Canada made history in the summer of 2021, a year after the Tokyo Olympics were due to take place.
Led by national hero Christine Sinclair, the Canadians prevailed against the competition with their first Olympic gold medal in football and took their place at the top of the podium.
Midfielder Jessie Fleming speaks with GiveMeSport women about being part of the historic achievement in Tokyo.
At the age of just 23, Fleming has two Olympic medals in her cabinet, one bronze and one gold.
She was only 18 when she flew to Rio to represent her country at the 2016 Games and to have her share of Canada’s third place finish. She admitted that it wasn’t long after that rumors of the upgrading of her bronze medal to the most prestigious international title began to circulate in the camp.
“After the World Cup [in 2019], the language somehow changed and we talked about the Olympic victory for years.
“We couldn’t train that much as a group [during Covid lockdown] and there was a little hesitation and we started to wonder if we could make it or not. But we built up well, got some good results in a few friendlies and were confident – we grew a lot over the course of the tournament.
“The belief has always been there, but it certainly helps when you get out of the group stage and past teams like Brazil. All of that gives you confidence.”
After finishing second in the Tokyo 2020 group table, Canada beat Brazil on penalties before eliminating rivals USA in the semifinals.
It all boiled down to playing pioneers Sweden in the grand final – a team that conceded only three goals and had not lost a single point to Canada.
Fleming sang for their country and equalized Stina Blackstenius’ goal in the first half with a decisive penalty in the 68th minute. Thanks to the equalization of the 23-year-olds, the game remained balanced and finally went to penalties, where Fleming again kept his composure in the penalty area.
It was a nerve-wracking experience, even for the neutrals. But the Canadian star has revealed how she dealt with the enormous pressure of the occasion.
“To be honest, I think a part of me has tried to remove some of the emotion and build-up that comes with big games like this. As a team, we just wanted to go out and have no regrets about how we did it have played.
“At the end of the day it’s just another game. It’s kind of weird to think about it like that, but I think I treated it a little bit that I relaxed into the game.”
The penalty shoot-out ended 3-2 for Canada. Some spectacular saves kept the drama on a knife edge, but it was Julia Grosso who pocketed the winning penalty and took the gold.
“I don’t think anyone like that wants to win a game,” mused Fleming. “I’m not a big fan of penalties, but in the end it was decided that way and it was very nervous.
“It was probably one of the fewest goal shootouts I’ve ever participated in. I have the feeling that everyone was just exhausted and obviously there were a lot of emotions and nerves involved.”
But no matter how it comes, every win is a win, and that win was one for the history books.
TAKE PART IN THE COMPETITION
Fleming already has 90 caps for her country and plans to do many more banking deals in the years to come. Their serenity and their icy-cool appearance on the international stage have made them one of the main pillars of the Canadian national team.
The 23-year-old’s only goal is a career of gold if she continues her remarkable upward trend.
“It has helped me develop and grow as a player,” said the midfielder of her time with Canada so far. “The national team has always been a really positive place for me.”
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