Beijing Brief: Canadians Advance to Semis, Finals

Relative to the past four days, Day 12 was quiet for Canada with potential medals in several more sports on the horizon.

First to the diamond, where the women’s softball team played very hard but lost a medal round game to Australia, 5-3. The team finishes fourth while Australia and Japan play for a gold medal opportunity versus the United States. Lauren Bay Regula, of Trail, B.C., continued to prove she is one of the world’s best pitchers with a complete game and nine strikeouts. Alison Bradley of Pinkerton, Ont. produced Canada’s most timely hit, a two-run single in the third inning.

“I am proud of us, we played one of our best games of this tournament,” said first baseman Sheena Lawrick of Calgary. “I am really proud of Lauren. She pitched her guts out.”

Two Boats Move to Final in Canoe-Kayak

On the water, Thomas Hall of Montreal had a powerful race in the C-1 1,000 m semifinal. He paddled to a time of 3:58.82 and finished first in his race, heading into the final. He had the third-fastest time overall.

Also advancing to a final was the men’s K-4 1,000 m team. Brady Reardon of Burlington Ont., Ottawa’s Angus Mortimer, Chris Pellini of Port Credit, Ont., and Rhys Hill of Ottawa finished third in the K-4 1,000 semifinal to advance.

The women’s K-4 500 m boat had a bit more trouble in their semifinal, finishing fourth. Only the top three advanced to the final, which they missed by the narrowest of margins. The boat includes Emilie Fournel of Dorval, Que., Karen Furneaux of Waverley, N.S., Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny of Trois-Rivieres, Que., and Kristin Gauthier of Ottawa. The men’s K-2 boat, with Steve Jorens (Aurora, Ont.) and Ryan Cuthbert (Carleton Place, Ont.) finished fifth and could not advance.

In Aquatics Action

Medal threats from Quebec, Emilie Heymans (Greenfield Park) and Marie-Ève Marleau (Laval) took to the 10 m platform for preliminary diving on Wednesday. Heymans is a two-time Olympic medallist at the 10 m height, though in synchronized diving. She is looking good so far, finishing third and qualifying for the semifinal.

“I am happy to have produced five great dives,” Heymans said. “I’m going to keep the same approach for tomorrow and avoid distractions.”

Marleau, Heyman’s current synchro partner, is competing along with her in the individual 10 m. The first-time Olympian finished 17th and will also go on to the semifinal. “I was very nervous today, but now that the ice is broken, my nervousness will disappear,” she said. “Tomorrow, I have nothing to lose. And anyhow, I used up all my bad dives today!”

The men’s water polo team lost a close game to Italy by a score of 13-11. Their next and final match will be to determine seeding for 11th and 12th positions. Said player Kevin Mitchell of Maple Ridge, B.C.: “Our goal was to finish in the top eight, and while I am disappointed we didn’t reach it, it was a good experience. By the third game of the tournament, we knew that we could play against the best in the world.”

In the free routine final for synchronized swimming duet, Marie-Pierre Boudreau Gagnon and Isabelle Rampling finished in sixth place. Coach Denise Sauvé said it was a great final performance and that it demonstrated great progression for the duet.

“We are very happy with our swim today,” said Boudreau Gagon. “We were expecting Russia to perform at a very high level and swimming after them got us a bit more nervous. The cheer from the crowd after they walked off the pool was a bit destabilizing and made it a challenge for us to stay focused. We realize now that moving up in the rankings is very doable. The gap between us and the Americans was much smaller this time around.”

They helped set the stage for the team synchro event, for which Canada has a better chance to reach the podium.

All Eyes on Tornado in Sailing

The Canadian sailing athletes have been busy in China. The dynamic Canadian duo of Oskar Johansson and Kevin Stittle are aiming at a medal in the Tornado class. With a pair of second-place finishes on Wednesday, they sit in fifth place heading into the medal race. They are 13 points away from the bronze medal, a difficult but not insurmountable gap. The medal race has double point scoring and making up 13 points is possible for Johansson and Stittle.

The Tornado is the fastest boat at the Olympic Games. It measures 6.09 metres (20ft) long and can reach speeds of 30 knots. Johansson, of Burlington, Ont. and Stittle, of Orangeville, Ont., are coming off a silver medal at the 2008 World Championships.

Tough Time in Taekwondo, Wrestling

Ivett Gonda of Port Moody, B.C., finished fifth in taekwondo four years ago at the Athens Olympic Games. In 2008, in her first preliminary bout, Gonda lost to Sweden’s Hanna Zajc in the 49 kg class.

In wrestling, two Vancouver athletes dropped their opening matches. Matt Gentry lost 3-1 in the 74 kg division. Teammate Haislan Garcia also lost 3-1 in the 66 kg class.

Said Gentry: “I really want to thank everyone at the COC and my coaches, because they all did an awesome job, I was as prepared as I could have been. Obviously I’m disappointed with my match, I was hoping to go further in the tournament.”

New Cycling Event Underway

Wednesday marked the debut of BMX as an Olympic sport. On the dirt track was Samanatha Cools of Airdrie, Alta. and Scott Erwood of Surrey, B.C. Cools is a strong rider on the world circuit and one of the world’s most decorated BMX athletes. She most recently finished 5th at the 2008 World Championships.

In the first two seeding runs, Cools placed 12th and 13th. Erwood competed in three quarter-finals runs on Wednesday, finishing 5th, 7th and then 8th.

At the Bird’s Nest

Gary Reed, of Kamloops, B.C., is off and running in the 800 metres. He is a medal contender in Beijing. He finished third in his first-round race with a time of 1:46.02, advancing to the semifinal. But he was less than thrilled: “I made a lot of mental errors, let my guard down. I wanted to run my race and I didn’t. This is the Olympics, you can’t do that.”

Also in that race, Achraf Tadili of Laval, Que., finished sixth with a time of 1:48.87, not quite enough to advance to the semifinal. An injury in April hampered his training for these Games. In the 5,000 metres, Kevin Sullivan of Brantford, Ont. finished 11th with a time of 14:09.16.

Baseball Team Wraps Up

The men’s baseball team suffered another one-run loss in their final game of the 2008 Olympic Games. Canada came back to force extra innings – thanks in part to a home run by Stubby Clapp – but in the 12th inning Chinese Taipei broke the spell and won 6-5.

It was a deep and talented tournament, and the number of close games Canada played indicates they were able to compete with the best in the world. The players return to North America on Aug. 24 to return to their baseball clubs.