Diana Matheson has done a lot of waiting these past four years.
She has waited for a bigger role in the team to find her, waited for her knee to rehab from a serious injury, and most of all, waited for her chance to get back to the Olympics.
In 2008, awe struck by the magnitude of the Beijing Games, the five-foot Matheson, along with her teammates, stared up at the event in front of them, wide eyed with wonder. It isn't often that any soccer athlete in Canada has the opportunity to stand on the world's biggest stage and own the pride of wearing their country's colours.
With the entire spectacle of the event, coupled with the pressures that come from qualifying for the first time, Canada stumbled, to put it bluntly, finishing third in their group and fell face first into the juggernaut that is the American women's soccer team.
"The Olympics in 2008 was definitely a career highlight. We tell that to people a lot. It was the first time any of us had been to the Games and Beijing did an incredible job of putting a show together," Matheson told CBCSports.ca.
"This time around though, since the team has already had the experience that is the Olympics, we're not thinking about it in terms of going to the Games anymore. We're thinking about it in terms of were just going to another tournament and that has us focused - focused on a return."
Matheson won't say that they squandered an opportunity four years ago in Beijing but rather stresses how thankful she is to be here, heading to London, once again. For her, it was an opportunity that almost didn't happen.
Matheson suffered a serious knee injury in late 2011, one that crossed her off the list for Olympic qualifying. She was forced to watch as Canada proceeded to march through the qualifying tournament in Vancouver and was left to wonder if she was going to recover in time for London.
"It was the longest I've been out since I've been on the national team. I've actually been really lucky with that. Other girls have been out longer," Matheson said. "And yes, there was a period when I questioned if it would heal up in time. But, if I'm being honest, I was always planned that I was going to be here, it was just a matter of how many drugs I was going to have to be on - anti-inflammatories I mean."Fully healed
A fully healed and clearheaded Matheson is what Canada needs heading into these Games. A Princeton economics pedigree with a bulldog's spirit, her ability to close down the opponent's passing lanes while finding the gaps to run into on the opposing end is second to none on the Canadian squad.
And, as one of the smallest player's on the pitch, on a team that is slowly transitioning away from a solely physical style, she is finally settling into a role that suits her game.
"When I first made the team, it was definitely more direct, more physical than it is now," Matheson said. "It has slowly changed a little bit in my favour over the years. It's a lot more possession and a different style of play where I get to pick apart teams now. I had to do a lot of running and defensive work when I first joined the squad - whereas now I'm a little more free and able to play with the ball more."
Play she has. In a tune-up match against New Zealand, Matheson scored one of the best goals by a Canadian player in recent memory. Sprung in behind the Kiwi defence, Matheson calmly chipped her opponent's keeper from 25-yards out.
It wasn't just the sheer skill involved that was striking but the confidence, audacity even, to pull such a move. Team psychologist, Ceri Evans, an Oxford Rhodes scholar with a knack for treating stress, may have played a role in that burgeoning confidence.
"We've had some sports psychologists before but what Ceri (Evans) is doing is a totally different approach," Matheson said. "He's just very matter of fact. He approaches things in a scientific way. He says your brain will have stress, it will have fear, it will have doubt, you can't eliminate that but here are some tools on how to deal with it. You can wait for it to pass or deal with it directly."
Matheson and her teammates won't have to wait much longer for redemption, a return to the Olympics and putting those stress skills to the test. Canada's first game is July 25. They'll take on Japan - the FIFA World Cup champions.
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