Olympic Champions of a Different Kind

Posted: August 11, 2012 by centennialsports in Uncategorized

by Dane Belbeck

Every four years the Summer Olympics come around…flags are waved, National anthems are sung, and terms like ‘snatch’ and ‘clean and jerk’ can pass as acceptable commentary.

The Chinese and American athletes dominate, people who’s experience with swords involve being a pirate on Halloween are heard debating Canada’s medal chances in Fencing, and my mom develops a three-week crush on Brian Williams.

The eyes of the world focused on London for the 2012 Summer Olympics from July 27-August 12 and as usual there were many memorable moments from this celebration of sport. Unlike the Winter Olympics where our beloved Canada is considered a world power, the Canadian Olympic Committee set a top-12 medal finish as it’s lofty goal. While many would argue the Olympics are all about the medals, the two significant Canadian moments from London feature losses not wins.

Milos Raonic entered the London Olympics as the 24th-ranked tennis player in the world and was a long-shot at best to medal in the Men’s Singles competition. While his Olympics would only last two matches, the impact he left on the tournament will be felt for a long time. The first two sets of Raonic’s second-round match with Jo-Wilfred Tsonga of France went over without incident, run-of-the-mill 6-3 set wins for each player. It’s the third set when the remarkable happened. Both Raonic and Tsonga feature two of the bigger serves on the ATP tour, and those weapons were in full display in the deciding set.

The slugfest went back and forth with each player holding serve until the set was tied 23-23 and approaching the three hour mark. The match was already the longest in Olympic history. Monitoring the live chat that was going on during this match it was amazing to see the Canadian support for Milos. Even though Tsonga would win the next two games to take the thriller 25-23…meaning of course we wouldn’t get to let loose with any more of these…

There was no doubt that Milos had quickly become a Canadian Olympic legend. He may have been ousted in this particular Olympics, but at age 21, Milos’ star looks to be burning bright for Rio 2016.

The other memorable event from this Olympics was a mix of agony and triumph. The Canadian women’s soccer team captured the bronze medal with a dramatic 92nd minute winning goal from Diane Matheson to beat the French team. It was an extremely emotional event for the Canadian team as they netted Canada their first Olympic medal in a traditional team sport since 1936. For the seventh-ranked Canadians it was a massive result, but it’s the semi-final three days prior to the bronze medal game that Canadians will remember forever. Canada went into the match at historic Old Trafford versus the United States as severe underdogs. The USA was 43-3-5 versus Canada all-time and few people gave them a chance versus the powerful Americans. Canada had the ultimate equalizer though, Christine Margaret Sinclair.

Sinclair is arguably the greatest women’s soccer player in the world, and after her performance versus the USA, that argument is settled. Sinclair scored a hat-trick, all three goals of immense quality, to give the Canadians a 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 lead in the match. The back-and-forth affair would reach a boiling point in the 78th minute. Referee Christine Pedersen had called a poor game up to this point, but her call of time-wasting on Canadian goaltender Erin McLeod reeked of corruption. A call seen maybe once every twenty years was brought out with 12 minutes remaining in one of the biggest soccer games in Canadian history. Everyone involved was fully expecting this annoucement from the embattled referee…

An ensuing handball penalty called on Canada off the indirect free kick would see the Canadian bench, and an entire country collectively up in arms over the injustice that had occurred. Well the rest of the story is of course Abby Wambach cooly slotting home the penalty for the United States tying the game and following two 15-minute extra-time periods and an absurd 2:32 of stoppage time in the second extra-time period, Alex Morgan of the United States headed in the golden goal for the United States.

Milos and the Canadian Women’s Soccer team may not have won the gold medals at the London Games but they unified a nation during some of the most dramatic sporting events I’ve ever seen. Medals are great, but I’ll take these two stories over any medals won at the games.

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