Tag Archives: London

Has it really been four years?

A quick glance at the calendar this morning and I saw July 23rd. Four years ago on this date, I was already fully entrenched in my London Olympic experience. I had finally figured out the Tube and how to get from our residence to Olympic Park. I also experienced Marks & Spencer for the first time since my childhood (There were a couple of Marks & Spencer stores in Calgary during the late 1980s and early 1990s). The delicious assortment of chocolate goodies and fresh cookies hadn’t changed.

London 2012 (from my iPhone)

London 2012 (from my iPhone)

Exploring London after work will always be some of my non-sports highlights of the trip, although sports always somehow did seem to creep into sight-seeing. One night while headed to the Tower Bridge with my friend from Germany, Felix, we noticed a throng of people circling a very, very tall man. I compare it to a scene from Hollywood, where the paparazzi is after the latest shot of the most popular celebrity. Instead, these were tourists, overwhelmed with excitement at being next to the giant. As Felix and I got closer to the mob, we recognized it was Chinese basketball phenom, Yao Ming. At 7′ 6″, he actually had to duck his head, while walking through the Tower Bridge, all the while trying to maneuver through the Beatles-like crowd that was following him.

More exploring took us to Covent Garden in Piccadilly Circus, which reminded me of New York’s Times Square with all the billboard advertisements and the buzz of the crowd. Another night, we headed over the Buckingham Palace. I remember being surprised at how quiet it was. Of course, there was plenty of security, but I figured there would be tourists around. Instead, it was just my friend Felix and I and a quick check of the timestamp on my camera says 10:42 p.m. I remember turning to him and saying, “I wonder what the Queen is doing right now?” as I pointed to Buckingham. Felix’s answer? “She’s probably on Facebook.”

Days at the broadcasting centre were entertaining. One mid-morning, as I walked to our newsroom, I looked over and noticed a familiar face: John McEnroe. The tennis legend was working for NBC as an analyst and I remember thinking to myself how unsuspecting he looked. He was carrying what looked like to be a homemade lunch in a plastic grocery bag and he was dressed in a tracksuit. A few hours later on that same day, a massive group had gathered outside out newsroom. Because our newsroom had glass walls, you could see everything that was going on around us. There was Prince Harry, looking over the facility and taking the tour. It surprised me at how normal it seemed because a year ago Prince William and his wife Catherine were in Calgary as part of their Royal Tour, and the fanfare that surrounded them was something like I’d never seen.

Screen Shot 2016-07-23 at 9.28.42 AMFor the past month or so, I’ve been working on a large women’s soccer project with members of the 2012 Canadian team that won bronze in London. They’ve shared some of their memories of the historic tournament with me and as a result, memories of my 30 days in the United Kingdom have come flooding back.

As I wait for the 2016 Olympics to begin, I smile and look back fondly on my time in London. Sports-wise, it changed my career and brought me down a different path I never really imagined. I also saw sights and sounds I had only dreamed of growing up. Whenever I hear “Good Life” by OneRepublic, I’m taken back to the summer of 2012:

Woke up in London yesterday
Found myself in the city near Piccadilly
Don’t really know how I got here
I got some pictures on my phone

New names and numbers that I don’t know
Address to places like Abbey Road
Day turns to night, night turns to whatever we want
We’re young enough to say

Oh this has gotta be the good life
This has gotta be the good life
This could really be a good life, good life

Say oh, got this feeling that you can’t fight
Like this city is on fire tonight
This could really be a good life
A good, good life

What an honour to have been there as a Canadian journalist.

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Filed under Olympics, Sandra

What 2012 in Canadian sports means to me

Canadian Olympic Committee logo

Canadian Olympic Committee logo

What a year. It’s almost hard to put into words how 2012 has impacted my view on sports and my feelings as a Canadian. I’ve never been more proud of my nationality. The performances, results and actions of our athletes personified everything it means to come from this country.

One of the first people I look at is Milos Raonic. He immigrated from Montenegro to Canada when he was a little boy. His parents came here so he could have a great childhood. They gave him every opportunity to thrive in tennis and when you look at all he accomplished this year, you can say his family and coaching staff did a wonderful job. Although he captured two ATP titles in 2012, I think he was most impressive at the US Open when he advanced to the fourth round. He was turning heads in New York and a lot of the mainstream media was noticing “the tall kid from Canada” with a blistering serve. Roger Federer was even quoted saying he sees Milos as a top ten player. He finishes the year ranked 13th in the world and coming up in February, he’ll once again be Canada’s main weapon when they host Spain in Davis Cup action.

