The global pandemic and the advance of COVID-19 is a threat to so many people worldwide. It touches countless lives including those in the world of sport, and in a very personal way.
Karina LeBlanc is a member of the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame and was a goalkeeper for the national women’s team from 1998 to 2015.
She helped Canada win a bronze medal at the 2012 Olympics in London and appeared at five FIFA Women’s World Cups. In retirement, she’s been a broadcaster, advocate for the rights of children at the United Nations, and is currently the head of women’s soccer for the CONCACAF region.
Simply put, Karina LeBlanc is a major influencer in her sport.
WATCH | Canada’s women’s soccer team scores bronze medal in Rio:
More importantly, she’s just become a mother for the first time – delivering a baby girl, Paris, at the end of March.
But Karina suffered heart failure and a pleural effusion (fluid around the lungs) shortly after giving birth and was returned to hospital in the Bahamas, where she was exposed to COVID-19.
Even though she’s home now and recovering, she’s in isolation from her husband and infant child and won’t be able to be in physical contact with, or nurse, Paris, for another few days.
1 week left and then I get to hold you, kiss you & whisper into your ears how much I love you🙏🏽<br><br>This has been the hardest thing but I know it is for the best.<br><br>I hope everyone is doing their part in making sure we keep our loved ones and others safe.<br><br>Be selfless in your actions <a href=”https://t.co/yiM5hbyWtu”>pic.twitter.com/yiM5hbyWtu</a>
“Every day that goes by is one day closer to holding her again,” LeBlanc said from her hospital bed when I reached her by email the other day.
“I’m trying to stay positive in these tough times.”
I had the good fortune to work with Karina at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro where she provided analysis for CBC over the course of the women’s tournament at those Games in the summer of 2016.
Canadian success ‘wasn’t a one-time thing’
In spite of her current struggles she was eager to reflect on the significance of the outcome which saw the Canadians win a second consecutive bronze medal in Olympic competition.
“For the women it wasn’t a one-time thing. It was their goal to get another medal and they did,” LeBlanc said in a voice file sent by email.
“In winning back-to-back medals it showed the country and the next generation of girls and boys that soccer is a sport that Canadians should be known for.”
Indeed, history tells us that the Canadian women’s soccer team has become a sort of national treasure. Previous to their victory over France in the bronze medal match at London 2012, Canada had only previously won two medals in traditional team sport at the summer Olympics.
The most recent was a silver medal in men’s basketball captured by the Windsor Ford V-8’s at the 1936 Games in Berlin. Before that, it was Galt FC taking men’s soccer gold at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.
This week, Olympic Games Replay will feature the path navigated by the Canadians in winning another bronze medal in a country obsessed with “The Beautiful Game.”
Dramatic tournament saw favourites ousted early
It turned out to be an unpredictable tournament in Brazil that saw the three-time defending champions of the United States ousted in the quarter-finals by the eventual silver medallists from Sweden. Canada, who had beaten the powerful Germans in group play, lost narrowly in the semis to the same team and went on to face the hosts in the bronze medal match before 40,000 partisan fans at the fabled Corinthians Arena in Sao Paulo.
They also took on the then five-time, FIFA World Women’s Player of the Year, Marta Viera da Silva, known simply as “Marta.” She is acknowledged to be one of the greatest players on the planet as well as a bona-fide national hero.
Not long afterwards the Germans won their first Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer competition by defeating the plucky Swedes by a score of 2-1 in front of a crowd of 52,000 at Maracana Stadium in Rio.
But it was in that confrontation where the odds were heavily stacked in favour of the Brazilians that the Canadian women showed their mettle. And it was a familiar figure who delivered yet again.
The Canadian captain, Christine Sinclair of Burnaby, B.C., had scored six times, more than any player in the tournament, in leading Canada to that historic medal run four years earlier in London. In Sao Paulo she scored what proved to be the decisive goal in a 2-1 victory by the underdogs.
WATCH | Looking back at Christine Sinclair’s best goals:
“This was Canadian soccer’s finest hour,” said play-by-play commentator Nigel Reed, by way of refection.
“To beat Brazil in its own backyard was a huge accomplishment. The Canadians were not favourites. hey were forced to battle in a hostile environment while remaining focused and keeping their nerve. The performance was a testament to the resilience and belief among the players.
“Canada rose to the challenge and defied the odds to earn its place on the podium.”
While passionate superstar Marta was surprisingly vanquished in the bronze medal match, it was the victorious and determined Sinclair drawing rave reviews from her long time teammate, who witnessed the drama unfolding at Rio 2016.
WATCH | Rebecca Quinn looking to dominate at Tokyo Games:
Leading by example
“She continues to lead the team and back-to-back medals wouldn’t have been possible without her,” reckoned LeBlanc.
“Christine Sinclair has proven over and over again that she’s a sensational player, she’s a remarkable Canadian, soft spoken, but always steps up in the big games.”
The hope is that the Olympics in Tokyo will begin in the summer of 2021 and that the pandemic will have subsided by then. As a young mother, LeBlanc plans to be on hand in Japan to watch Christine Sinclair compete at her fourth summer Games as the national team has already qualified.
WATCH | Sinclair going for gold in Tokyo:
Until then, LeBlanc is more than thankful to recall what unquestionably remains a glorious time for Canadian women in sport four years ago in Brazil.
The fifth edition of Olympic Games Replay features five hours of women’s soccer from Rio 2016, including the semifinal between Canada and Germany, the bronze-medal match between Canada and Brazil, as well as the gold-medal matchup featuring Germany vs. Sweden.
Olympic Games Replay will stream on Saturday at 1 p.m. ET on CBCSports.ca as well as air across the CBC television network. Check your local listings for the time in your region.