Canada's joy in women's soccer tempered by dejection in other Olympic team sports

The soaring joy on the women’s Olympic soccer pitch for Canada is tempered by the deflating lack of it on the hardwood.

Canada’s disastrous Tokyo Olympics basketball sojourn, which began with the failure of the men’s team to advance out of the qualifying tournament last month at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, continued with the failure of the world No. 4 Canadian women’s team to advance past the pool stage over the weekend in Tokyo.

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Canada has more NBA and WNBA players than any country outside the U.S. But you can’t just throw talented individuals onto a roster and call it a team.

“There were high expectations [for the Canadian women’s cagers] so this is hugely disappointing,” said University of Victoria Vikes women’s basketball team head coach Carrie Watts, a former Canadian national team player.

“It’s great to have all this Canadian talent in the WNBA and top European leagues, but you have to have that chemistry on the court against national teams that are together a lot more. It’s a tricky situation.”

The Canadian women have been able to get together more than the men, but it remains an issue that is not going away.

“That’s not going to change — the window in which you have the NBA and WNBA players for the Canadian national teams is not ever going to be extremely long,” said UVic Vikes men’s basketball head coach Craig Beaucamp, who has coached Canadian national teams in Under-17 and U-19.

Canada is just going to have to deal with it in both men’s and women’s in a basketball world that is advancing quickly as the sport continues its rapid growth across the planet. “It’s a testament to the level of basketball in the world now. The NBA and WNBA are international leagues,” said Beaucamp.

Meanwhile, the world No. 3 Langford-based Canadian women’s rugby sevens team was ranked even higher than the Canadian women’s basketball team at No. 4, but the former too failed to get out of the pool round.

The Langford-based Canadian men’s rugby sevens team made the quarter-finals and finished a credible eighth, about where it was predicted to place.

The women’s soccer advancement to the gold-medal game, and infielder Emma Entzminger of Victoria and her Canadian women’s softball teammates’ bronze medal in Tokyo, will relieve some of the angst felt by Canada in basketball and rugby.

When Canada plays Sweden for the women’s soccer final in Tokyo this week, it will mark the first time a Canadian team in the Summer Olympics has played in a gold-medal final since Victoria players Art and Chuck Chapman and Doug Peden lost to the U.S. in the 1936 Berlin basketball final played on an outdoor clay court that turned into a quagmire after overnight rains.

The Tokyo 2020 guaranteed women’s soccer gold or silver medal will be the sixth for Canada in team sports in the Summer Olympics since 1936.

There have been Island connections to four of those, beginning with Peden and the Chapman brothers with their basketball silvers from Berlin. There was a long drought until the bronzes by Canada in women’s soccer at London 2012, with Emily Zurrer of Crofton, and Rio 2016.

The now-beleaguered Langford-based women’s rugby team captured Olympic bronze at Rio 2016 in happier times and Entzminger and the softball squad bronze at Tokyo 2020.

There have been close fourth-place finishes in team sports. UVic basketball stars Gerald Kazanowski of Nanaimo, Greg Wiltjer of Sidney and the late Eli Pasquale lost narrowly in the bronze-medal game to Yugoslavia at Los Angeles 1984 and mercurial guard Billy Robinson of Chemainus carried Canada to the basketball bronze-medal game at Montreal 1976 before losing to the Soviet Union and settling for fourth place.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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