Fri, September 20, 2013

Bronze looks like gold to Canadian women

By STEVE SIMMONS, QMI Agency


Canada's Christine Sinclair celebrates after defeating France to win the women's bronze medal soccer match in Coventry at the London 2012 Olympic Games. Thursday August 9, 2012. AL CHAREST/CALGARY SUN/QMI AGENCY


COVENTRY, ENGLAND - Christine Sinclair glanced up, saw two minutes left on the clock, and knew then they were going to win.

She knew they had been through the worst. The exhaustion. The frustration. The anger. The French dominance. “The girls were gassed,” said coach John Herdman. “We knew that.”

And then it happened.

One of those Canadian sporting moments that stop a country. A golden goal for a bronze medal win. And a new name to know, Diana Matheson of Oakville, Ont., scoring a soccer goal that elated a nation and gave Team Canada the kind of medal they had no business winning, in an Olympic tournament where opportunity for gold was stolen from them.

“Could you believe it?” Sinclair, the soccer great, was asked.

She gave a simple one-word answer: “No.”

In the blur after the heart-beating, flag-waving, heart-warming celebration, Diana Matheson was rather clear. “I have no idea what happened,” she said. She will know soon enough. The whole country will know. The replay will be shown over and over again. This wasn’t Paul Henderson and Team Canada 1972. This wasn’t Sidney Crosby and overtime in Vancouver. But it’s close and it’s important that something spectacular, something unlikely, something warming that brings the country together comes from these challenging Summer Olympics.

That something was Team Canada’s 1-0 win over France in the bronze medal match of the Olympic women’s tournament. Never mind that it’s soccer. Never mind the colour of the medal. At the right time, in the right place, this team became the right story. With so many stars emerging — Christine Sinclair on the field and off, John Herdman the charming and fascinating coach, little Matheson, making her way back from knee surgery, Erin McLeod, the goalkeeper.

There have been no pull-at-your-heart, gold-medal stories in these Games for Canada but there is this, a bronze medal that will never be forgotten.

The medal and the team and the story of the stunning late goal that will endure long after these Games are over.

A shot taken from Sophie Schmidt in the 91st minute of an otherwise one-sided match bounced off a French defender and right to Matheson. It was almost as though time stopped for that instant. She knew this much: The net was empty when the ball came to her. She wasn’t about to miss.

“She was celebrating before it went in,” said Sinclair.

“The ball was right there,” said Matheson. “The net was basically empty. The ball was in slow motion for a second.”

“And then the ref said, ‘There’s only 10 seconds left.’ It hit us then,” said Sinclair.

“We’d won a medal.”

It was the only Canadian shot on goal in 91 minutes, the only one needed. The French had directed 25 shots at the Canadian goal and the discrepancy in play was almost enough to make a Frenchman cry.

“You can ask me any questions,” said French coach, Bruno Bini. “I just use my eyes to cry right now.

“Without a doubt, the better side has lost.”

And that was so much a part of the story in this Olympic soccer tournament. The best didn’t always win. The likely seemed so unlikely. The bronze reminded me of an Annie Pelletier line from the ’96 Olympics. “Does it look like gold to you,” she said after winning bronze. “It looks like gold to me.”

It looked like gold to coach Herdman, who doesn’t get a medal but is so deserving of one. The coach who loves to speak and has this commdanding way about him explained it best at the end, the win for Canada, the reaction at home, the hope for Canadian soccer.

“If I was a parent in the front room with my kids, we’d be going nuts when the goal went in,” Herdman said. “The kids would be flying off the sofa, jumping around. Those are the moments, great moments, families have together. And I can see dads and moms out in the garden, with their daughters, kicking balls around. This group wanted to leave that legacy. It sounds corny but we said that coming into this. It was something about leaving a legacy.”

On the field, it was about celebration and vindication and just more celebration. Soccer players hugging soccer players. Canadian woman, waving to the crowd, draped in the flag, dancing their Olympic dance.

“Emotionally we were shattered,” said Matheson.

And then they weren’t.

“This feels like a dream. I don’t know what else to say.”

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve