Beijing Brief: Lamaze Wins Gold, Heymans Scores Silver on Day 13

Horse Hickstead leapt over bar after bar and at the end of his last run, guided by Canadian Eric Lamaze, Canada had won its first-ever individual equestrian gold. Earlier, at the Water Cube, Emilie Heymans won silver in 10 m diving.

Canada’s 15 medals so far in 2008 surpasses its totals from Sydney in 2000 (14) and Athens in 2004 (12).

Just before midnight in Hong Kong, Lamaze (Schomberg, Ont.) had an Olympic gold medal jump-off with Sweden’s Ralf-Goran Bengtsson. He was already assured to have won his second medal of these Olympic Games, having won silver in team show jumping. Tonight, Lamaze stole the show and became Canada’s first individual equestrian athlete to be Olympic champion.

Overall, in the final three rounds, Lamaze and Hickstead were perfectly clean, striking no barriers. This is the second individual show jumping medal for Canada, the last a silver in 1976. Canada has been golden before, but it was a team jumping gold medal in 1968.

Heymans Wins Third Olympic Medal

A double medallist in synchronized diving, Emilie Heymans had kept searching for that elusive individual medal. In Athens in 2004 she finished fourth in 10 m, a scant seven points from the bronze medal. She has said she “rarely experienced as difficult a moment in competition.” In 2000, she finished fifth.

That all came to a close on Thursday night when the Greenfield Park, Que. diver won a silver medal in the women’s 10 m platform final. She now joins an elite company of athletes who have reached the podium at three consecutive Olympic Games.

“I knew during the event that I was in the race for a medal, but as I don’t understand Chinese, I could not understand the rankings of the announcer, and it was better not to understand because I could stay focused,” Heymans said. “I still don’t realize the effect of this medal.”

In fact, Heymans was close to the gold medal, with five spectacular dives for a total score of 437.05. But China’s Chen Ruolin had an essentially perfect dive in her last attempt to leap past Heymans with 447.70 points. Heymans’ medal is the 14th for Canada this summer. Not to be overlooked is Marie-Eve Marleau (Laval, Que.), who finished a very strong seventh in the 10 m final in her first Olympic appearance.

Tornado Over Water

Technically, a tornado can occur only over land, but science isn’t part of the equation in Qingdao, China, where Canada’s sailing athletes finished up on Day 13. In the Tornado catamaran class, speedsters Oskar Johansson (Burlington, Ont.) and Kevin Stittle (Orangeville, Ont.) had an incredible race in the medal final.

For the third straight race, the duo finished second but required some help to win a medal. Due to a cumulative points system, they needed an Argentine crew to finish ninth or worse. That crew was instead sixth, meaning Johansson and Stittle finished fourth, a very impressive result regardless.

“We went out there and knew we had to have a good race due to the points spread,” said Johansson. ”We achieved that. We raced well, but our final placing depended on circumstances beyond our control.”

It is Canada’s best Tornado result ever in an Olympic Games.

Wet Track No Problem for Canada

The Bird’s Nest, the centrepiece of the Beijing Games, was a wet place on Thursday. The rain came hard but that didn’t stop track action from continuing. And Gary Reed, of Kamloops, B.C., seemed just fine with it.

In the 800 metres, Reed raced in a time of 1:45.85 to finish second in his heat. He advanced to the Olympic final. Reed said he trains in rainy conditions all the time, in Victoria, and the conditions seemed to provide him with an advantage that other athletes from drier climates could not share.

The men’s 4×100 m relay team also raced in the rain with the fourth-fastest time. They advance to the final tomorrow. An amazing six other teams, including the United States, either dropped the baton or were disqualified from competition. That certainly helped Canada’s cause.

Relay members are Hank Palmer (Pierrefonds, Que.), Anson Henry (Pickering, Ont.), Jared Connaughton (New Haven, P.E.I.) and Pierre Browne (Toronto). They have made it clear the team is after a podium appearance.

Also in athletics action, Scott Russell of Windsor, Ont. competed in javelin. His throw of 80.42 m made him the leader of his group, and 6th overall. Despite the rain, he advanced to the final. At one point, Russell slipped and fell on the runway, which was towelled off constantly by Games officials.

In high jump, Nicole Forrester (Aurora, Ont.) cleared 1.89 m to finish 11th, not enough to reach the final. And Toronto’s Massimo Bertocchi competed in the decathlon. After five events, he sits in 18th position overall, with another five events tomorrow. Said Bertocchi: ”Most of my stronger events are in day two, so I’m looking forward to it.”