When I think back this on year, another athlete that sticks out in my mind is sprinter Jared Connaughton. His humility and heartache at the Olympics was felt by all. After his 4X100 team was denied the bronze due to a lane violation, he apologized to us. He didn’t point fingers and he didn’t make excuses. Jared, you showed us class and grace. Thank you! We are all proud to have you representing Canada.

Switching over to the world of hockey, Steven Stamkos had a 2011-2012 campaign for the ages. His spectacular 60 goal season will be remembered for a very long time. He’s the 20th player in NHL history to hit that mark and it comes during an era where goals are hard to come by. Hopefully this work stoppage gets ironed out sooner than later, so we can see Steven on the ice again.

And saving the best for last, our very special Canadian women’s soccer team. As someone who has covered and followed this core of players for over a decade, I felt like a proud sister, beaming with pride when they stood on the podium with their bronze medals in London.

How fantastic is it to finally see Christine Sinclair getting the recognition she deserves? And how equally amazing is it to hear Christine always crediting her teammates for helping her along the way. What a leader. The beaming smile on her face as she carried the flag at the closing ceremony will be etched in our minds forever.

All of these girls and their families have given up a lot to play for our country. They are humble, kind and fantastic role models. The time is now to embrace them. My words don’t do this team any justice and if you ask me in person, I’ll talk your ear off about their journey over the last 10 years. One of my greatest wishes is that Canada continues to support women’s soccer with such fervor as the last six months. These ladies deserve it.

Thanks to everyone for an unforgettable 2012! I’m tremendously proud to be a broadcaster in this country, but more than anything, I’m so proud to be Canadian.

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Filed under Canada, Hockey, Olympics, Sandra, Soccer, Tennis

My “a-ha” moment, thanks to the Canadian Women’s National Team

Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian. Maybe it’s because I love soccer. Because I’m a broadcaster? I guess when I think about it now, it’s all of the above.

I’ve seen a lot of highs and lows in the world of sports, but I have never been so emotionally invested or impacted by a game or series of games as I was by the Canadian Women’s National Soccer Team at London 2012. You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. They turned me into a blubbery mess on more than one occasion.

Rewind to last summer. The team went winless in Germany at the 2011 Women’s World Cup. The results shocked many who thought the squad was ready to take the next step on the world stage.

Now fast forward to January 2012: A new coach and Olympic qualifications on their home turf. The team oozed with a sort of understated confidence. The long ball game they previously employed was gone. Instead, the midfield and forwards were working together with crisp passes and a sense of creativity I had never seen before with this squad.

It was also at this time the chemistry really started to show between forwards Christine Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi. If you listen to the broadcasts of those qualification games, all you hear is “Sinclair finds Tancredi. What a goal!” or “Tancredi with an amazing pass to Sinclair and it’s in the back of the net!” They trusted one another and had little trouble getting the ball to each other. Obviously, the connection was always there, but something was different in Vancouver. They had matured and the whole team had a sense of “we can do this.”

The win against Mexico that sealed their ticket to the Olympics proved they were going places, literally and figuratively. The loud, boisterous, Canadian fans knew it and soon the world would too. London was calling.

The Olympics were the culmination of years of hard work and for some, it marked more than a decade of international play. The 2002 U-19 Women’s World Cup featured a number of players we are seeing in their primes today. Not just Sinclair, but Erin McLeod, Brittany Timko, Candace Chapman, Melanie Booth and Carmelina Moscato. During that tournament, Sinclair potted 10 goals to win the Golden Boot. She also claimed the Golden Ball Award. McLeod was named to the tournament’s all-star team along with Chapman, Sinclair and Moscato. It was obvious the country had a strong generation of female footballers coming through the ranks.

As years went by, they evened out their squad with a number of key players. Tancredi, for example, reminds me of a typical power-forward in hockey. She has no fear. She’s willing to put her body on the line to benefit the team, while having the skill and finesse to leave the opposition confused as to what just hit them. The midfield? Solid. Sophie Schmidt, Desiree Scott, Diana Matheson, Kaylyn Kyle and Kelly Parker. Don’t forget about a one-two punch in net with veterans McLeod and Karina LeBlanc and a steady, dependable back line with the likes of Moscato, Emily Zurrer, Rhian Wilkinson, Lauren Sesselmann, Chelsea Stewart, Marie-Eve Nault and Robyn Gayle.

There’s no point rehashing what happened in the semi-final between Canada and USA. It’ll be debated for years to come. However, you cannot deny the kind of impact it had on Canadians. It made them care because they saw how much the girls care. Call it Canadian nature or whatever, but people who weren’t even soccer fans were talking about that match. Canadians from B.C. to Nova Scotia were finally understanding how special this team is and how the world’s best player is a soft-spoken, shy girl from Burnaby, who has been carrying the national team on her back for most of her life.

