on Saturday, giving Canada its first medal at the most significant multi-sport festival for student-athletes (ages 18-25).
Once Rousseau started the women’s 12.5-kilometre short individual race, she attacked the 2.5-kilometre cross-country course five times and then quickly calmed her breathing for four stations of near perfect rifle target shooting. She was in her own zone and the doubt and nervousness were replaced by mounting confidence.
“The race clearly went really well,” added the athlete who trains with Chelsea Nordiq locally. “The course was nice and hard-packed. It was a lot nicer than what I was expecting given the (snowy Friday) conditions and that we were racing after the men.”
Rousseau felt honoured to win Team Canada’s first medal with her solid effort. It also was the first time Canada had won a medal at the Games in biathlon, which was introduced in 1989.
“After each shooting belt, I would hear my name called. After my second shooting, when I cleaned that, I felt really confident in my shooting and I knew it could be a good day and that I could make it happen.”
During her four visits to the shooting range, Rousseau was focused and on target, striking 18 of her 20 targets. She missed one of five targets in the opening prone position, but followed with no misses in her first standing round and her second prone session. She had one more miss in her final standing effort.
Rousseau, who was the University of Ottawa’s competitive club female athlete of the year in 2021-22, crashed to the snowy ground after her finish in 42 minutes, 52.9 seconds. She posted a comfortable victory over Poland’s Barbara Skrobiszewska, who was second in 43:41.3, and Czech Republic’s Tereza Jandova, the bronze medallist in 43:46.6.
Sheila Kealey, the Gee-Gees’ nordic coach who livestreamed Rousseau’s race, anticipated a top-10 result, but realized biathlon is much less predictable than cross-country skiing because of the shooting component.
“I was so excited,” Kealey wrote in an email interview, after watching Rousseau’s gold-medal showing. “I watched the FISU.TV coverage live along with my husband, who is a biology professor at uOttawa and has actually taught Shilo in the classroom. It was incredible to see such a strong performance.”
Kealey added Rousseau has had a good training season and only a few races in cross-country or biathlon because of her demanding school schedule.
“Shilo is progressing steadily as an athlete, thanks to being very dedicated and passionate about her sport, despite also being very focused on school and excelling in the classroom,” Kealey added.
Gee-Gees’ Zoe Pekos of Richmond Hill, ON., was 31st in 50:04.6 and Isabelle Caza of CEGEP de l’Outaouais and Chelsea, PQ., was 38th in 53:39.2.
In the men’s 15-kilometre short individual race, William Ng of the University of Ottawa had 10 missed shots and placed 35th in 56:25.1 out of 37 athletes.
On Monday, Rousseau and William Moineau of Quebec City combined to hit 18 of 20 targets, but finished ninth out of 12 teams in the single mixed relay.
In cross-country skiing at the World Winter University Games, Carleton University’s Bronwyn Williams and Katherine Mason qualified for the elimination races in the sprint free race, placing 18th and 27th respectively. But they missed advancing out of the quarter-final round as Williams was fourth and Mason finished sixth.
Aidan Kirkham of the University of Ottawa was 57th in the men’s sprint qualification and missed the quarterfinals.
Earlier, Mason and Alexander Maycock, the co-flagbearer for Canada at the Opening Ceremony, were 15th in the mixed team sprint classic.
Canada is undefeated in men’s hockey, after turning back Ukraine 6-1, Sweden 10-2 and Japan 8-2. Kanata’s Liam Hawel of St. Francis Xavier University is one of Canada’s top offensive players with two goals and five assists.
Assistant captain Austen Keating, who played five years with the Ottawa 67’s and now attends and plays for the University of New Brunswick, has three goals and two assists in three games.
Defenceman Jacob Paquette of Ottawa and Queen’s University has scored one goal, while goalkeeper Kai Edmonds of Ottawa and the Toronto Metropolitan University Bold played the first two games and earned an assist on the game-winning goal against Sweden.
After watching Canada’s opening 4-0 women’s hockey win over Slovakia from the stands, University of Ottawa’s Aurélie Dubuc of Trois-Rivières, PQ., played the third period of the 5-1 victory over Czech Republic, stopping all seven shots.
In alpine skiing, St. Lawrence University’s Aidan Marler of Carp, ON., was 27th in the combined super-G and 18th in the combined slalom on Monday as well as 23rd in the individual super-G.
University of Ottawa’s Alexandre Cadieux of Ottawa had seven men’s snowboard cross races and placed 16th out of 18 riders.
KAIYA RUITER SHOCKED BY SENIOR SILVER MEDAL AT NATIONALS
Former Ottawa athlete Kaiya Ruiter, who lives in Calgary and skates for Calalta Figure Skating Club, was the surprise winner of the women’s senior free skate final, which allowed her to jump four places and win the silver medal at the Canadian figure skating championships.
After placing sixth in the short program with a seasonal-best 59.54 points, Ruiter skated an outstanding and clean free program, which included seven triple jumps, for 129.82 points, a best-ever score.
Her personal-best point total of 189.36 points was second-best to defending champion Madeline Schizas of Oakville and the Milton Skating Club. Schizas is co-coached by Derek Schmidt, a former Gloucester Skating Club senior singles skater.
Ruiter’s performance was considered remarkable, given she missed the entire 2021-22 season plus a shot at the Beijing Olympics because of a terrible leg injury and subsequent recovery issues.
“I landed on my skate blade, and it went through and cut two of my calf muscles,” Ruiter, 16, told Canadian Press. “It was really rough, and then coming back from that … I had some scar tissue issues and nerve damage all throughout the summer.
