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Olympics2012The Games: Canada dives into Olympic record books

Posted: Sunday, July 29, 2012 | 10:07 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Emilie Heymans, bottom, and partner Jennifer Abel won Canada’s first medal at the London Olympics. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images) Emilie Heymans, bottom, and partner Jennifer Abel won Canada’s first medal at the London Olympics. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

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Clara Hughes gave it a gutsy effort, while Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel engineered a landmark performance for the nation's first medal at the London Olympics.

It was the right kind of day for Canada to make a little Olympic history.

Maybe it was going to be Clara Hughes the 39-year-old superstar in the cycling road race.

There was a very real chance Hughes might win the seventh Olympic medal of her illustrious two-sport career. It could have made her the most decorated Olympian in Canadian history.

Although she peddled with the leaders most of the way, Hughes lost touch with the breakaway group late in the grueling 140-kilometre race and dropped off the tempo, finishing well back.

She might have been conserving energy for the individual time trial on Day 5 with what promises to be another, possibly her last opportunity to surpass speed skater Cindy Klassen's total of six Olympic medals. Hughes has a history in the time trial, having won a bronze medal at her first Olympics in Atlanta in 1996.

You would never want to count her out.

Meantime at the Aquatics Centre a couple of divers were engineering a landmark performance of their own.

In the women's three-metre synchronized event, 20-year-old Jennifer Abel and her 30-year-old teammate Emilie Heymans just barely hung on to claim the bronze medal. They had won silver at the most recent world championships in Shanghai.

On a technical level this performance in London didn't come close to equalling what they did last summer. But symbolically it meant so much more. It was a first breakthrough for Canada at the Games and the relief that comes with knowing there would be no impending questions about a slow start for the entire team.

"People can focus on performance now without that pressure," said Marcel Aubut, the president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

"A medal makes it very real," added Chef de Mission Mark Tewksbury. "You can take the medal to the village and now the entire team can see it up close and actually touch it."

Heymans makes history

But the story is about more than a quick first medal and the absence of the seven-day drought that plagued Canadian athletes four years ago in Beijing.

This is about a historic day for Emilie Heymans.

With the medal, Heymans becomes the first female diver in the annals of the Games to hit the podium at four consecutive Olympics.

She won silver in Sydney in 2000 with her partner Anne Montminy in the 10m synchronized event. Four years later in Athens she claimed bronze in the same category with Blythe Hartley. Then in Beijing in 2008, Heymans, the former world platform champion, won a silver medal all on her own on the daunting tower.

"It's great and I hope that this medal will inspire all of the other athletes to do well over the next two weeks," Heymans said in deflecting the attention away from her record-setting performance. She also becomes the only Canadian summer Olympian to win medals at four straight Games.

Junior partner Abel looked on with great admiration.

"This medal means the world to me," Abel declared. "And to win it with Emilie makes it very special."

Sylvie Bernier is the assistant Chef de Mission in London. The former diver and Olympic gold medalist from the 1984 Los Angeles Games was the Canadian leader in Beijing. She endured the seven-day drought and had to answer all the questions.

Today she focused not on the kick-start effect this medal might have, but instead on the history-making athlete who helped win it.

"It's an incredible boost for the team yes," Bernier stressed. "But Emilie has won a medal at four straight Games and with three different partners. She has a quiet confidence and always believes she can do it.  She doesn't need to tell the whole world. Still, to be at the top for 16 years is very impressive."

It's all that and more.

Heymans and Abel made a little history together on the second day of London 2012.
Everybody in the Canadian camp is counting on the fact that this is just the beginning. 

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