Shortly after the Canadian men’s hockey team beat the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics to win gold, Bridget Carleton and 14 other members of her family drove outside their home in Ontario, Canada, and gathered for a photo. Carleton and her family, all dressed in Canadian clothing, wanted to celebrate one of the greatest sporting moments in their country’s history.
“People were screaming in the streets and just loved it,” recalled Carleton’s mother, Carrie.
The Olympics have always been an important part of Carleton’s life. But this year they take on a new meaning. A former Iowa star and one of the best basketball players in Cyclones history, Carleton will play for Canada in the Tokyo Olympics. Your first game is against Serbia on Monday.
“It was just moments like these that stuck in my mind, like the chance to watch the Olympics with my family and all of us in our Canada gear,” said Carleton. “I think that really drove that passion and that goal.”
That goal was to play for Canada in the Olympics one day. Carleton has been working towards this goal since joining Team Canada in 2013. In 2016 she played in the senior national team for the first time. Carleton then averaged 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game for Canada at the FIBA Olympic Qualifier.
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After helping Canada make his third consecutive Olympic appearance, Carleton was officially named to the Olympic team in June. Canada’s trainer Lisa Thomaidis, FaceTimed Carleton, preparing for a game with the Minnesota Lynx to bring her the news. For Carleton, it was the culmination of years of hard work – and a lot of dreams.
“I think when I was growing up, when the Olympics were on, the only thing that was on our television for two weeks,” said Carleton. “Summer Olympics, Winter Olympics, whatever it was.”
Carleton was determined to do whatever it took to play in the Olympics. That’s part of what she landed in the state of Iowa. Carleton, who loved Ames, was impressed with the school’s fan base, the team’s coaching staff, and the program’s track record. She also loved that other Canadians had come to Ames and succeeded.
“I wouldn’t be the player I am today if it weren’t for Iowa State”
On one of her visits, Carleton was introduced to Canadian Naz Mitrou-Long, a guard on the men’s team who eventually played in the NBA. Iowa state associate head coach Jodi Steyer also told Carleton about another Canadian, Melvin Ejim, a male star who won Big 12 Player of the Year in 2013-14.
“She says, ‘You could be the next Canadian to win the Big 12 Player of the Year in Iowa,'” Carleton recalled.
Steyer was right.
Carleton, who averaged 21.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.3 steals and 1.2 blocks per game as a senior, won the award in 2019. Carleton’s time in Ames not only helped her to reach the WNBA, but also that Olympic dream. Iowa State Coach Bill Fennelly and his staff worked steadily over the years on Carleton’s schedule with Canada Basketball to make sure she could attend all the events and exercises she needed.
Fennelly and his staff understood that it was a longstanding dream for Carleton. As Carleton prepares for the Olympics, she is as grateful as ever for her time in Ames.
“I wouldn’t be the player I am today if I didn’t have Iowa State and the coaches and teammates I had there and the role I would lead this program in,” said Carleton. “Of course your decision (for me as a player, but also for my national team) was just as important as it was to me.”
Tommy Birch, the register’s sports company and reporter, has been with the newspaper since 2008. He is the 2018 and 2020 Iowa Sports Journalist of the Year. Reach him at [email protected] or 515-284-8468. Follow him on Twitter @TommyBirch.