Canada tops at the track on big day at Commonwealth Games
GLASGOW — There was a moment Wednesday night when Derek Drouin was waiting to make his final attempt in high jump. In the tunnel to the track, Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Jessica Zelinka were waiting for their final event of the heptathlon.
All action had paused for a medal ceremony. It was for Canadian Jim Steacy’s gold medal in the hammer throw from the previous night.
The “O Canada” moment wasn’t lost on any of them.
“The national anthem played right before my last attempt and I thought, ’If this isn’t going to get me pumped up I don’t know what’s going to,”’ Drouin said.
Drouin and Theisen-Eaton would both go on to claim gold, while Jessica Zelinka won silver in the heptathlon and Mike Mason took bronze in the high jump. Julie Labonte added a bronze in shot put for a five-medal night for Canada at the track.
“When we were in the tunnel ... I was listening to the Canadian anthem and thinking, ’An hour and that could be me,”’ Theisen-Eaton said.
Drouin, from Corunna, Ont., cleared 2.31 metres to win his first major international high jump title, while Mason, from Nanoose Bay, B.C., won the bronze with 2.25 metres.
Theisen-Eaton won the heptathlon with a score of 6,597 and Zelinka scored 6,270 for silver.
“We got four medals in the span of about two minutes there, so we’re definitely moving in the right direction. Good things are happening,” Drouin said.
“And Mike and I got to pass our (Canadian) flags on to the heptathlon girls, so it was a pretty special five minutes there.”
Added Theisen-Eaton: “All of a sudden, all of once, Scott (MacDonald, Athletics Canada’s high performance director) was trying to give everybody flags. Good problem to have.”
After another strong day, Canada remained in third place in the overall medal standings with 51 medals (22 gold, seven silver, 22 bronze). Australia leads with 106 medals, one more than England.
David Tremblay of Windsor, Ont., won gold in the men’s 61-kilogram category, Dori Yeats of Montreal won the women’s 69-kilo title and Arjun Gill of Surrey, B.C., won gold in the men’s 97-kilo event.
Jill Gallays of Saskatoon and Braxton Stone-Papadopoulos of Pickering, Ont., won bronze medals. Gallays finished third in the women’s 53-kilo category and Stone-Papadopoulos was third in the women’s 58-kilo class.
In diving, Montreal’s Meaghan Benfeito and Roseline Filion of Laval, Que., won gold in the women’s synchronized 10-metre platform. Laval’s Jennifer Abel and Pamela Ware of Beloeil, Que., later added silver in the three-metre springboard.
The 24-year-old Drouin, who won bronze at both the 2012 London Olympics and 2013 world championships, had hoped to go higher. He’s broken the Canadian record three times in less than a year, and in his first meet this season, cleared 2.40 metres to join an exclusive club — only about a dozen jumpers in history have jumped that high.
It wasn’t to be on a blustery night at Hampden Park, as he missed all three attempts at 2.35.
“I would really love to jump 2.40 again. I’d like to get up to those high heights again,” he said.
“I think we got a taste of what Scottish weather was like,” he added, of the conditions. “It was funny, within a matter of about two minutes we had a problem of rain and then the sun being in our eyes. It’s just what you have to deal with, it obviously wasn’t perfect but we dealt with it.”
Theisen-Eaton, a 25-year-old from Humboldt, Sask., won five of the seven events — high jump, shot put, 200 metres, long jump and the 800 — over the two days for her first major international victory. She won silver at both last year’s world indoor and outdoor world championships.
“So this gold medal makes me really happy,” she said. “I always said I don’t think I would get choked up but I had to fight back a few tears (on the podium). It’s just representing your country and knowing everybody back home is happy and watching and supporting you. It feels really good.”
Theisen-Eaton’s husband Ashton Eaton — a world record-holder and Olympic and world champion in the decathlon — cheered her on from the stands. The American even wore a Canada T-shirt.
“Ashton obviously knows what it’s like to be out there as an athlete, and knows that sometimes it’s hard to fire yourself up,” Theisen-Eaton said. “So at the long jump, he walked over and said, ’Bri, come here!’ and I go over there, he was like, ’Come on, you’ve got to get fired up for this one!’
“He just amps me up.”
The heptathlon marked the first time Theisen-Eaton and Zelinka had battled head-to-head since the London Olympics. The 32-year-old Zelinka, from London, Ont., took last year off from the multi-events, needing a break.
Earlier this season, Theisen-Eaton broke Zelinka’s Canadian record of 6,599 points, recording 6,641 in Gotzis, Austria.
Theisen-Eaton had a virtually unbeatable 326-point lead after six of the seven events, and they capped the two days with a hard-fought 800. Theisen-Eaton won in two minutes 11.46 seconds, Zelinka finishing eight-10ths of a second behind her.
“I wanted to be competitive and show I’m back, and I’m strong mentally in this event,” said Zelinka, who won the two events that Theisen-Eaton didn’t — the 100-metre hurdles and javelin.
“This is kind of like a little opening ceremonies for me coming back. It’s good to play again, it was playing. It was fun.”
Asked for her reaction to Theisen-Eaton’s victory, Zelinka said: “No reaction, I knew she could do it. She was second coming in. In the world. I was 20th. So it was no surprise. But I still wanted to challenge her, because that’s what we do in heptathlon.”
Zelinka, who was seventh in both the hurdles and heptathlon in London, almost didn’t qualify for Glasgow, as the cut-off date to qualify was June 1. She missed the qualifying standard at a meet in May, so decided at the last minute to try again.
“I did a race in Texas at 9 o’clock, drove four hours, got to bed at two, started the hep at about 10 o’clock the next day just to try again and I got (the qualifying standard),” she said. “I haven’t not made a national team since I was pregnant, every year I’ve been on the national team, and it really means a lot.”
Zelinka echoed the praise of all the Canadians for the raucous crowd in the 44,000-seat Hampden Park — normally the home of Scotland’s national soccer team, but transformed into the track and field venue for the Games.
The noise from the crowd for every event was deafening.
“It took us forever to get around that (victory) lap, everyone is so into it here,” Zelinka said. “It’s such a great crowd, very genuine and very supportive of just great efforts, no matter what country.”
The 24-year-old Labonte threw 17.58 metres for the shot put bronze. Valerie Adams of New Zealand won the gold with 19.88, while Cleopatra Borel of Trinidad & Tobago was second with 18.57.
Canada has 10 medals in track and field, including five gold, with three days of competition to go. The Canadian team brought home 17 medals in the sport from the Games four years ago in New Delhi.
Kyriakos Ioannou of Cyprus was second in the high jump with 2.28 metres.
England’s Jessica Taylor won heptathlon bronze with a score of 5,826.
Labonte threw 17.58 metres. Valerie Adams of New Zealand won the gold with 19.88, while Cleopatra Borel of Trinidad & Tobago was second with 18.57.