BEIJING Canada’s medal drought at the Olympics was a fingertip away from coming to an end, a mere 0.09 seconds the difference between glory and agony for swimmer Mike Brown.
The building pressure on the Canadian team in Beijing was just that close to being lifted, but instead Day 6 of competition came and went without a trip to the podium at the Summer Games.
Brown’s near-miss Thursday was the latest in a recent run of disappointing performances that has fed a growing unease among fans back home.
The athletes in China are feeling it, too, prompting Michael Chambers, the Canadian Olympic Committee’s president, to try and soothe the pessimists.
“We’re not even halfway into the Games right now and we’re a second-half team, we’ve always been a second-half team,” said Chambers. “I’m not modifying any predictions now.”
The slow start at these Games is reminiscent of the 2004 Athens Olympics, when Canadians won just one medal in the first seven days before claiming 11 medals over the final nine days.
Five of the medals came on the final three days in Greece, so panicky fans need to step back from the ledge and take a few deep breaths.
Yes, things haven’t gone to plan. No, all is not lost.
“I would have loved the medal. The first medal for Canada would have been awesome to have,” said Brown, who clocked in two minutes 9.03 seconds. “I couldn’t pull it through but that doesn’t mean we won’t be having one soon.”
Until someone does break the ice, which might not happen until the weekend, the medal standings will continue to look real ugly. Countries ahead of Canada include Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Algeria, Togo and Armenia – not exactly a who’s who of international sporting powers.
Still, Brown’s close call was the highlight for Canada on a rainy Beijing day that washed away many of the day’s scheduled events.
Ari Taub of Calgary bore the fruit of 16 years of perseverance when the 37-year-old lawyer became Canada’s first Greco-Roman wrestler since the 1996 Games.
He was eliminated after losing his first bout 2-1, 4-1 to Mihaly Deak-Bardos of Hungary in the 120-kilogram category.
The women’s softball team scored the first run the mighty United States has allowed since 2004 but will have to wait until Friday to try and complete the upset win.
The teams will pick up the action with Canada up 1-0 through three innings.
And heavy rain also thwarted Canada’s lightweight women’s and men’s doubles and the lightweight men’s four, who will now race their semifinals Friday.
“We’re just rolling with it,” said Tracy Cameron of Shubenacadie, N.S., of the lightweight women’s double team. “We have talked about this scenario many times before and it has not phased us in the slightest.
“We are ready to go – same time, same channel, but (Friday).”
Elsewhere, the Canadian men’s baseball team was handed its first loss of the preliminary round by the defending Olympic champions.
Alfredo Despaigne’s two-run homer in the sixth inning was the difference as Cuba hung on for a 7-6 win over Canada at the Wukesong Baseball Field.
Brown’s performance at the Water Cube was Canada’s second fourth-place finish at the Games.
Adding salt to the wound for him was that his semifinal time of 2:08.84 from Wednesday would have been good enough to win a silver in the final. A Canadian swimmer hasn’t won an Olympic medal since the 2000 Games in Sydney.
“That’s about as frustrating as it gets,” said Brown. “Fourth place is probably the worst spot you can get at the Olympic Games. …
“We still have 10 days to go at the Olympics and there are going to be lots of medals coming from Canadian athletes.”
Two other Canadians failed to medal in swim finals on Friday.
Annamay Pierse of Edmonton finished sixth in women’s 200-metre breaststroke, despite breaking her own Canadian record with a time of 2:23.77. She had set the record a day earlier in the semifinals.
And in the last Olympic race of his career, Keith Beavers of Orangeville, Ont., finished seventh in the 200-metre individual medley in 1:59.43.
On Thursday, Calgary’s Erica Morningstar failed to move on in the women’s 100-metre freestyle, finishing seventh in her heat in 55.36.
Thursday evening’s preliminaries weren’t any kinder to Canadian swimmers, none of whom advanced past their respective heats.
Richard Hortness of Medicine Hat, Alta., placed 27th in the men’s 50 freestyle qualifying. Tanya Hunks of Brantford, Ont., was 23rd in qualifying for the women’s 800 freestyle. Joe Bartoch of London, Ont., and Adam Sioui of Trenton, Ont., were 34th and 39th, respectively, in the men’s 100 butterfly. Lindsay Seeman of Newmarket, Ont., was 30th in the women’s 200 backstroke.
Taub, meanwhile, reminded fans that sometimes just getting to the Olympics is as important as the result once there.
While the Greco-Roman wrestler didn’t stick around long, he says the experience after such a long wait didn’t disappoint.
“All the hard work and stuff that I’ve done over the last 23 years is what allowed me to get here,” he said. “This is really the show, this is where we get to have a good time.
“I got to stand on that mat.”
On Friday, Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops, B.C., qualified for the final in men’s shot put on the first day of track and field.
Pierre Browne of Toronto and Anson Henry of Pickering, Ont., got through to the quarter-finals of the men’s 100.
And Jessica Zelinka of London, Ont., got off to a strong start in the heptathlon, recording a personal best time of 12.97 in the 100-metre hurdles.
In other Canadian results Thursday:
-Adam Wong was 15th while fellow Calgarian Nathan Gafuik was 17th in all-around men’s gymnastics.
-Canada finished seventh in women’s team sabre. The Canadians lost to France in the quarter-finals 45-22, then lost to Poland 45-44 in the fifth-place match, but rebounded to defeat South Africa 45-16 to clinch seventh spot.
-In judo, Marylise Levesque of St-Pacome, Que., lost to Yang Xiuli of China in the quarter-final. Keith Morgan of Calgary lost to Daniel Barta of Romania in the round of 16.
-Ottawa trio Peng Zhang, Pradeeban Peter-Paul and Qiang Shen dropped to 0-3 in men’s team table tennis with 3-0 losses to Germany and Croatia.
-In team dressage, Canada’s team of Jacqueline Brooks of Edmonton, Leslie Reid of Langley, B.C., and Ashley Holzer of Toronto placed eighth.
Source: The Canadian Press