Canada won its first ever Olympic gold medal in women’s team pursuit speed skating at the Beijing Winter Games on Tuesday, after a stunning crash by Japan.
Isabelle Weidemann, Ivanie Blondin and Valerie Maltais were trailing the Japanese throughout the gold medal final race, although Canada had begun to close the gap after Weidemann moved into the lead position.
It still appeared that Japan — the defending champions from the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang — would earn a repeat gold, with the team skating in perfect precision throughout.
But the final lap saw Nana Takagi stumble and fall as Japan rounded their final bend before the finish line, sending her sliding into the wall as Canada clinched the gold with a time of two minutes 53.44 seconds – an Olympic record.
All three skaters must cross the finish line together in the team pursuit.
“Unfortunately our race ended with a fall … but I don’t regret everything we’ve done to get here,” Takagi’s sister Miho told reporters, at one point lifting her eyes and blinking back tears.
She hugged her sister after the race, who cried.
“It’s very difficult to talk right now, I can’t think very clearly,” said Takagi.
The Netherlands took the bronze medal after defeating the Russian Olympic Committee in the B final.
“We are still thinking, is this real?” Weidemann said.
“We knew we had a strong team, we knew we could put pressure on Japan and all the other strong teams today. I don’t know if we’d thought about this possible outcome.”
The last time Canada won a women’s team pursuit medal was a silver at the 2006 Games in Turin, Italy. Canada won gold by the men’s team at the 2010 Games in Vancouver, the last time a medal was won by either men or women in team pursuit.
In Beijing, Canada finished fifth overall in the men’s pursuit.
Tuesday’s gold marks Weidemann’s third medal in Beijing, after nabbing silver in the women’s 5,000-metres and bronze in the 3,000-metres. It’s the first for both Blondin and Maltais.
Maltais is also now the third athlete ever to win a medal in both long track and short track speed skating. She won silver in the 3,000-metre relay short track event at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
The medal win is Canada’s second gold of the Beijing Olympics, and 17th medal of the Games so far.
— with files from Reuters.