LONDON — Canada raised its flag, welcomed some of its athletes and even got its first taste of Olympic action on Wednesday as the London Games started coming to life two days before the opening ceremony.
A couple of hours before a contingent led by Canadian chef de mission Mark Tewksbury raised the Maple Leaf in the Olympic village, the women’s soccer team suffered in a tough 2-1 loss to Japan in an early preliminary round match.
Melissa Tancredi scored the only goal for the seventh-ranked Canadians, who hung tough with the defending World Cup champions but were denied a better result by Japan’s superior passing and ball control.
“At 2-0 down, anything could have happened, we could easily have let the game go,” said Canada’s star striker Christine Sinclair. “But I think in the second half we came out and played pretty well. Gives us some confidence and in terms of goal difference, not a bad result against them.”
Nahomi Kawasumi and team captain Aya Miyama scored for Japan.
The top two teams from each four-team group advance to the quarter-finals. Canada can get back on track Saturday with a win over 61st-ranked South Africa.
While the soccer team seemed to be of two minds after the close loss, it was unmistakably a party atmosphere in the athletes village. The Canadian flag was raised in a ceremony featuring jesters capering to the music of legendary British rock band Queen.
Members of Britain’s National Youth Theatre cartwheeled and rode bikes down the plaza singing “Bicycle Race” as Canada’s flag was raised alongside those of Portugal, Morocco, Monaco and Serbia.
The half-hour flag-raising ceremony, attended by Canada’s governor general David Johnston, provided pomp and ceremony for the Canadian athletes who won’t participate in the opening ceremony Friday at Olympic Stadium.
Jennifer Abel is one who will sit it out Friday. The diver from Laval, Que., has a chance at a medal Sunday in synchronized springboard with Emilie Heymans, so she soaked up the theatrics and music Wednesday.
“Of course I have goosebumps,” said Abel. “I was happy to be part of this event because I won’t be part of the opening ceremony. Seeing the flag coming up and having this chance to sing the national anthem, I’m really happy and that satisfies me.”
The Canadian team’s goal at the 2012 Summer Olympics is a top-12 finish in the overall medal count. One of those could come as early as Saturday when Canadian cyclist Ryder Hesjedal competes in the men’s road race.
Hesjedal arrived in London by train on Wednesday and will be firmly in the spotlight in his third Olympics after winning the prestigious Giro d’Italia earlier this year.
“It’s exciting. This is a little overwhelming,” he said. “But I’ve been training and focusing on this event. We’ll see how I do Saturday and following in the time trial.”
The Victoria native said he’s in good shape after an accident forced him out of the Tour de France early. He was in ninth place after five stages, but he was one of at least two dozen riders caught up in a nasty crash with 26 kilometres left in the sixth stage.
He suffered road rash to his hip, knee and ankle. But the real damage came when, upon impact, his leg slammed into another rider’s bike.
“I’m healthy and I get to represent Canada at the Olympics,” he said. “It’s all good.”