Seven C-K Crews in Finals

On Day 13, Canadian paddlers qualified for three more finals. That brings the total number of crews in the finals to seven. In the pelting rain, Adam van Koeverden (Oakville, Ont.) won his K-1,500 m semifinal in a time of 42.438 seconds. Canada’s 2008 flag bearer will aim to win his second consecutive gold medal in the event in the final. (He won in 2004).

“I was thinking this is the last one before a final,” said van Koeverden. “I’m feeling really good. I’m putting my best races together. I’m concentrating on having the best races possible and that’s all I can ask of myself.”

The men’s K-2 team of Andrew Willows (Gananoque, Ont.) and Richard Dober Jr. (Trois-Rivières, Que.) also won their semifinal in the 500 m race. They advance to the final. So too do the canoe tandem of Andrew Russell (Dartmouth, N.S.) and Gabriel Beauchesne-Sevigny (Trois-Rivières, Que.), who finished third in their C-2 500 m semifinal.

Said Willows: “We followed our race plan perfectly. Going into the finals, if you are less than perfect from the time you start the race then you won’t be on the podium. The podium is our goal and we know we need to be perfect.”

Said Russell: “We got off the line really well and connected right away for the first five or six strokes. That helped us get the travel speed that we needed. We knew it was going to be an absolute dog fight to the end. We just put our heads downs and raced to the line.”

A disappointed Mark Oldershaw of Burlington, Ont. just missed qualifying for the final in C-1 500 m. A close friend of van Koeverden, Oldershaw finished fourth in his semifinal, where only the top three advance. Also eliminated were Karen Furneaux of Waverley, N.S. – finishing 7th in the K-1 500 m semifinal – and the K-2 500 m team of Kristin Ann Gauthier (Ottawa) and Mylanie Barre (Lac-Beauport, Que.) who came in ninth in their semifinal.

Said Furneaux: “The race was really hard but I’m really happy with my performance. I had nothing left and that’s all I can ask of myself. The girls were a bit faster than me today but I can’t control that. I can only control how I race and I could not have done anything more.” Other Canadian boats to have reached the final are: van Koeverden in K-1 1,000 m, Thomas Hall in C-1 1,000 m, Russell and Beauchesne-Sevigny in C-2 1,000 m and the men’s K-4 1,000 m.

Elsewhere on Day 13:

Two of Lamaze’s teammates in show jumping, Ian Millar and Jill Henselwood, also competed in the individual final. Millar (Perth, Ont.) finished 23rd and Henselwood (Oxford Mills, Ont.) finished 11th in the A final.

Rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando (Toronto) got things going, finishing 17th in all-around qualification. Her better events, clubs and ribbon, are tomorrow. She said: “Coming out first was a definite disadvantage. The scores for the first gymnast are not usually very high, but I’m used to coming from behind and fighting.” Her goal is a top-15 finish.

Travis Cross tied his wrestling match with Turkey’s Serhat Balci in the 84 kg class. Though the score was 1-1, the wrestler who scores the final point wins by rule so Cross was eliminated. “It’s tough right now, I’m disappointed, I wish I could have it on my own terms,” he said. “I lost because of the last point rule, but that’s how the sport is.”

Cross was cheered on by 64 people from his home town of Port Alberni, B.C. “Being here was all about the journey and I’m proud of it. It made me a better wrestler, a better person.”

Also in wrestling, Montreal’s David Zilberman dropped his 96 kg match to Kurban Kurbanov of Uzbekistan 3-1, 1-0. “I’m disappointed, obviously,” said Zilberman. “It’s all very close matches here and I was hoping to make it further, but it’s a great learning experience.”

Belgium defeated Canada 3-0 in men’s field hockey, leaving the Canadians in 10th place overall. It is a bit of a disappointment for the team, whose goal was an 8th-place finish.

Joshua Riker-Fox of Delacour, Alta., competed in five events in modern pentathlon – shooting, fencing, swimming, riding and running. He is currently 24th going into the second day. “This is my first Olympic Games, and I am one of the younger athletes here, so I think I have a lot to look forward to,” he said. “Hopefully some things I learned here will help me over the years. I am just trying to take it in every moment and make the best of it.”

Heavy rains postponed the BMX cycling competition.