Olympic gold medalist Desiree Scott ready for whirlwind week in Winnipeg

Click to play video: 'Desiree Scott returns home to Winnipeg after gold-medal win'
Desiree Scott returns home to Winnipeg after gold-medal win
Desiree Scott returned home to Winnipeg and was greeted by cheering fans and friends at the airport after her gold medal with Team Canada women's soccer at the Tokyo Summer Olympics – Aug 9, 2021

Returning home from the Tokyo Olympics to a hero’s welcome is not entirely new territory for Winnipegger Desiree Scott of the Canadian women’s national soccer team.

The former U of M Bison experienced that feeling in 2012 when she arrived back in Winnipeg from the London Games with a bronze medal. That process was repeated four years later in 2016 when Scott and her teammates also won the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics.

The motto going into the delayed 2020 Tokyo Games was to change the colour of the medal, and it was a case of “mission accomplished” when Team Canada edged Sweden 3-2 in penalty kicks in the Women’s football gold medal final last Friday morning CT after the teams played to a 1-1 tie through 120-plus minutes of regulation and extra time.

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Scott says that seed was planted going back to the very first day of the pre-Olympic camp in Irvine, Calif., in late June after the team had been selected.

“We had our first meeting as a team and that was sort of the opening message from our coach,” said Scott via Zoom call from her family home in Winnipeg the day after after arriving back in the city Monday night.

“She said, What is the goal here for this Olympics?’ and we talked about not just getting to a semifinal, but getting to that final game and changing the colour of the medal. And that was sort of the theme from all of our training sessions leading there forward.”

Click to play video: 'Golden goals: Families celebrate Canada’s first Olympic gold in women’s soccer'
Golden goals: Families celebrate Canada’s first Olympic gold in women’s soccer

Team Canada opened the tournament by surrendering a late goal in a 1-1 tie versus the host country of Japan, which resulted in having to take an even more difficult path to get to their desired destination. The eventual champions followed that up with a 2-1 win over Chile before having to settle for yet another heart-breaking result when they allowed a goal in the 85th minute of a 1-1 draw with Great Britain.

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That set up a quarterfinal final round rematch with Brazil, who Canada had defeated 2-1 for the bronze in the Rio Games five years ago. This time the teams played to a scoreless tie, before Canada won 4-3 on penalty kicks. And that set up another rematch — this time with the United States who Scott and company had lost to, 4-3 in the semifinal round of the London Games.

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“People were saying, ‘which game did you enjoy more – the Gold Medal or beating the United States,'” chuckled Scott. “Obviously the gold medal game, but I have had that on my bucket list — to beat the Americans and to do it in a semifinal of the Olympics. That’s going to go hands-down as one of the greatest games I’ve ever played in. That rivalry — it’s a great feeling to take them out of that tournament, for sure.”

Click to play video: 'Team Canada kicks U.S. out of running for women’s soccer Olympic gold'
Team Canada kicks U.S. out of running for women’s soccer Olympic gold

Jessie Fleming made good on a penalty kick in the 74th minute of that historic 1-nil victory for Canada, setting the table for a showdown with Sweden for Gold.

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Scott says as nerve-wracking as it is to watch the penalty kick process unfold from the sidelines, she wants no part of having the ball on her foot in those moments.

“I forewarned my coach that I will never take a penalty kick — to sub me off, save a sub for it  — because it’s so stressful,” admitted Desi the Destroyer, as she is known in soccer circles for her aggressive style of play in the midfield. “So kudos to all my teammates who stepped up to the plate.”

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One of those Canadian heroes was  Julia Grosso who has been with the team since her first appearance in November of 2017.  The 20-year-old Vancouverite scored the decisive penalty kick goal in the sixth round after Canuck keeper Stephanie Labbe made a huge save in diving to her left to prevent Sweden from taking the lead.

Scott says she has more or less taken Grosso — the University of Texas Longhorn — under her wing.

“She plays in that midfield position and she kinda said she looked up to me and those sort of things — we get along so well,” said Scott. “And I thought she had a great tournament — first Olympic Games and coming in and making an impact — and then to have to take that final PK kick, to win us a gold essentially. I remember her hands were on her head at the end of the game and she was like, ‘oh my God!’ I’m so proud of her, our young ones. We really stepped up in this tournament.”

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And the hope for Scott, who celebrated her 34th birthday during the Tokyo Games, is that the impact of those back-to-back bronze, and now a gold, medals will result in even more growth in the women’s game in Canada. That means there are even more young ones like Grosso who will have the opportunity to live out their dreams by playing professionally in their home country.

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“Those are what dreams are made of essentially. You know, you want to be able to play the sport you love, professionally in your hometown and that’s something our team has been fighting for the past few years, to get a professional league here in Canada,” Scott said upon being asked if only there was a scenario that would have seen her playing her first game back after the Olympics on home soil, rather than Kansas City where she’ll resume her season next week. “It’s needed. It’s necessary that pathway to see where you can be and grow, and play from the grassroots all the way up. And we’re hoping now, with the success of our program.

Desiree plans to cram in as many visits as she possibly can over the next week at home in Winnipeg. Perhaps even making IG Field appearances at home games for Valour FC on Thursday night and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Friday.

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“I’m embracing every moment of it. I’m probably not going to get much sleep,” said Scott. “I’m hoping to see friends, family, maybe hit up a few sporting events and show off this medal to the people who have supported me and really just have followed my career. I’m ready for it, I’m excited. We have to celebrate this moment.”

Click to play video: 'Desiree Scott returns home to Winnipeg after gold-medal win'
Desiree Scott returns home to Winnipeg after gold-medal win

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