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Canada captures Olympic gold in women's eight; soccer women advance to semis


It was a gold medal nearly 30 years in making, and it came in dominant fashion on Tokyo Bay.

Canada women's eight led from start to finish at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday, racing to its first gold medal in the event since the 1992 Barcelona Games.

It was a performance reminiscent of Canada's rowing glory days in the 1990s, when Kathleen Heddle and current chef de mission Marnie McBean headlined a dominant crew.

The crew saw the thunderclouds in the sky as a sign that Heddle, who died of cancer at the age of 55 earlier this year, was there in spirit. 

"It was just a reminder that Kathleen was with us — and we're the storm and we're going to bring it," Susanne Grainger said. "We had a moment as a boat to remember her and make sure we brought the amazing grace and grit she rowed with into our race."

Grainger, Lisa Roman, Kasia Gruchalla-Wesierski, Christine Roper, Andrea Proske, Madison Mailey, Sydney Payne, Avalon Wasteneys and coxswain Kristen Kit flew over the 2,000-metre distance, finishing with a time of five minutes 59.13 seconds.

New Zealand grabbed silver (6:00.04), while China took bronze (6:01.21).

The gold-medal performance came one day after Victoria's Caileigh Filmer and Hillary Janssens of Surrey, B.C., earned a bronze Thursday in the women's pair. 

Roman said the win is "huge" for Canada's rowers, who are coming off a disappointing performance five years ago in Rio, where the program secured only one medal.  

"We've worked so hard," she said. "I'm so grateful I got to be a part of this."

With three gold, three silver and five bronze medals, all won by women athletes, Canada was 11th in the medal standings, behind Germany and ahead of New Zealand. Canada was 12th when ranked by total medal count, between France and New Zealand.

China led the medal standings with 19 gold, two more than host Japan. The United States led all countries with 41 total medals, one more than China.

In women's soccer, Team Canada advanced to the semifinals after a gruelling win over Brazil that was determined by penalty kicks.

Vanessa Gilles had the decisive goal and goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé sealed the win with a diving two-handed save on Brazilian defender Rafaelle as Canada won 4-3 on penalty kicks. Jessie Fleming, Ashley Lawrence and Adriana Leon also scored for Canada.

The two teams held each other scoreless through regulation and extra time, despite close calls by both teams. 

Those included when Leon, a late substitute, charged down the right wing in the 105th minute, firing a bouncing shot toward the Brazilian goal that went just wide.

In another instance, Labbé kept Canada in the game in the 118th minute, punching away a header from Brazil's Erika to keep the game 0-0.

"That's what the Olympics are about, these tight games that bring out performances that make us really proud," Labbé said.

Canada will face the United States in Monday's semifinal. The U.S. overcame a Christine Sinclair hat trick to defeat Canada 4-3 in extra time in a thrilling semifinal at the 2012 London Games.

There were also near-misses for two of Canada's most celebrated Olympians on Friday. 

Swimmer Penny Oleksiak finished fourth in the women's 100-metre freestyle, an event she won in Rio, while two-time defending gold medallist Rosie MacLennan finished fourth in the women's trampoline.

MacLennan finished with a score of 55.460, less than three-tenths of a point short of Britain's Bryony Page for bronze. The 32-year-old revealed that she'd been fighting an ankle injury that had left her on crutches and wearing a walking boot only weeks before the Olympics. 

Xueying Zhu and Lingling Liu, both of China, took gold and silver, respectively.

Another swimming medal would have made six-time medallist Oleksiak Canada's most decorated Olympian of all-time.

Oleksiak tried, swimming her fastest time and eclipsing the Olympic record of 52.70 that she and American Simone Manuel set together in 2016 when they tied for gold.

But Australia's Emma McKeon lowered the record to 51.96 en route to Friday's victory, ahead of Siobhan Haughey of Hong Kong who touched in 52.27.

The 21-year-old from Toronto appeared philosophical about missing the record. 

"I have six Olympic medals. There's only three people in Canada that can say that," she said. The other two are speedskater Cindy Klassen and cyclist/speedskater Clara Hughes.

Oleksiak gets another chance at that historic medal in Sunday's medley relay, where she's expected to swim the final freestyle leg. If not, Oleksiak points out that she's still young — and there will be another Olympics in just three years. 

In track and field, Canada will have two runners in the men's 3,000-metre steeplechase final after solid runs in the heats by Matt Hughes and John Gay.

But there was heartbreak for Melissa Bishop-Nriagu as the world silver medallist and Canadian record-holder finished fourth in her heat of the women's 800 metres and didn't advance.

Canada's Moh Ahmed finished sixth in the men's 10,000 metres. Ahmed pushed the pace when he took the lead with 600 metres to go, but he couldn't hold on.

In other action, the men's volleyball team won their match against Venezuela, bringing their record to 2-2 and improving their chances at making the quarterfinals. 

Canadian divers Jennifer Abel and Pamela Ware qualified for the semifinals of the women's three-metre springboard event after finishing third and fourth, respectively, in Friday's preliminary round.

In sailing, Canada's Sarah Douglas qualified for the medal race in the women's laser radial classification. Douglas finished second in the 10th and final preliminary race to qualify fourth for Sunday's final.

But Canada's hopes of earning another medal in women's rugby sevens were dashed when the team finished third in Pool B and missed the quarterfinals. The Canadian squad won bronze in the sport's Olympic debut in 2016.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 30, 2021. 

The Canadian Press