The Peterborough Examiner

Rio berth on line for Canada

Women’s gold medal-winning team from Pan Am Games set to compete in FIBA America’s tournament

- JOHN MACKINNON Edmonton Journal jmackinnon@edmontonjo­­n

EDMONTON — Katherine and Michelle Plouffe shot a little hoops in Sir Winston Churchill Square on Wednesday to help drum up interest in the FIBA Americas Women’s Basketball Championsh­ip which runs from Aug. 9-16. It shouldn’t be difficult. What’s not to like about Canada’s national women’s basketball team gunning for a 2016 Olympic berth at the Saville Centre?

There’s a distinct multi-sport games feel to this Edmonton sporting summer, albeit an elongated sports festival, with the events running consecutiv­ely, not all at once.

Much of June was dedicated to the FIFA Women’s World Cup of Soccer. July was, and is, track and field month, kicked off by the Canadian national championsh­ips, and closing out this weekend with the Panamerica­n Junior Athletics Championsh­ips at Foote Field.

Next month, after the track stars have departed, but before the world’s best male and female triathlete­s arrive for the World Triathlon Series event in early September, the Plouffes will be key components of Team Canada’s mission to win that 10-team, 24-game FIBA Americas tournament and earn a berth at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

It will be the second ‘once-in-alifetime’ home-court experience of the summer for the 22-year-old Plouffes, who helped Canada win gold in dramatic fashion at the Pan American Games in Toronto.

As thrilling as that experience was for the players and a Canadian general public just now twigging to the possibilit­ies of the national women’s team, here’s the deal with the FIBA Americas tournament: It is by far the more important event, with all due respect to the Pan Am Games.

That is not to in any way diminish the emotional moment the former Harry Ainlay high school stars shared after Canada defeated the United States 81-73 in the gold medal game.

It wasn’t just a sisterly hug, but a twin sisterly embrace — the culminatio­n, up to now, of two lifetimes in basketball.

“It was just excitement, happiness, joy that what we worked for has come to fruition in that game,” Michelle said. “To be able to share it with my sister is a super cool feeling.

“We haven’t played together very often, so summers is our chance to do so.”

Toronto was the second Games experience for Michelle, who played for Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Katherine did not earn a spot on that team, although she was there to support her sister as a spectator.

As fraught with emotion as that Pan Am moment was, both sisters left no doubt the upcoming competitio­n is far and away the central focus of this special basketball summer.

“I definitely think so because it’s an Olympic berth on the line,” Michelle said. “Pan Ams was a great experience, in and of itself . . . but this is for us, for FIBA. It’s an Olympic berth, I don’t know how else to say it.”

The Pan Am Games tournament was a highly useful tuneup for the upcoming Olympic qualifier, and the script has played out to perfection for Canada, so far.

“We definitely have gained a lot of momentum, I think,” said Michelle. “We know we have a lot of stuff to work on. Teams are going to be stronger, coming into FIBA. They get a few players back (from their pro teams in the WNBA). We know that we have to step up our game up, too. We definitely haven’t peaked this summer yet, to that’s what we hope to do here in August.”

Having piqued national interest with their Pan Am performanc­e, the women’s team is in a position to leverage that, first by earning an Olympic berth, then by following up with what they hope will be a solid tournament in Rio.

The players are acutely aware of the boosts in sponsorshi­p, funding and profile the national women’s soccer team enjoyed through its internatio­nal success.

Might the women’s basketball team be able to generate similar interest?

“I hope so,” Michelle said. “I think that is definitely possible, especially with the team we have and the momentum we have.

“To be able to be in Canada for two major events this summer is huge and I hope our country gets behind us the way they have got behind the women’s soccer team, because that’s super cool to watch.”

Apart from the Plouffes, the rest of Team Canada arrives on the weekend to begin final preparatio­ns for the FIBA tournament, riding a wave of good feeling.

“I think gold gets you pretty confident,” Katherine said. “But (Pan Am) definitely brought out some things we need to work on, which is good, because our focus has definitely been the Olympic qualifier.”

It has been 20 years since a FIBA women’s qualifier was held in Canada and this one is in the Plouffe’s backyard. As the Plouffes themselves might say, this should be “super cool.”

 ?? JULIO CORTEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Michelle Plouffe, top, is carried by her twin sister, Katherine, after Canada beat the U.S. 81-73 in the women’s basketball Pan Am Games final.
JULIO CORTEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS Michelle Plouffe, top, is carried by her twin sister, Katherine, after Canada beat the U.S. 81-73 in the women’s basketball Pan Am Games final.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada