Beijing Brief: Brown, Gymnasts Post Excellent Results in Finals

With Kosuke Kitajima of Japan a full second ahead, the 200m breaststroke race was about silver and bronze. At the wall three fingertips struck at more or less the same moment. Silver to Australia in 2:08.88 and bronze to France in 2:08.94. Canada’s Mike Brown claimed what one of them had to – fourth place at 2:09.03. He just missed the first Canadian medal of the 2008 Olympic Games.

Nine-100ths of a second away from bronze. “Finishing fourth is probably the worst place because it all comes down to the touch,’’ said Brown, of Perth, Ont. “Obviously I would of liked to be on the podium but this was my second-fastest time ever and to do this in an Olympic final is quite good.”

Brown’s breaststroke countrymate Annamay Pierse (Vancouver) successfully qualified for the 200m final on Friday by posting a new Canadian record at 2:23.94. “That was just incredible,” said Pierse. “I swam my own race every inch of the way. I feel I have more in me for finals.”

Also reaching a swimming final was Keith Beavers of Waterloo, Ont. Beavers finished eighth overall in the men’s 200 individual medley semifinal, clocking 1:59.43.

Canada featured two men’s gymnasts, both from Calgary, in the all-around artistic final on Thursday. Adam Wong posted a best-ever Canadian result by coming in 15th in an extremely strong field. Nathan Gafuik was close behind in 17th spot.

“The last four or five years we’ve really been able to progress as a team getting stronger, pushing one another,” said Wong. “We’ve got a lot of young guys coming up and hopefully they’ll be able to watch this on TV and make them want to work harder to keep things moving forward for our team.”

“I’m happy that Adam and I have both done a best-ever result at the Olympics but to be honest there’s not a sense of achieving something extraordinary because we knew we could achieve these results,” said Gafuik, who had the second-best ever result. “And we know that we will be able to surpass them in the future.”

Canada’s first Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler since 1996 was in action Thursday. Calgary’s Ari Taub overcame many obstacles in reaching his premier Olympic Games, including neck problems that date back 15 years. The 37-year-old lost in his opening match to Mihaly Deak-Bardos of Hungary.

“I’ve done a lot of work over the last 23 years to be here and this special moment has finally arrived,” said Taub. “This wrestler is one of the best in the world and I’m happy with my performance, I did the best I could.”

Canada’s young four-member women’s sabre fencing team handily defeated South Africa 45-16 to claim seventh place overall. They were very close to fifth place, but lost 45-44 to Poland. They are Olga Ovtchinnikova (Montréal), Sandra Sassine (Laval, Que.), Julie Cloutier (Repentigny, Que.) and Wendy Saschenbrecker (Montréal) – the last an alternate who was called on to fence for an injured Cloutier.

“It’s very hard to stay positive when you don’t win, a few wrong touches and you’re out of the competition (but) nevertheless this has been a great experience,” said Ovtchinnikova. “I don’t regret anything. Our team is very young and we still have a lot of potential. I felt very happy with the other girls, we really supported each other.”

Canadian softball and baseball players found further reasons to be excited at this year’s Olympic tournaments. The women’s softball team played the powerful U.S. team and took a 1-0 lead in the fourth inning when the game was called for rain. The game will resume Friday afternoon, but Canada will play South Korea first in the morning.

The men’s baseball team came as close as possible to knocking off gold medal favourite Cuba, dropping a 7-6 decision late Thursday. Canada in fact held a 5-3 lead after two straight home runs by Nick Weglarz (Stevensville, ON), who finished the game 4 for 4 with three RBI and three runs. The team is now 1-1 at the Olympic Games and will next play South Korea Friday.

Elsewhere on day six:

Rainy conditions caused the cancellation of all sailing, canoe-kayak and rowing events. “We’re just rolling with it,” said Tracy Cameron who was to race the lightweight women’s double semifinal. “We have talked about this scenario many times before and it has not phased us in the slightest. We are ready to go, same time, same channel, but tomorrow.”

Judoka Keith Morgan of Calgary, in his third Olympic Games, won his opening match before losing his second match to Romania’s Daniel Brata. “I’ve been in this sport for a long time and I’m so happy to still be here,” said Morgan. “Coming into the games I had high expectations. I would have liked to end my career differently but I lost to a good judoka. I have no regrets. When I look back I’ll be proud of my accomplishments. This is it, this was my last bout.”

In her first Olympic competition, Marylise Lévesque (Saint-Pacôme, Que.) won her first match before dropping her next two matches. “For the moment, I’m really disappointed,” she said. “I should not have lost this bout. I had a big lead and I wasn’t able to keep it. I could have gone further in the competition; she’s the kind of opponent I could have easily beat.”

In table tennis, the Canadian men’s team lost 3-0 to Germany.

The men’s water polo team lost a tight contest, 8-5 to Australia. “Obviously, nobody is happy to have lost this match, but if there is one good thing about this game it’s that we gave it our all,” said goalie Robin Randall of Drinkwater, Sask. “The level of intensity was much higher. We came out there and we played with our heart.”

In equestrian dressage competition, Toronto’s Ashley Holzer and horse Pop Art finished 19th to quality for individual competition. Teammate Jacqueline Brooks (Mount Albert, Ont.) placed 29th with horse Gran Gesto. Late Wednesday, teammate Leslie Reid (Langley, B.C.) competed and finished an overall 44th with horse Orion. Holzer will compete in Saturday’s Grand Prix Special, after which 15 riders will continue in the Grand Prix Freestyle. Overall, the dressage team finished in ninth spot.

In swimming, Richard Hortness (Medicine Hat, Alta.) finished 27th out of 97 athletes in 50m freestyle. Keith Beavers broke the Canadian record in the 200m backstroke semifinals but did not advance to the finals. Neither did Tobias Oriwol (Pointe-Claire, Que.) who finished that race 15th. In the 100m freestyle semifinals, Calgary’s Erica Morningstar finished 15th and won’t swim in the final. Tanya Hunks (Regina) finished in 23rd spot in the 800m freestyle. Lindsay Seeman of Newmarket, Ont. came in 30th in the 200m backstroke while Joe Bartoch of London, Ont. and Adam Sioui of Calgary competed in the 100m butterfly. They finished 34th and 39th respectively.

The biggest non-Canadian news came on the tennis court where Swiss star Roger Federer lost in the quarter-final to American James Blake. Federer has never won an Olympic singles medal.