Ottawa Olympians return with renewed regard for how hard it is to hit the podium

 

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Geneviève Lacasse. Photo: Dan Plouffe.

By Dan Plouffe
With Ottawa native and 2018 Olympic curling champion John Morris landing in Calgary (his long-time residence), there was no denying a tone of disappointment for the Ottawa Olympians returning home from the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Games on Feb. 26.

 

Many experienced injuries, equipment trouble and pure heartbreak as a number of legitimate podium hopes failed to materialize.

An exception was silver medallist Geneviève Lacasse, but when your sport is hockey in Canada, any colour but gold just doesn’t shine quite right.

“Obviously we wanted a gold medal and that’s what we went out there to do,” signals Lacasse, who couldn’t have come any closer to her second consecutive Olympic gold, her team falling in the final to USA in a shootout. “But I think in a couple weeks it’ll sink in that we’re still Olympic silver medallists and that’s a pretty big accomplishment.”

Unlike Sochi 2014 where she was the #3 goalie, Lacasse got to play in a big game in PyeongChang, lifting Canada to a 2-1 round-robin victory over the Americans with her 44-save performance.

“I’m just excited every time we play them. I love the adrenaline, I love playing against them – the best against the best,” highlights Lacasse, who notes it was tough when she didn’t get the call in the playoff round, but that she had to put that disappointment behind her quickly and support the team however she could.

“I know in my heart I did everything I could, so there’s no regrets at the end of the day,” adds the Limoges resident who trains in Ottawa at the Complete Hockey Development Centre in Stittsville and Carleton University’s high-performance centre during her off-season.

Bronze for hockey men

Playing alongside Ottawa-born Derek Roy and Ottawa resident/former Ottawa Senator Chris Kelly in the men’s hockey tournament, Ottawa native Eric O’Dell and Team Canada bounced back from a semi-final defeat to Germany to nab bronze ahead of the Czech Republic.

Aside from Morris, Olympic rookie Dustin Cook would have to own the biggest smile out of Ottawa’s Olympians when reflecting on his Games experience.

Ranked 18th in the world heading in, the 29-year-old placed 9th in the men’s super-G and came within .61 seconds of the podium.

“No medal, but I’m pretty proud of that performance,” Cook, who stayed overseas after the Olympics (for World Cup races), wrote on Instagram. “Happy to have put down my best skiing of the season (so far) on the biggest stage in the world! Definitely a positive first Olympic experience, and it was an honour to represent Canada over here!”

Target on Homan’s back hit

The defending world-champion Ottawa Curling Club rink of Lisa Weagle, Joanne Courtney, Emma Miskew and Rachel Homan came oh-so-close to flipped results in just about every match they lost, but in the end their 4-5 record left them a win away from the playoff round.

“On any given day, any team can win now, and I think that’s great for women’s curling,” reflects Weagle. “We would have loved to be on the podium, but we really tried before and after the competition to enjoy the experience and enjoy being there with each other.”

Tech limits doom sliders

If medals were awarded purely for the fastest start times, skeleton racer Mimi Rahneva would have a bronze medal and bobsledder Seyi Smith would be an Olympic champ.

Smith’s four-man bobsled crew recorded the best pushes in every heat, including a start record in the final run, but were only 6th-fastest overall once they got to the bottom.

Likewise, Rahneva had to settle for 12th place in the final standings, behind fellow Canadians Elisabeth Rathje and Jane Channell in 9th and 10th, and a pair of British athletes on the podium. The Olympic rookie says her team can’t be upset with how they performed.

“We don’t have a mechanic, we don’t have a sled program, we don’t have the financial support that others do,” Rahneva outlines. “Two of the medallists in the women’s race don’t medal at all on the World Cup circuit. The Brits have an incredible sled program,” she adds. “They have mechanics, they have analysts to measure the ice temperature at every corner – they showed up and they knew what to do right away, whereas Canada was scrambling to figure out what equipment to use.

“It was a different ballgame altogether.”

The 29-year-old clocked her quick starts despite missing the final pre-World Cup race to rest a persistent back/hip injury that made it hard for her to dress herself on some mornings.

Wild ride for speed skaters

Rahneva had company on the injured list with speed skater Vincent De Haître, a fellow Calgary-based athlete from Ottawa and a good friend. De Haître couldn’t walk for 3 days after landing a jump badly and bruising a bone in his heel while taking a photo in the athletes’ village.

“I could manage to stand on one leg in my skates, which makes it just enough to skate around, but it doesn’t make it good to skate fast,” says De Haître, who laboured to 21st- and 19th-place showings in his two races.

Last season’s #2-ranked skater in the men’s 1,000 m never contemplated withdrawing.

“Too many people supported me along the way,” explains the Gloucester Concordes product who was welcomed home by a great gang of family/friends and supporters from his old club. “It’s the Olympics. There’s a 1% chance everything works out. I couldn’t pass up that 1%.”

It was difficult to go 4 years virtually injury-free only to be hit by bad luck 4 days before his first Olympic race, but De Haître says he’s keeping a positive outlook.

“It was my second Olympics and I’ve got that much more experience under my belt,” underlines the 23-year-old who’s now planning to chase a 2020 Olympic berth in track cycling. “It didn’t go well now, but the sky’s still the limit.”

There appears to be no ceiling for fellow Concordes mate Isabelle Weidemann either. Though finishing a half-second from the podium in the women’s team pursuit was devastating, the 22-year-old showed big-time potential for the next Games with 4th-, 6th- and 7th-place finishes.

Winner of multiple World Cup medals earlier this season including a gold at the last stop before the Games, Ivanie Blondin certainly wanted an Olympic prize to match, but at age 27, finishing 4th, 5th and 6th does still offer big hopes for the next Games.

Blondin’s worst result came in her best event. Competing in the women’s mass start semi-finals, Blondin was leading the race when she stumbled on a rut on the inside track and went down alongside a Japanese skater, damaging her skate blade.

“So many things have to go right for the Olympics to be considered a success to someone who doesn’t watch the rest of the season,” De Haître reflects. “But we’re not defined by one performance. The purpose of the Olympics is to participate. It’s not just about winning, it’s about fighting all the way through and doing your best.”

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