LONDON – Canada’s first medal of the London Olympics is a historic one.
Divers Emilie Heymans and Jennifer Abel claimed bronze in the women’s three-metre synchronized event Sunday.
The result will put the 30-year-old Heymans into the history books as she becomes the first female diver to reach the podium in four consecutive Olympic Games.
The native of St. Lambert, Que., won silver in the 10-metre synchro in 2000, bronze in the same event in Athens in 2004, and a silver in the 10-metre individual event four years ago in Beijing.
“It’s awesome, I’m really happy that I was able to win my fourth medal with Jennifer,” said Heymans. “We worked really hard over the last two years.”
It’s the first time Abel, a 20-year-old from Laval, Que., has reached the Olympic podium. She said it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“I’m really happy right now. . . I don’t feel it, but I know that I am,” said Abel. “Probably tonight in the village I will realize and I’m really excited to be beside Emilie.”
World champions Minxia Wu and He Zi of China led from start to finish to take the gold Sunday with an overall score of 346.20. Americans Kelci Bryant and Abigail Johnston captured silver with 321.90 while Heymans and Abel recorded 316.80 points.
Heymans’ parents were in the audience watching their daughter make history. They were all smiles as Heymans and Abel took the podium in their red Team Canada tracksuits to receive their medals.
Both Eric Heymans and Marie-Paule Van Eyck are former athletes. He played soccer in Belgium, his home country, while she competed in the 1976 Montreal Olympics as a member of the Belgian fencing team.
Abel and Heymans won silver in the event at last year’s world championships.
Heymans and Abel were in second place after their opening dive at the Aquatics Centre at Olympic Park, but were out of synch on the board in their second dive, dropping them to fifth.
“We were able to calm down and come back to the competition, and we know it’s never over until the last dive,” said Heymans.
They moved up a spot to fourth after British duo Alicia Blagg and Rebecca Gallantree botched their third dive.
Italy’s Tania Cagnoto and Francesca Dallape had a poor fourth dive, leaving the door open for the Canadians, who moved into the bronze-medal position with one dive to go.
The Canadians did what they needed to do in their fifth dive to stay on the podium.
The medal on the second full day of competition is good news for a Canadian team aiming for a top-12 finish overall.
“Do you see me? I’m electrified. I’m a little shaky,” said Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewksbury.
He said it takes some pressure off the rest of the Canadian team.
“It’s a different narrative,” he said. “Traditionally the past couple of Games, in the summer, it’s been the second weekend or Day 6. That’s a long time sometimes and it just changes the whole course of things from here on in.”
Canada went without a medal for seven days in Beijing before the men’s rowing pair and wrestler Carol Huynh ended the drought on Day 8 with silver and gold respectively. Wrestler Tonya Verbeek also added a bronze that day.
In 2004, Heymans and partner Blythe Hartley’s bronze was the lone medal in the opening seven days.
Canada finished with 18 medals in Beijing and a dozen in Athens.
“It’s really great and I hope it’s going to inspire the other athletes to do well and to do their best over the next two weeks,” Heymans said Sunday.
Canadian athletes were quick to offer up their congrats to Heymans and Abel via social media.
“Big congrats to @jennabel91 & @eheymans, first medal for Canada, and Em’s career 4th!! #GoCanada,” tweeted star kayaker Adam van Koeverden.
Fellow diver Meaghan Benfeito was thrilled for her teammates.
“Hell yeah baby!!!!! They did itttttttt @JennAbel91 @eheymans !!!!!!!!! First canadian medallllll !!!!!!!”
Canadian diving coach Li Yihau said earlier this week that she expected one of Canada’s predicted two to three medals in London to come in the three-metre synchro.
Keeping the Chinese divers off the top of the podium would have been a massive challenge. The two won gold in the synchro at last year’s world championships, Wu won the individual three-metre goal and Zi took the silver.
They lead a formidable Chinese squad that is hoping to go one better than Beijing and win eight out of eight gold medals.
The London Games are expected to be Heymans’ last. She plans to retire from diving to begin another career she believes will be just as exciting. With a degree in fashion marketing, she’s working on developing her own line of swimwear. The four planned styles will be a nod to her diving career — she wants to call them Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London.
Elsewhere at the Olympics:
— Clara Hughes finished 32nd after spending much of the women’s road race in front of the peloton. Hughes of Glen Sutton, Que., was looking for her seventh Olympic medal.
Joelle Numainville of Laval, Que., was 12th after losing control trying to avoid another fallen rider with 10 kilometres remaining. Denise Ramsden of Yellowknife meanwhile finished 27th.
— Brittany MacLean of Toronto qualified for the women’s 400-metre freestyle after swimming to the sixth-fastest time in her heat. Savannah King, also of Toronto, finished 18th and did not move on.
— Julia Wilkinson of Stratford, Ont., and Sinead Russell of Burlington, Ont., each advanced to the women’s 100 backstroke semifinal.
— Calgary’s Jillian Tyler and Tera Van Beilen of Oakville, Ont., edged into the women’s 100 breaststroke semifinal.
— Charles Francis of Cowansville, Que., qualified for the men’s 100 backstroke.
— Vancouver’s Blake Worsley was 17th in qualifying for the men’s 200 freestyle, just missing out on a semifinal spot.
— The women’s eight rowing team easily won its heat to advance directly to Thursday’s final and a showdown against rival United States.
— Michael Braithwaite of Duncan, B.C., and Kevin Kowalyk of Winnipeg advanced to the men’s rowing double sculls semifinals on Tuesday with a third-place finish in a repechage.
— Victoria’s Lindsay Jennerich and Patricia Obee finished fifth in lightweight women’s double sculls to move to Tuesday’s repechage.
— Douglas Vandor of Dewittville, Que., and Morgan Jarvis of Clearwater Bay, Ont., were third in lightweight men’s double sculls and will next compete in a repechage Tuesday.
— Toronto’s Sasha Mehmedovic won his opening match before losing to Japan’s Masashi Ebinuma, the world champion–in-title, in men’s under-66 kilogram judo.
— Toronto natives Michele Li and Alex Bruce were defeated by South Korea’s Kyung Eun Jung and Ha Na Kim in women’s doubles badminton group play.
— Dorothy Ludwig of Langely, B.C., finished 34th in qualifying to miss out on the women’s 10-metre air pistol final.
— Montreal’s Philippe Beaudry lost in the round of 32 to Dmitri Lapkes of Belarus in fencing’s men’s individual sabre.
— Ottawa’s Mo Zhang lost in the second round of women’s singles table tennis to Austria’s Qiangbing Li.
— Toronto’s Greg Douglas finished 16th in qualifying in the men’s one person dinghy heavyweight finn sailing race.
— Richard Clarke of Salt Spring Island, B.C., and Tyler Bjorn of Beaconsfield, Que., finished 16th out of 16 boats in their men’s keelboat star sailing qualification heat.