“So, I only really started training again in September.”
On Sunday, Skate Canada named Ruiter to its team for the world junior figure skating championships Feb. 27 to March 5 in Calgary. She will be Canada’s only female singles skater on the 16-skater team.
Ruiter was overwhelmed with joy, after her free skating program and her silver-medal reward.
“Oh my gosh, it feels absolutely incredible,” she offered. “It was so unexpected and just to skate my best skate and win a medal on top of that … oh my gosh, I still can’t believe it.”
Nepean Skating Club’s Katherine Medland Spence gave two impressive skates to place seventh overall with 159.48 points. She was fifth in the free skate at 105.19 points and seventh in the short program at 54.29.
In the junior competition, a pair of Gloucester Skating Club members made their nationals singles debut in that category with identical sixth-place results.
David Shteyngart started well with a fourth in the men’s short program at 61.82 points, but was seventh in the free skate at 105.49 points. Reese Rose was a consistent sixth in both programs, scoring 52.23 points in her short program and 95.55 points in the free program.
MIRELA RAHNEVA SITS THIRD IN WORLD CUP SKELETON STANDINGS
Seeing the world championships on the horizon, Ottawa’s Mirela Rahneva placed fourth in the World Cup women’s skeleton competition in Altenberg, Germany.
She was timed in 1:57.61 for her two runs and was 1.38 seconds behind winner Tina Hermann of Germany, who posted the fastest times in both trips down the ice course.
Rahneva, who won her only world championship medal, a silver, in 2019 at Whistler, B.C., is third in the World Cup standings after five races with 955 points. Hermann leads at 1,028, while The Netherlands’ Bos Kimberley is second at 961.
THREE OTTAWA RINKS REACH CANADIAN U18 CURLING CHAMPIONSHIPS
Huntley Curling Club’s Katrina Frlan went undefeated in all six matches as her rink won the Ontario girls’ U18 curling championship in Oshawa and a berth to represent Ontario at the Canadian U18 championships Feb. 5-11 in Timmins, ON.
Frland, third Erika Wainwright, second Isabella McLean and lead Lauren Norman used the hammer to score one point in the eighth and final end to edge Ava Acres of Ottawa’s RCMP Curling Club 9-8 and win the A final for the provincial title.
In the B final, which determined the second Ontario rink for the national championships, Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club’s Emilie Padbury got past Acres 8-6 by scoring two in an extra end. The other members of the Padbury rink are third Kaitlyn Dumoulin, second Megan Zwolak and lead Sydney Anderson.
After going 2-2 in the preliminary round, Padbury posted a 3-1 playoff mark, including an opening tie-breaker win.
Ottawa Hunt’s Nicholas Rowe was the second national qualifier on the boys’ side, when his rink defeated Isaac Racz of Dundas Valley Golf and Curling Club 5-3 in the second final. Rowe, third Jonathan Biemans, second Tyler Biemans and lead Liam Rowe scored two in the seventh end, which prompted the teams to shake hands one end early.
CARLETON, OTTAWA SWEEP ALL EIGHT BASKETBALL GAMES
The University of Ottawa Gee-Gees’ women’s basketball team extended its perfect OUA East regular-season record to 13-0, after defeating Ontario Tech Ridgebacks 102-45 and Guelph Gryphons 69-60.
Masters’ student Brigitte Lefebvre-Okankwu was the Gee-Gees’ top scorer in each game, combining for a two-game total of 41 points and 23 rebounds. Natsuki Szczokin notched 15 points in each win.
Carleton Ravens maintained their hold on third place at 11-2, following convincing decisions over Ontario Tech, 74-50, and Guelph, 73-61.
Jacqueline Urban counted 16 points and eight rebounds, while Zerina Duvnjak had a double-double of 14 points and 12 rebounds against Ontario Tech. Kali Pocrnic scored 27 points to lead the Ravens over Guelph and Emma Kiesekamp chipped in 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Josh Inkumsah, Brock Newton and Cole Newton scored 15 points apiece as the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees turned back Ontario Tech 93-47. The Gee-Gees, the OUA East Division’s second-place team at 11-2, also beat Guelph 81-67.
Free throws saved the day for the Carleton University Ravens as they narrowly defeated the 1-10 Ontario Tech team 72-71 and Guelph 78-73.
Ontario Tech held the lead twice late in the game until Aiden Warnholtz, Marjok Okado and Wazir Latiff scored two free throws each in the final 75 seconds to bring the Ravens’ third-place record to 9-2. Okado finished with 19 points and Latiff contributed 15 points.
Guelph pulled within one point with 22 seconds remaining, but Grant Shephard and Connor Vreeken dropped a pair of free throws apiece to allow the Ravens to escape with their 10th win in 12 games. Vreeken scored 26 points, while Shephard’s double-double consisted of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST
· Trinity Lowthian of Ottawa Fencing used her calm determination to win three of her six women’s class B sabre bouts, including a decision over the world No. 6 from Poland, and finished 11th at a World Cup wheelchair fencing competition in Washington, D.C. In her opening foil competition, a nervous Lowthian won some points, but no matches.
· After going 3-1 in the qualification round, Rachel Homan lost 7-2 to Kerri Einarson in the quarterfinals of the Co-Op Canadian Open women’s curling championship in Camrose, AB. Homan defeated Einarson in her previous match 5-3 to qualify for the playoffs through the B event.
· Jared Schmidt of Dunrobin placed fifth in the second Europa Cup men’s ski cross race at St. Moritz, Switzerland, by winning the small final.
HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
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 “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.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.