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Olympics2012Canada's female wrestlers continue medal tradition

Posted: Thursday, August 9, 2012 | 10:00 PM

Categories: Olympics2012

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Canadian wrestler Tonya Verbeek proudly shows off the silver medal she earned Thursday in the women's 55-kilogram division. Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press Canadian wrestler Tonya Verbeek proudly shows off the silver medal she earned Thursday in the women's 55-kilogram division. Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press

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Canadian women wrestlers initially appeared at the 2004 Games in Athens and Canadians have been at the forefront ever since.
She was the only contender who emerged from the 48-kilogram wrestling class without a black eye. Then again, Carol Huynh might have inflicted those nasty looking shiners on her opponents somewhere along the way.

"I don't know why I haven't got one," the newly minted bronze medalist chuckled.  "Just lucky I guess."

That's hardly the case.

Behind the beaming smile Carol Huynh has the heart of a lion and a killer's instinct. She won gold in the same category in Beijing four years ago and she's the leader of a group of female wrestlers from this country who can always be counted on in Olympic competition.

Women wrestlers initially appeared at the 2004 Games in Athens and Canadians have been at the forefront ever since. Although the pioneering and many-time world champion Christine Nordhagen wasn't able to capture that historic first medal for Canada in Greece, Tonya Verbeek, of Beamsville, Ont., was.

It was sweet silver in the 55 kg or lightweight division.

Silent assassin

Verbeek is anything but a lightweight.

She's still at it as a 34-year-old and at these Games in London she produced a medal at her third consecutive Olympics. The silver here goes along with that silver in Athens and bronze in Beijing. Verbeek is the silent assassin of the mat who just keeps on going.

She scrapped mightily in the gold medal final against Japan's Saori Yoshida who, as it turned out, won her third consecutive Olympic championship. Still, Verbeek managed a smile after it was done.

She had finally replaced her first silver medal which had been stolen while she was at a speaking engagement back home in Canada. The replacement provided by the Canadian Olympic Committee with the word "Duplicate" stamped on the back just didn't cut it.

"It's a different story every time," Verbeek said later. "Today I feel like I've won silver.  You have to be happy with what you're given."

Canadian women have excelled

Across the weight classes Canadian women have excelled over the years.  Laval, Que.'s middleweight Martine Dugrenier was fifth in Beijing and fought for a medal here in the UK, just narrowly losing to her Mongolian rival.

The day after her disappointment we found her happily wandering around the enormous Westfield shopping mall with family members. She'd lost her accreditation in the confusion after her match and was on her way to reclaim it from the Canadian mission office. Then she intended to beat it back to the wrestling venue to cheer on her teammates, Verbeek and the heavyweight Leah Callahan of Calgary.

"I'm absolutely proud," Dugrenier beamed. "It's just so tough to come so close twice."
Martine Dugrenier is not very tall in stature and her physique resembles a predator you might see somewhere in the wild. But she has this wickedly outrageous smile that makes you want to hug her.  She's such a contradiction in terms. The shy, polite person you meet in the street, Dugrenier is also a vicious competitor who hates to lose.

As a fan of sport you have to love that.

This is characteristic of Canadian women at these Olympics. They are ultra competitive and they make up the majority of the team in terms of numbers. Fifty six percent of the athletes wearing the Maple Leaf in London are female and at time of this writing they had won nine of Canada's 16 medals.

"It's great to see so many strong women as role models at the Games," Huynh said.
And then she flashed that huge smile again as if remembering a time when there weren't women wrestlers at the Olympics. She also reflected on her rival and a five -time world champion, Hitomi Obara of Japan, who had vanquished her and then wept openly on the victory podium.

"I saw myself four years ago and smiled," the 2008 gold medalist said. "I understand her joy."
It was a gentle thought coming from Carol Huynh, an emotional pause on the part of a tenacious competitor once hostilities on the field of play were over.

We've come to expect nothing less from Canada's savage beauties.

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