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Andy Prest: Canadian women thrive at the oddest of Olympic Games

Let’s take a look back at some of the biggest stories of Tokyo 2020, brought to you in the summer of 2021
Rowing Canada - web
Canada's women's eights rowing team competes at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The team won gold in the powerhouse event, winning the Olympic title for the first time since 1992.

Is there an Olympic-sized hole left in your life right now?

As weird as the Olympic movement has become – and this year was weirder than ever with athletes competing in empty stadiums and putting medals around their own necks to keep COVID off the podium – it is near impossible for many people to resist getting caught up in the drama of the world’s biggest sporting event.

Let’s take a look back at some of the biggest stories of Tokyo 2020, brought to you in the summer of 2021, and see if these Games were worth the wait.

Golden boot

Soccer season on the Lower Mainland gets going again in a couple of weeks, and when I get back on the field I’d love to see a sea of kids clad in jerseys bearing the names Fleming, Labbé, Lawrence, Grosso, and, of course, Sinclair.

That gold medal win for the Canadian women’s soccer team should be placed alongside the likes of the Summit Series, Crosby’s golden goal in 2010, and the men’s 4x100-relay gold in 1996 on the shortlist of the greatest sporting victories in the history of the country.

The semifinal win over Team U.S.A. was like finally removing a deep sliver, and the gold-medal game was heart stopping and heart filling. Who believed we’d win it after we missed three straight penalties? The Canadian women believed, and they did it. Legends.

Wonder women

Speaking of awesome female athletes, the Canadian women killed it in Tokyo, starting with the swimmers and carrying right on through with medals in sports ranging from judo to softball to weightlifting and canoeing. Female athletes won Canada’s first 13 medals at the games, including an epic performance in rowing with the powerhouse women’s eights team – shout-out to Madison Mailey from Lions Bay! – claiming the gold medal in the sport’s marquee event.

You’d like to think that our women are putting up such great results because we as a country value equality and give female athletes better opportunities than they would get elsewhere, although our overall funding for Olympic athletes still seems much more Kraft Dinner than personal chefs. Whatever got our wonder women to this point, it’s heartening to think that performances like those in Tokyo will inspire the next generation of Canadian girls to dream big and turn their mettle into medals.

Surf’s down

Tokyo saw a few new sports enter the Olympic program, including surfing. If you missed it, you can basically get the gist of it by heading down to any beach and staring confusedly at the waves for half an hour. I started watching the men’s final, which was very light on surfing and very heavy on paddling. And long-distance camera shots of tiny surfers waiting for waves. And more paddling. And oops, that guy broke his board, guess he needs to go for a little jog to get a new one and then, you guessed it, more paddling!

I get it – that’s how surfing works.

But if you’re going to televise the whole thing, you should warn viewers that prolonged exposure to unedited surfing may cause severe naps.

Sk8 kids

Skateboarding also debuted in Tokyo, and those kids looked like they were having a blast.

You could tell they, like all Olympians, have been dreaming about winning Olympic gold since they were 10 years old. The difference is the skateboarders were 10 years old last year.

The skaters, many of them actually preteens, did bring some fun new energy to the Olympics with their cool camaraderie and constant hugging, cheering, celebrating and falling down.

I liked it. Hopefully the skaters will keep that same joy even as they get further entwined with the Olympic machinery, and go through puberty.

Fashionably late

The Canadian men finally showed up in Week 2 of the Games, and what they lacked in quantity they made up for with quality. Andre De Grasse’s three sprinting medals – gold in the 200-metre race and bronze in the 100 m and 4x100-m relay – cemented him as a Canadian Olympic legend. And then Damian Warner put in a performance for the ages in the decathlon, winning gold while setting a new Olympic record. Like the women’s soccer gold, Warner’s performance is another one that should live forever in the Canadian sporting pantheon.

• • •

There you have it – some of the biggest takeaways of the 2020 Games, conveniently held in 2021. Remember to follow all the great Canadian athletes competing at the Paralympic Games starting Aug. 24 in Tokyo. And you won’t have to wait long for the weird and wild world of Olympic competition to crank up again.

The Winter Games are less than six months away, coming to you live from Beijing, China! That will be ... something.

Andy Prest is the sports and features editor of the North Shore News. His lifestyle/humour column runs biweekly. [email protected]