Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hundreds jam airport to salute Olympic hero

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She may stand all of 5-2 with her cleats on, but Desiree Scott -- Winnipeg's newest Olympic heroine -- sure knows how to work a crowd and light up a room.

And Monday night, that 'room' just so happened to be the arrivals level at James A. Richardson International Airport.

The 25-year-old member of Canada's bronze-medal winning Olympic women's soccer team returned home from London to an estimated crowd of 300 that had gathered for more than two hours at the airport, anxiously awaiting her delayed flight via Toronto to touch down.

That collection of faithful included roughly 30 family members, but consisted primarily of screaming young girls wearing their team soccer jerseys and carrying signs that said 'Welcome Home Desiree!', waving miniature Canadian flags and sporting red mittens made famous at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

And so when Scott finally stepped onto the escalator just after 8 p.m., she was greeted like sporting royalty as fans belted out O Canada before chanting her name over and over again.

"I'm a very emotional person and to come home and hear my name being screamed and this is the first thing I see... I'm holding back tears right now," Scott told a throng of media that had gathered at the end of a red carpet rolled out for her. "This is absolutely unreal. I love the support. It's amazing.

 

 

"My heart's still beating pretty fast. This is unbelievable. I honestly did not expect this at all and the turnout is phenomenal."

Scott and her teammates served up an inspiring performance in London, an effort that not only exemplified grit, character and perseverance, but captivated a country from their come-from-behind tie against Sweden to their crushing loss to the United States and, ultimately, a spectacular effort against France in the bronze-medal match. In that game it was Scott who saved a goal prior to Diana Matheson's game-winner in the dying seconds, a dramatic finish that gave Canada its first Summer Games medal in a traditional team sport since the 1936 Berlin Games, when the men's basketball team won silver.

Not surprisingly, Scott said that was her favourite moment of her first Olympic experience.

"After Diana Matheson scored in the bronze-medal game I ran up to the ref and I'm like, 'How much time is left?' She told me 10 seconds and to just hear that whistle blow, that had to be the moment, knowing I had hit that podium. To do something like that is absolutely amazing. I think we've inspired Canada."

Visual display screens flashed Scott's name throughout airport. Erik and Jenna Baker, who were waiting to board a flight to Las Vegas, decided to come over and see what all the commotion was.

"It's a big deal that she's from Winnipeg," said Erik. "Canada didn't have 110 medals but we still have a huge crowd here, it's nice to see."

Perhaps just as important as the inspiration is the legacy players like Scott will have on the women's game in this country. Girls in Winnipeg have an icon to look up to -- a girl from West Kildonan who played for the FC Northwest program and for the University of Manitoba and who has never forgotten her roots.

"I've always been so proud to come from Winnipeg and to represent... this is unreal," said Scott. "I love the role and I'm happy I can inspire young kids. This is just so awesome.

"I think this is huge (for women's soccer). It's an unbelievable feat and I think we've inspired young kids. Look at this turnout."

That inspiration really took hold during the London Games. Just one of many examples: The Valley Gardens Rockets nine-year-old girls' team watched all of Canada's games.

"And after the bronze-medal game, around 7:30 in the morning, we had kids out playing soccer wanting to be like Desiree," said Reid Kenyon, the Rockets' head coach who brought some of his team to the airport. "To me, that's just awesome.

"Our girls, all the girls who play soccer, now have somebody they can identify with and they've embraced it."

Added Walt McKee, who coached Scott on the Western Canada Games Team and at the University of Manitoba: "This is a great day for Manitoba and it's a great day for Desiree Scott. She deserves all the recognition she's getting. I feel so good about this situation.

"We've got other Olympians here, too, we just don't know them yet. I would like to think all the young girls here can now sit back and know that if they have a dream and they work hard enough, they can reach that dream."

Scott planned to head to her mother's home Monday night for a family party.

"She's coming home to cake, celebration, and food and people coming over, a party with family and friends," said her mother Charlene Gusberti.

It will give Scott the chance to reminisce and relive what, so far, is the highlight of her athletic career.

"To be at Wembley at that packed stadium and receive a medal around my neck... I still can't believe I've got this," said Scott, her face beaming. "I'm still in awe. I'm on Cloud 9 right now."

"I'm just so proud of her," said her brother, Christopher Hawkins, who was sporting a Canadian flag and a player card from Scott when she was a nine-year-old member of the Garden City Wolverings. "This is awesome. We've got a celebrity in the family. She saved the day (against France) and when she almost broke her leg (against the U.S.) I was in tears. I could see her pain. I still get emotional about it. But she toughed it out and went back in there.

"It's almost like she should be in a bronze statue."

-- With files from Kristy Hoffman

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2012 A3

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