Saturday, June 15, 2024

HIGH ACHIEVERS: Cyclist Derek Gee, Ottawa South United soccer, sprinter Audrey Leduc celebrate international success

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By Martin Cleary

A small group of National Capital Region athletes, who rely on speed and precise technical skills, have hit the celebration button during the past five days.

Let’s take a look at that chronologically.

On Friday, sprinter Audrey Leduc of Gatineau broke the Canadian women’s senior 200-metre record at a track and field meet in Atlanta and met the national Olympic standard. It was her second national sprint record in 41 days, after eclipsing the 100-metre record.

On Saturday, a select Ottawa South United girls’ U16 soccer team went undefeated in five games over three days to emerge as the champions at the Gatorade Global 5v5 Finals in London, U.K. The team was treated like royalty throughout the five-day adventure.

On Tuesday, Osgoode’s Derek Gee achieved a major milestone in his cycling career with Israel Premier Tech, when he scored the first UCI WorldTour victory of his pro career and moved into the overall General Classification lead, after the first three stages of the Criterium du Dauphine, which ends Sunday.

Gee, a picture of joyful disbelief beyond the finish line, was near the front of a massive group of riders entering the final kilometre. But he played it smart. With about 400 metres remaining, he started his sprint.

Romain Gregoire of Groupama-FDJ caught him about 150 metres later and it appeared he was headed for the win.

But Gee responded with 150 metres left, put his head down and let his legs power him across the Les Estables, France, finish line for his premier international triumph.

As the race leader, Gee will wear the yellow jersey for Wednesday’s 34.4-kilometre individual time trial from Saint-Germain-Laval to Neulise. Gee has traditionally been a strong individual time trialist. He won the men’s individual time trial at the 2022 and 2023 Canadian championships, which were his two previous road victories.

Gee, 26, came tantalizingly close to his first WorldTour win in 2023, when he took the Giro d’Italia by storm. He scored second-place finishes in four individual races and finished second overall in three major categories – General Classification, Points and Mountains.

“This is definitely on a different level,” Gee said in an Israel Premier Tech press release. “It’s unbelievably special to win here. I’ve been waiting for a win in Europe. I’ve come second several times. It was nice to finish it off.

“A massive part of it was Krists Neilands’ attacking with one kilometre to go, I was in a good position and it was strung out. I wasn’t planning on going there, but as soon as he came back, there was a bit of a lull and I had to take advantage of it.”

Derek Gee won the Criterium du Dauphine Tuesday. Photo: @IsraelPremTech / X

Gee, who showed his fitness by placing 17th on Saturday in the Eschborn-Frankfurt 201.5-kilometre race by posting the same time as the winner, was greeted in the finish area by his fiancée Ruby West.

“The goal coming into the race wasn’t necessarily for me to win a stage,” he admitted. “We were going for Dylan (Teuns) most of the day. It was a good finish for him, but he made the call on the final climb, saying ‘boys, if you have the legs, go for it,’ and we took it up. I’m really happy to come away with it.”

Gee can’t wait until Wednesday’s race.

“Wearing the yellow jersey is pretty special. That’s going to be quite a feeling, I think,” he added.

OTTAWA SOUTH UNITED CAPTURES 5v5 INTERNATIONAL SOCCER GOLD

OSU Global Gatorade 5v5 Finals champions. Photo provided

While Gee was celebrating a career first, the six girls and one coach on the Ottawa South United Force soccer team were still in an upbeat mood, after winning the Global Gatorade 5v5 Finals championship.

After capturing first place in the Ontario Soccer 5v5 qualifying tournament two months ago in Pickering, the OSU group advanced to the Global Gatorade 5v5 Finals in London, U.K., and joined U16 girls’ team from seven other countries.

Representing Canada, the Force rallied with two unanswered goals in the second half to edge Colombia 3-2 in the final at Somerset House field. Naomi Lofthouse, Mia Ugarte and Felicia Hanisch (game-winner with three minutes remaining) scored for OSU.’

The other Force positional players were Cindy Yang and Danica Menard, while Ava Blinn was the goalkeeper. David Fox, the Ottawa South United high-performance technical lead, was the coach.

The players and coach received their championship medals from legendary Brazilian player Kaka.

OSU reached the final with a tight 1-0 decision over Brazil on a goal by Ugarte with two minutes remaining. The Ottawa team won its three pool games – 3-2 over Chile, 9-0 against Peru and 4-0 over Colombia. Those games were played at London’s Hive Stadium.

“It was amazing,” Britain-born Fox said in a phone interview about the tournament experience from start to finish. “The whole experience and the venues were special. The games were so close.

“The girls loved it. The whole thing was one of the most professionally organized events I have been a part of. It’s something you don’t see often. They enjoyed meeting and interacting with the other players as well as the overall experience.”