I’ll still never forget how I felt after that semi-final: gutted. It was like someone had ripped out my heart, threw it on the floor and then proceeded to do the Macarena all over it. The ride home on the media bus was one of complete silence. I sat on the top level of that double-decker in the front seat like a zombie. I closed my eyes, leaned my head back and thought about the last 10 years of women’s soccer in Canada and how far it had come. I thought about the dressing room at that very moment and how the veteran players must have been feeling. Years of blood, sweat and tears. The sacrifices made by their parents and other loved ones. You can’t deny the squad left absolutely everything they had on the pitch.

My phone was filling up with text messages and I was getting tweets like crazy that night. Everyone back home wanted to know the same thing: “Why?”. I had no answer for any of them. And that’s when it happened – the “a-ha moment” – a phrase now in the dictionary thanks to Oprah Winfrey. I said to myself, “this is what it is all about.” Sports bring people together. Broadcasters get out the message and that night, they united a country. This story brought together Canada.

As the girls prepared for the bronze medal match against France, I’m sure everyone wondered if they had anything left in the tank. As the half drew to a close, it was obvious the girls were physically and emotional drained. Truly though, can you blame them? The last 48 hours had probably been very surreal to each and every person on that team, from the players to the coaching staff. The reality is that many of these players are in the prime of their careers: Sinclair, Tancredi, McLeod, Moscato. All of them are 28-31 years old and they may want other things in life in the next few years. It must have dawned on them that the same team might not be together when Canada hosts the 2015 Women’s World Cup and that added to the raw emotional magnitude of everything.

Coventry Stadium itself was quiet that day. You could almost hear a pin drop expect for John Herdman: “Come on girls. Let’s move it up!” and most poignantly “Christine, I need to you to take it to another level.” At the 90 minute mark, the stats told the story: 25 shots for France. 3 for Canada. McLeod kept them in the game, despite a scary moment when she went down after punching out a ball. And how about Scott’s goal line save? I won’t forget the slow-motion replay of her keeping the ball out with her right leg and her exhale of relief afterward.

Herdman used up all of his subs and the girls just needed one break. They got it during injury time. When Matheson put that ball in, celebrated and kissed the Canadian crest on her jersey, all of Canada cried. I cried. They had done it. And how about the image of Sinclair on her knees, arms raised, looking to the sky with tears streaming down her face? That’s all you needed to see. Bronze around their necks. Gold in their hearts and in the hearts of all Canadians (The Vancouver Southsiders said it nicely….)

I looked at the people around me when Matheson scored. I was surrounded by international broadcasters with whom I had really connected with over four weeks in London during my freelance stint. They clapped and said “Congratulations Sandra. Congrats Canada.” I’ll never forget that moment for the rest of my life. It’s like every single Canadian was on the pitch with the girls at that very moment.

What an emotional rollercoaster. Forget the broadcasting though. I’ve been playing soccer for more than half of my life and yet it took what happened in London for me to truly appreciate my teammates. Yes, I now play for a division four women’s team and perhaps it’s not the nicest soccer to watch, but dammit, we are a family. You form a bond with these girls you probably don’t realize is there until it’s gone. That’s what this wonderful Canadian team taught me.

Thank you, girls. Thank you.

Sandra

COC Photo: Mike Ridewood – Olympic.ca

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August 20, 2012 · 3:00 am

Alexandre Despatie going to London.

Canadians from coast to coast gasped when they saw footage of Alexandre Despatie’s recent diving accident.

He suffered a major cut and concussion after hitting his head during June training in Spain. The incident sent him to surgery and there were serious doubts about him competing at the Summer Games. This week though, Despatie confirmed he is indeed going to London. He is now back in the pool training, but is still not practising the dives he’ll be using at the Games.

Alexandre Despatie – photo from olympic.ca

During his media availability late this week, Despatie simply said he’ll do his best facing this adversity as he leaves for training in Italy with his Canadian teammates in a few short days. The 27-year-old certainly knows a thing or two about adversity. During the Beijing Games in 2008, he won silver, despite a broken ankle that derailed much of his training that season.

Despatie will first compete in the men’s three-metre springboard synchro event with Reuben Ross on August 1st. He’s also slated to take part in the three-metre individual event on August 6th.

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July 7, 2012 · 4:13 pm

51 days. Alexandre Despatie looking for another Olympic medal.

Canada’s first ever men’s medal in diving came at the 2004 Games in Athens. Alexandre Despatie, then just 19, captured silver in the 3-metre springboard. At the 2008 Games in Beijing, he grabbed another silver in the same category. Can he three-peat?

