Fri, September 20, 2013

Hero's homecoming for Ottawa-area Olympians

Police band, hundreds of fans greet athletes at airport

By AEDAN HELMER, QMI Agency


Olympian Conlin McCabe of Brockville, a member of the men's eight rowing team that captured silver in London, is greeted by fans at the Ottawa International Airport on Monday, Aug. 13. (AEDAN HELMER/QMI AGENCY)

OTTAWA - After riding an emotional rollercoaster of Olympic proportions in London, the broad smiles showed that one emotion reigned supreme as local athletes returned to a hero’s welcome at the Ottawa International Airport Monday.

“This is unreal,” said Brockville rower Conlin McCabe, 21, a silver medal dangling around his neck as he surveyed the scene at international arrivals, where the first eight local Olympians to arrive home were welcomed by the Ottawa Police Service pipe band, a throng of media and about 200 flag-waving fans.

“I wasn’t even expecting anything. Coming from Brockville, this never happens in our sport,” said McCabe. “Tons of people with flags, cameras, lights, bagpipes, it’s just amazing. To work so hard to get here and then get a reception like this means the world to me. What a way to come home after such a great Olympic experience.”

McCabe captured silver as a member of the men’s eight rowing team on Aug. 1, and had all the time in the world for fans Monday as he shook hands, signed autographs and posed for countless photos.

“You work so hard to win the medal, but what makes it special is the people you get to share it with. It’ll be nice to take it back and share it with anyone who wants to see it, tell them my story and hopefully it might inspire some people.”

McCabe became the first Brockville rower to capture a medal since Betty Craig won silver in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Fellow rowers Morgan Jarvis and Derek O’Farrell were also part of the homecoming, along with Orleans-born basketball star Courtnay Pilypaitis, table tennis competitors Pierre-Luc Hinse and Mo Zhang, and a pair of sprinters from the 4x100m relay team whose Olympic dream ended with a hotly-contested disqualification in Saturday’s final.

“I didn’t expect anything like this. I’m really thankful to the city of Ottawa to come out and support me like this,” said Gavin Smellie, who arrived home along with Ottawa Lions training partner Segun Makinde.

The relay team finished with the third-best time behind Jamiaca’s world record and the Americans’ silver medal finish, but was disqualified after it was ruled teammate Jared Connaughton stepped on his lane’s dividing line.

“Everybody was devastated, to go for that victory lap and then to see that DQ go up,” said Smellie. “It was a really heartbreaking moment, and we couldn’t do anything but be positive and go back and hope for the best in the future.

“At the end of the day we still ran top three in the world, and the time is still there regardless, nobody can remove that time. But at the same time the medal is not. We should have had that medal,” said Smellie.

“A lot of people had negative things to say about us, that we wouldn’t even make the finals. To go out there and prove that we’re with the best in the world, we proved a lot of people wrong and I’m very proud of this team.

“This welcome back home keeps us positive and we’ll go back and do it in the Worlds next year. We’re even more hungry and we know now we can compete with the U.S. and Jamaica, so we’re going for it.”

Teammate Segun Makinde, 21, a University of Ottawa student and fellow Ottawa Lions runner, said his first Olympic experience was an eye-opener.

“My coach (Glenroy Gilbert) said once you take a normal competition and add ‘Olympic’ in front, everything becomes bigger and more intense, and it’s true. I got so much support from the university, from the community, from my church, and from the Lions, getting us to nationals and getting us ready to compete. Without that, I wouldn’t be here. And it all culminates into this (homecoming).

“I’m looking to go in 2016 and be even better, we’re looking for redemption in Rio.”