In 2018, a team from the West Ottawa Soccer Club represented Canada at the same tournament and earned the silver medal. West Ottawa reached the final with four straight wins.

The games lasted 20 minutes (two 10-minute halves) and were played on a 20- by 30-metre field, which mirrors the smaller pitches Canadian teams often practice on during winter inside domes. They were highly intense with non-stop action.

By winning the girls’ championship, the Force team was given tickets to the UEFA Champions League final between Real Madrid and Dortmund, which was played in the 90,000-seat Wembley Stadium.

The OSU squad sat in premier seats, which were four rows up from the field.

OSU at Manchester City. Photo provided

When the team arrived in London on May 28, there was a welcome ceremony and a dinner for the eight girls’ teams at Manchester City Etihad Stadium. The next day the Force had a tour of the stadium and a practice session with the football academy.

The first group matches were last Thursday followed by dinner and activities at Top Golf. The final group match and semifinals were Friday with dinner at the Warner Brothers Studios.

Gatorade, which is owned by PepsiCo, covered all the expenses for the girls’ and 11 boys’ teams at the championship.

After winning the girls’ final, the OSU contingent received an open bus tour of Central London, dinner and tickets to the Champions League final, which Real Madrid won 2-0.

Fox was responsible for selecting the six-player team, which came from a strong class of U16 and U15 players on his list. He chose players with strong technical skills, who could handle the ball well under pressure on a much smaller field, and solid defending ability.

The OSU team was selected in mid-winter and prepared for the Ontario Soccer qualifier by playing exhibition matches against women’s and boys’ teams.

AUDREY LEDUC SETS SECOND CANADIAN WOMEN’S SPRINT RECORD

As the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games fast approach, Audrey Leduc is getting faster and faster on her feet.

At last Friday’s Edwin Moses Legends Meeting in Atlanta, Leduc ran the corner and the straightaway with precision and set a Canadian women’s 200-metre record of 22.36 seconds. The former record was set by Crystal Emmanuel of 22.50 seconds in 2017.

Her time also allowed her to meet the Canadian time standard to be entered in the Paris Olympics. She did the same in April, when she lowered the national women’s 100-metre record to 10.96 seconds. Angela Bailey previously held the record of 10.98 seconds, which she set in 1987.

The only Canadian female athlete to qualify for the Olympic 100- and 200-metre race so far, Leduc also helped Canada make the Summer Games’ standard in the women’s 4×100-metre relay at the World Athletics Relays meet.

CANADIAN WOMEN FOURTH IN RUGBY SEVENS GRAND FINAL

Former University of Ottawa Gee-Gees’ No. 8 rugby player Madison Grant of Cornwall was on the sevens roster and saw playing time as Canada finished fourth at the HSBC SVNS Sevens Grand Final in Madrid.

Canada won its pool at 2-1, which included an historic 26-17 win over New Zealand. It was the first time Canada had defeated New Zealand in women’s sevens since 2016. The preliminary round also saw Canada defeat Great Britain 22-17, but lose its opening match 26-19 to the United States.

In the playoffs, Canada fell 19-17 to France in the semifinals and 26-14 in a rematch with New Zealand in the bronze-medal game.

The Canadian men’s sevens team lost all four of its games – 41-7 to Uruguay, 19-14 to Germany, 14-7 to the United States and 22-14 to Spain. As a result, Canada will not qualify for the top-tier HSBC SVNS Series for 2025.

Canada has one remaining opportunity to qualify for the Paris Olympics, but it must win the 12-country World Rugby Sevens Repechage tournament to earn that single berth. The tournament is June 21-23 in Monaco.

Elias Hancock of the Bytown Blues and Cody Nhanala of the Ottawa Ospreys were on the Canadian roster.

LAST, BUT CERTAINLY NOT LEAST

· Canada Topflight Academy player Dylan Kayijuka has been named to the U18 Rwanda national men’s basketball team.

· With a fifth-place performance in Division 2, West Ottawa earned the top local result as Ottawa hosted the U17 and U19 boys’ Ontario Cup basketball event this past weekend. Gloucester-Cumberland (Thomas) was dominant en route to four victories and a Division 3 title for the best local finish in the U17 competition.

· Rob Kinghan, Sue Collis and Chris White are the new owners of the CCHL’s Nepean Raiders, while Lino Dixon has been selected the team general manager for the 2024-25 season. Brad Smyth, who played professional hockey for 20 years including six with five teams in the NHL, is the new head coach.

· Kanata’s Aidan Kirkham, a University of Ottawa student in the school of epidemiology and public health, has been awarded a Vanier Scholarship, which is a major academic achievement for doctoral students and postdoctoral researchers. Kirkham was the Gee-Gees’ nordic ski team captain in 2023-24.

Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 51 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.

When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.

Martin can be reached by e-mail at martincleary51@gmail.com and on Twitter @martincleary.


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