The Olympics and Paralympics are over, but sports never sleeps
Taking a look at what went down and what's next after a whirlwind 8 months
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When the flame went out at the closing ceremony for the Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing yesterday, it marked the end of a whirlwind eight months that saw Canadian athletes compete in two Olympics and two Paralympics. They won a combined 96 medals in those four Games — including 25 at the Beijing Paras, which featured several memorable victories.
OK, so time to kick back and take it easy for a bit, right? Nope. Sport never stops — as illustrated by the flurry of activity yesterday involving everyone from Canadian Olympians to U.S. college basketball players to the greatest quarterback in the world. Here's a look at the biggest things that happened and what's next in those sports:
Football: Tom Brady un-retired
Something always felt a bit off about the greatest quarterback of all time — and one of the most competitive athletes ever — deciding to walk away with no fanfare while he was still healthy and still playing at an MVP level. The seven-time Super Bowl winner led the NFL in passing yards and passing TDs last season and nearly beat the eventual-champion Rams in the playoffs with an incredible comeback effort before inexplicably retiring on Feb. 1.
Forty days later, the world makes sense again. Brady announced on social media yesterday that he's returning to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for his 23rd NFL season. With Brady back in the fold, the Bucs are suddenly favoured to return to the Super Bowl next year. Meanwhile, their rivals are scrambling to keep up as the NFL's free-agent negotiating window opened today.
Curling: Brad Gushue won his fourth (and weirdest) Brier title
After trusty teammate Mark Nichols tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, Gushue's hopes for a record-tying fourth Canadian men's curling title appeared to be dashed. Playing as a three-man team, Gushue, Brett Gallant and Geoff Walker promptly suffered their first loss of the tournament, to defending champion Brendan Bottcher's Team Canada, to fall into the 3 vs. 4 Page Playoff game. But the b'ys from St John's then rattled off three straight short-handed wins, including victories over Bottcher in the semifinal and four-time Brier champ Kevin Koe's rink in last night's final, to pull off an improbable championship.
Gushue's fourth Brier title in six years puts him into a tie with Koe, Kevin Martin, Randy Ferbey and Ernie Richardson for the most ever as a skip. Though Gushue fell short in his bid for a second Olympic gold medal last month in Beijing, where he took bronze, he'll now go for his second world championship April 2-10 in Las Vegas. In the meantime, back-to-back-to-back Scotties winner Kerri Einarson tries for her first world title when the women's world championship opens this Saturday in Prince George, B.C.
Speed skating: Laurent Dubreuil captured his first World Cup title
The Canadian finished second and fourth in the two men's 500m races at the World Cup Final in the Netherlands over the weekend to hold onto his lead in the standings and secure the season-long crown. Dubreuil missed the podium in only two of his 500m races this season — first at the Olympics, where he placed a disappointing fourth before rebounding for a silver in the 1,000m, and then in the World Cup closer on Sunday, where he was fourth again. But that was more than enough to hold off Japan's Tatsuya Shinhama, who won both races at the Final, for the World Cup title. It was a terrific conclusion to a season that could have ended on a low note after Dubreuil tested positive for COVID-19 the previous weekend, forcing him out of the sprint world championships when he was leading at the halfway point of the competition.
Though the long track speed skating season is now done, the short track world championships are coming up April 8-10 in Montreal. That will be the farewell event for Canadian legend Charles Hamelin, who won a relay gold in his final Olympic race in Beijing.
Basketball: The top March Madness teams feature key Canadians
Gonzaga and Arizona head into the NCAA men's basketball tournament at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in both the overall rankings and in the betting markets. They were placed in opposite halves of the bracket yesterday, so they could meet in the championship game. If that happens, it'll be partly due to the play of an important Canadian on each team.
Gonzaga senior point guard Andrew Nembhard, from Aurora, Ont., led college basketball's No. 1 team in minutes, assists and steals per game. After losing to Baylor in last year's title game, the Bulldogs (26-3) have looked hell-bent on finishing the job, spending much of the season atop the rankings.
Arizona's leading scorer is Bennedict Mathurin, a 6-foot-6 sophomore guard from Montreal who averaged 17.4 points and 2.6 assists this season. Mathruin was named the Pac-12 conference's player of the year after helping the surprising Wildcats, who were unranked before the season, to a 31-3 record that earned them the No. 1 seed in the South region of the bracket. After some play-in games on Tuesday and Wednesday, the 64-team men's tournament tips off Thursday.
Canadians also figure prominently on some of the top teams in the women's March Madness tournament. South Carolina has spent the entire season ranked No. 1 with the help of junior forward Laeticia Amihere, from Mississauga, Ont., who averaged seven points, four rebounds and a block per game. Perennial powerhouse UConn, which is seeded No. 2 in its region but looks more dangerous than that with star guard Paige Bueckers back from injury, also features a reliable Canadian. Sophomore forward Aaliyah Edwards, from Kingston, Ont., is averaging about eight points and five rebounds.
A Canadian put himself in the mix at golf's much-delayed "fifth major." The lucrative Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass is known for the Florida course's iconic island green, but this year it was more than the tee shots on 17 that got wet. Heavy rain washed out much of the opening rounds on Thursday and Friday, and brutal winds made conditions only slightly less miserable after that. The hope is to complete the final round this evening. Canadian Adam Hadwin put himself in the hunt for the record $3.6-million US winner's cheque with a blistering 5-under round today to finish at 7-under for the tournament. That placed him within sight of the leaders, who still had several holes to play at our publish time but were unlikely to fall back to Hadwin. Canadian Taylor Pendrith also earned himself a good payday, finishing at 6-under for the tournament. See an updated leaderboard here.
Two Canadian singles players are left in tennis' "fifth major." Leylah Fernandez and Denis Shapovalov both enjoyed a first-round bye before winning their opening matches to advance to the third round of the prestigious Indian Wells event in California. The 13th-seeded Shapovalov was set to play No. 19 Reilly Opelka of the United States in the men's tournament later this afternoon. Fernandez, seeded 18th in the women's event, will face unseeded American Shelby Rogers sometime after 11 p.m. ET tonight. The highest-ranked Canada, men's No. 9 Felix Auger-Aliassime, lost his opening match yesterday to unseeded Botic van De Zandschulp.
She did it again. Marie-Philip Poulin's knack for scoring game-winning goals against the United States is beyond creepy at this point. Over the last dozen years, the Canadian women's hockey captain has: scored both goals in a 2-0 win in the Olympic gold-medal game in 2010, potted the late tying goal and the overtime winner in the classic 2014 Olympic final, netted the OT winner in last summer's world-championship final, and scored the last two Canadian goals in a 3-2 win in the gold-medal game at the Beijing Olympics last month. Poulin has also buried Canada's archivals multiple times in exhibition games — the latest coming Saturday in Pittsburgh, where she scored in OT to give the Canadians a 3-2 win in their first meeting since the Olympics. Read more about Poulin's latest OT magic trick and watch highlights here.
You're up to speed. Talk to you tomorrow.