As It Happens·Q&A

Retired soccer star Diana Matheson felt 'happiness and joy' watching her teammates win gold

Diana Matheson has played soccer at the Olympics before, but she says watching it from home is a lot harder.

Matheson, who scored 2 bronze medals with Team Canada, can't wait to celebrate with her former teammates

Julia Grosso of Canada celebrates with teammates after scoring the winning penalty in the shootout in the gold-medal match against Sweden at the 2021 Tokyo Games. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

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Diana Matheson has played soccer at the Olympics before, but she says watching it from home is a lot harder.

The retired Canadian soccer player was watching through gritted teeth on Friday as Canada's women's soccer team defeated Sweden for the gold

"The stress and the tension in the nerves was much, much worse on this side," Matheson, who scored the bronze medal-winning goal for Team Canada at the London 2012 Olympics, and took home another bronze in 2016 in Rio. "My mom has always told me that. And she is exactly right."

Matheson spoke to As It Happens guest host Katie Simspon about what it was like watching her friends and former teammates become world champions. Here is part of their conversation. 

When Julia Grosso sunk that ball in the back of the net, what was going on in your mind?

No coherent thoughts, that's for sure. Just like happiness and joy. And I was watching with my sister and my brother-in-law, and I was up off the couch yelling at the TV, I think like the rest of Canada.

You have a very unique perspective here. What's it like to watch this Olympic journey at these Games?

This one's just been a joy. I mean, there were so many doubts around these Olympics even happening, and then this team barely got to train together leading up to this, you know, until the last few months. And they're a group of players that's doing it for [team captain] Christine Sinclair. They're doing it for that older group of players that this might be their last Games. They're doing it for all the players that came before them. It's a pleasure to watch them. So it's been really special to watch.

You mentioned Christine Sinclair. And when you talk about this team, you have to talk about Christine Sinclair. You played together at three Olympic Games. What does this moment mean for her?

Everything. That woman deserves, I mean, all the awards in the world. She's literally the greatest goal scorer ever to play the world's most popular sport. She's underappreciated, really, on the world stage for most of her career. And I think she was already one of the best players in the world in history. But after this, I think no one can ignore that.

Can you tell us a little bit about what she's like as a leader?

[She's] always been the lead-by-doing-type leader. I mean, she's never been the rah-rah cheerleader. She speaks out when she needs to and she knows her words carry weight. But she just leads by example. And she walks the walk. And she's had the weight of this team and the country on her shoulder for a decade, and that's never ... made her any less humble or any less of a wonderful teammate and captain for Canada.

Canada midfielder Brittany Timko tackles midfieleder Diana Matheson in celebration after after Matheson scored the bronze medal-winning goal against France at the 2012 Summer Olympics. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

I know the time zones aren't necessarily in our favour, but have you had a chance to talk to any of your former teammates post win?

Yeah, I just had a quick FaceTime not too long ago. We had a great moment together briefly. I think they're there on some spotty internet and they're in between venues right now, so I hope to catch up later a bit more.

Even if it was very brief and just initial, you know, who did you talk to and what were they saying?

Sinc [Sinclair] was definitely there, I don't know, with six or seven other people. I mean, we were all just yelling and screaming. I wouldn't call it a conversation.

Fair enough. You had hoped originally to make it to Tokyo, but you had an ongoing foot injury that eventually led to you making the announcement that you were going to retire. I hate to ask this, but is it kind of hard to be watching here [rather] than being out there with the team?

I would have absolutely loved to get a gold medal around my neck. Like, who wouldn't? 

But, I mean, I'm 37 now. I played on that team for 18 years. I literally ran for Canada until my body couldn't do it anymore. I wasn't that close to getting on the team, unfortunately. My body ended up in a shape where it couldn't handle the loads of international soccer, and I knew I had given everything I could.

I'm quite happy to actually live in Toronto at home, be around my family year-round, which we don't get to do when we're competing, be with my partner year-round, spend time in Toronto in the summers.

I was as ready as I could be, I think, to move on to the next thing. So I think all that made it a bit easier to be watching from here and just enjoy what that team is doing. It's incredible.

And there's work to be done here, too, which makes it easier as well. Like, we've got stuff to do here for Canadian sport. We've got a women's professional league to build. That's what needs to start happening off the back of this. So that's lots for me to keep busy with, involved in soccer.

Canadian captain Christine Sinclair poses with her gold medal after defeating Sweden in the women's soccer final on Friday. (Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

After the win today, Christine Sinclair told CBC we have to get a professional league and teams in Canada. This is something you have spoken about publicly as well. Do you see that becoming a reality?

Yep, absolutely. And myself and a small group of people are already working on those questions. What is the best way to build it? I think the next little while we put those pieces together, we bring the right people in, and we start to answer those questions. 

I think, realistically, we could start playing professional soccer in Canada in 2023. And I think we can build a league of our own where you're going to see, you know, some of these national team players that you just got to know today … year-round.

And it's not just the players, it's the jobs for coaches, for referees, for business executives, for women and a diverse group of people in sport. We can build that in Canada. Women's sports is such an incredible product in Canada, and we don't have to keep exporting it.

When Christine Sinclair comes home and you have an opportunity to see her, what are you going to say to her? 

There's a crew there. There's Sinc. There's, you know, your Desiree Scott, your Erin McLeod, Sophie Schmidt, Alicia Chapman, staff. Like, we've been around a few blocks together and I think it'll just be probably a long hug, and just joy and smiles and laughter, and then definitely go out for some celebration drinks after that, probably. 

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Cornick. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.

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