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Olympic qualification puts Canadian women's hoops team on course for Victoria

Victoria aims to host Canada’s pre-Olympic camp
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Team Canada’s Nirra Fields tries to head up court against Japan’s Mai Yamamoto during the women’ basketball Olympic qualifying ­tournament in Sopron, Hungary, on Sunday. Japan won 86-82. ZSOMBOR TOTH, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Super Sunday meant something quite different for Nick Blasko.

“It was madness in the ­morning,” he said, referring to Canada’s narrow qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics in women’s basketball.

“I must have hit the refresh button on my computer 100 times following the ­scorelines,” added the COO of We the West and Friends of Victoria ­Basketball organizing committe.

The committee’s plans to host the Canadian team pre-Olympic camp in the capital in late June and early July, complete with pre-Paris exhibition games here, were hanging by the slenderest of threads and would have gone for naught.

Canada could have advanced to the Olympics with a victory over Japan on Sunday in its final qualifying game in Sopron, Hungary, or a Spain win over Hungary. The first didn’t happen as 2000 Tokyo Olympics silver-medallist Japan beat Canada 86-82 in a reprise of their 80-60 exhibition victory over the Canadians last June at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre. The Canadian hopes Sunday were then riding on Spain beating Hungary and it didn’t look good when the Hungarians rolled to a 22-point lead. But the Spanish came back to edge Hungary 73-72 to save Canada.

“It is a complete rollercoaster when your fate is in someone else’s hands,” Canadian forward Natalie Achonwa said in a statement.

“But it was so exciting when we got to celebrate the moment together knowing that our dreams and our goals survive another day and that we get to represent Canada in Paris 2024.”

Coming to Victoria to get ready for Paris will feel all the sweeter because it was such a close call to missing out on going to a fourth-consecutive Olympics for Canada after making the quarter-finals at both London 2012 and Rio 2016 and placing ninth at Tokyo 2020.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” added Achonwa, who helped lead Canada to fourth place in the 2022 FIBA world championship.

“We had an opportunity to control our destiny and we came up short. Thankfully, it still turned around in our favour and we’re still going to be in Paris and we will not take this chance lightly. We will prepare. We will work. We will once again dive into the commitment that it is to represent Canada. I am so thrilled to have the opportunity, once again, to wear the Canada jersey across my chest.”

Although details are not ­finalized, and the contract about weeks away from being officially signed, Friends of Victoria Basketball said it appears that definitely one, and likely two or even more, pre-Paris exhibition games could be held in ­Victoria. The crowd of 4,549 for the Canada-Japan game last year at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre was the largest ever to watch the Canadian women’s team in this country.

“We hope to break that record this summer,” said Blasko.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com