He certainly has the experience to find himself on the podium again, while also being a mentor to some of Canada’s younger athletes. A few days shy of his 27th birthday, Despatie is one of Canada’s best chances for a medal in London. He’s qualified for three events: 3-metre springboard, 10-metre platform and synchronized 3-metre springboard with Reuben Ross.

Alexandre Despatie – olympic.ca

Although he missed almost a year of training because of a knee injury, adversity won’t de-rail the Montreal native from pushing himself for another Olympic top three finish. At Beijing in 2008, Despatie fought back from a broken ankle to secure a place on the podium.

The Canadian Olympic Committee’s assistant Chef de Mission, Sylvie Bernier, has a special place in her heart for this year’s Canadian Olympic Diving team. Bernier herself captured gold in the 3-metre springboard event at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. When the country’s nine athletes were announced in late May, she said she had a soft spot for the team and added that she couldn’t wait until they competed.

Despatie will be joined by three-time medalist Emilie Heymans. This will be the 30-year-old’s fourth Olympic appearance.

Meaghan Benfeito, Jennifer Abel, Roseline Filion, Francois Imbeau-Dulac, Riley McCormick, Eric Sehn and Reuben Ross round out the group of Canadians heading to London.

The first diving event, women’s synchronized 3-metre springboard, goes July 29th at the Athletics Centre. Diving events will run throughout the duration of the Olympics. The last event is slated for August 11th with the men’s 10-metre platform.

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June 5, 2012 · 9:12 pm

67 days. Tennis at Wimbledon, but not only for Wimbledon.

One of the world’s most popular sporting events happens every year in England: Wimbledon. However, this year is special.

The Olympic event of tennis will be featured on the grass at All England, right after the major tour event from June 25th to July 8th. That basically means much of July and August will be a tennis lover’s dream. Tennis at London 2012 will span from July 28th to August 5th.

172 competitors will be taking part. That’s an even keel of 86 men and 86 women from around the world, vying for a medal in the categories of men’s and women’s singles, mixed doubles, and men’s and women’s doubles. Each country can send 12 athletes in total, six of them being men and the other six women. That includes a maximum of four athletes in singles and two teams in doubles. Mixed doubles is back as an event for the first time since 1924.

Tennis at the Olympics is done in knockout format and all of the seedings are based on world rankings. Players on both the ATP and WTA have been improving their respective games this season for a chance at a better ranking and in turn, a greater chance to land on the podium.

Looking back at the 2008 Beijing results, it’s safe to say that repeats are possible. Spain’s Rafael Nadal captured the men’s gold, Elena Dementieva of Russia won the women’s gold, while the Swiss duo of Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka took the men’s doubles, and the US’ Williams sister won the women’s doubles.

On the other hand, there could be a change of the guard in London (no pun intended). Novak Djokovic of Serbia continues to wow the world on the men’s side and he’s the favorite to win gold. Federer has upped his game after whispers he was losing his touch after turning 30. Great Britain’s Andy Murray is going to be an obvious crowd favorite and you can never count out Nadal.

It’s tough to peg a true favorite on the women’s side. There will be a new winner because Dementieva retired in October 2010. Right now, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus leads the rankings, but the top 10 is constantly changing.

The first match goes July 28th.

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Filed under Olympics, Tennis

72 days. Where does Canada stand?

It’s hard to believe, but the 2012 Summer Olympic Games kick off in London in only 72 days. It feels like just yesterday we were watching Alexandre Bilodeau embracing his brother in Vancouver, after capturing Canada’s first ever gold medal on home soil.

The question on the minds of many Canadians is, “How will Canada fair in London?”.

In 2008, Canada tallied up 18 medals: three gold, nine silver and six bronze. That was good for 15th overall in Beijing. Frustation mounted after the first week, as Canadians were struggling to reach the podium. However, a strong second half pushed Canada to its second best ever finish at a non-boycotted Games.

The country’s best medal count came at the Los Angeles Games in 1984. Canada finished with an impressive 44 medals. That year, the USSR didn’t take part in the Olympics, while China sent a team for the first time since 1952.

Although Canada’s not well known internationally for its prowess in summer sports, the expectations are still going to be high. A number of high-profile athletes will be representing the red and white including footy dynamo Christine Sinclair (soccer), Brent Hayden (swimming), Ryan Cochrane (swimming) and three-time medalist Adam van Koeverden (kayak).

And remember the name Cam Levins (athletics). He’s going to turn some heads in London.

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May 16, 2012 · 4:21 pm