Thursday, October 21, 2021

‘It’s going to flood the ground,’ girls forecast after @HelenWalsh’s gold

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POCOKY SPRING, N.S. — Now that Helen Richardson-Walsh has her gold medal and 30,000 Twitter followers, what’s next?

Bibby Kolodziej, Team Canada’s women’s sprint star, thinks a gold rush awaits the Great White North’s top-ranking women’s athletes.

“Canada’s going to be getting slammed with medals here,” she said on the University of New Brunswick campus on Wednesday as she held up Richardson-Walsh’s medal, hanging above her.

“I think we’re going to flood the ground and the whole country is going to be eating up medals. I love how humble Helen is.”

Over the next three weeks, runners, rowers, swimmers, gymnasts and many other Canadian athletes will be treading the host nations’ alpine, track and field courses as they aim to win three-quarters of all available medals at the Winter Olympics.

But Richardson-Walsh’s triumph in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Sunday was just one part of a remarkable story. For the third straight Olympics, Canada had the best Winter Olympics at a sliding centre in which it is the team’s sole representative. That also included Sidney Crosby’s Stanley Cup-winning goal in 2010 and Carey Price’s stunning save against the United States in the women’s overtime on Sunday.

“It’s the biggest gold ever for us,” Kolodziej said. “The way they celebrated on our side, what Canada has been able to do in sliding, it just makes Canada so proud.

“For any athlete in Canada, that’s what we strive for.”

It’s an inspiration to the rest of the sports-mad country.

“It’s important to see that we are so respected in international sports because we have a great culture,” said Kolodziej, a 24-year-old who will be competing in the 5,000 metres and the 1,500. “We know what we are capable of.”

Kolodziej spent the early part of the Games sharing a spacious dorm room with Richardson-Walsh. The women liked to exchange stories, and tried to encourage the rest of the athletes to overcome their troubles with stress, boredom and the horrors of the dorm room bathroom, with a warm lube and blocks of ice to melt lip balm.

Richardson-Walsh was a sympathetic friend who also turned into a confidante.

“Even if it was a nightmare, it was her nightmare and she’d have a little pipe dream that it would all work out and she’d get out there and do her job,” Kolodziej said. “That’s where she was — she was like, ‘Be patient, be patient.’ That was her mindset.”

Her is a mindset that Kulvan was able to emulate. A physiotherapist and disability sports specialist from Port Dover, Ont., Kulvan helped train Richardson-Walsh for her first Winter Olympics.

“Helen’s a great athlete and she showed this in Sochi, and now in Korea as well, in a world-class field,” said Kulvan, who will be competing in the 1,500m, 1,000m and 3,000m on Thursday. “Her goal was to get into the finals and go for gold, and she did that.”

That meant she also did it with the “Good Game Team” — there was also a spot for Nicki Jackson, Shelley-Ann Brown, Mark Oldershaw, Lindsay Jennerich, Justin Kripps, Tucker West, Caroline Ouellette, Lisa Olding, Lauren Woolstencroft, Kali Christ, Jen Kish, Erin Mielzynski, Lauren Boyle, Jessica Zelinka, Stefanie Lawton, Charlotte Payne, Erin Weir, Val Sweeting, Roseline Filion, Canadian Spectator and the Vancouver Sun’s Arthur White-Crum.

Kulvan said Canada’s ability to win big in the speedskating events in Pyeongchang is not a fluke. It is possible because the athletes tend to share each other, which reduces the time they spend away from their families, who don’t get to know other parents and make trips to competing countries.

“We’re all on the same team and our families are all on the same team,” Kulvan said. “That tends to be a great group to be on.”

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