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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Bronze age for Canada

Canucks march to podium 3 times

Posted: 08/1/2012 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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LONDON -- It was a bronze bonanza for Canada Tuesday at the London Games.

Divers Roseline Filion and Meaghan Benfeito kicked off the dramatic day in the 10-metre synchronized event. About 30 minutes later, Antoine Valois-Fortier won a surprise bronze in men's judo. Within the hour, weightlifter Christine Girard was also climbing the podium.

The three medals boosted Canada's total to four -- four more than the country had at this point in the 2008 Olympics. Canada sits 13th in the overall medal standings just behind Britain, which has two silver and two bronze.

"Our four medals have come in three different sports," chef de mission Mark Tewksbury said. "The broader we can go, the more exciting it gets."

Canadian officials said prior to the Games that they were hoping for a top-12 finish.

The medals came two days after divers Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel gave Canada its first of the Games with a third-place finish in the women's three-metre synchro.

"It was positive for us that they broke the ice and won Canada's first medal," said Filion, of Laval, Que. "We didn't have that pressure."

The pair were with Heymans and Abel after they gave Canada its first medal of the Games after their third-place finish in the women's three-metre synchro.

"Meaghan and I were looking at their medals and we told ourselves that we wanted one as well," Filion said. "That was great inspiration for us."

Filion and Benfeito, from Montreal, finished with a combined score of 337.62.

"We had to dive our hearts out. We were ready," said Filion. "We said there was nothing more we could have done."

China continued to dominate the diving competition with another gold, while Mexico took silver.

"They can make mistakes," said Benfeito of the Chinese. "We try to say we can win the gold. But they're amazing divers."

Valois-Fortier, a 22-year-old from Quebec City, defeated American Travis Stevens 1-0 in the bronze-medal bout of the men's 81-kilogram class.

"It feels amazing," he said. "I've sacrificed so much and all of the fights today were very hard. It was tough mentally but the whole team supported me and I managed to pull myself together."

It's Canada's first judo medal since Nicholas Gill won silver in 2000.

Valois-Fortier was 4-1 in his early matches. He defeated Elnur Mammadli of Azerbaijan, Euan Burton of Britain, Srdjan Mrvaljevic of Montenegro, lost to Russia's Ivan Nifontov, then beat Emmanuel Lucenti of Argentina in the repechage to reach the bronze medal match.

"It was a really tough draw," Valois-Fortier said. "I started with one of the favourites -- my first fight was with the world No. 3 (Mammadli) but I managed to pull it off."

Girard, of White Rock, B.C., became the first Canadian female weightlifter to win an Olympic medal, capturing bronze in the women's 63-kilogram division.

She called it the "best time of my life."

"I should say my wedding comes close, but this is completely different," said the 27-year-old who grew up in Rouyn-Noranda, Que.

After finishing fourth at the Beijing Games four years ago, Girard has faced several challenges, including injuries and coaching changes. She's had four coaches in the last five years.

"I thought I had missed the medal and finished fourth again," said Girard, who doesn't like to know her standings during the competition. "When my coaches said I had finished on the podium, I started to cry. I couldn't believe I had reached my goal. Right now, it's worth all the gold in the world."

Girard missed her third attempt at 135 kilograms in the clean and jerk, but she had already done enough to get the bronze. The rival she had to edge to get to the podium, Turkish weightlifter Sibel Simsek, lifted 235 kilograms after missing her last two tries to lift 133 kg in the clean and jerk.

"My last snatch, which was a bit forward, I really worked hard. But I let go and it hurt my shoulder," said Girard. "I was more nervous when I started the clean and jerk. Fortunately, I got to the care of Sam (Gibbs) and the Canadian team. It helped me get back on the right path."

The fourth daughter in a family of weightlifters, Girard was inspired by Maryse Turcotte, who competed for Canada at the 2000 and 2004 Summer Games. In addition to being the first Canadian woman to win a medal in weightlifting, Girard is only the third Canuck in both men's and women's to medal in the sport after Jacques Demers got a silver in 1984 and Gerald Gratton got a first silver in 1952.

Now, she's hoping other girls will look up to her.

"I am the first woman from Canada to win a weightlifting medal and I grew up wondering whether it was possible," she said. "Now I have proved it is possible. So I would say to any girl who wants to lift, it is possible."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 1, 2012 C3

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