Michael Woods came agonizingly close to opening Canada’s medal count on the first full day of competition at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The Ottawa rider finished fifth in an exciting men’s road race Saturday at Fuji International Speedway on a day that also saw Canadian athletes hit the diamond, the court and the beach.
Woods, an excellent climber, was often threatening on the challenging circuit framed by the iconic Mount Fuji that featured climbs of up to 1,451 meters.
He was part of a competitive chase group during the final kilometers of the race that descended from the Kagosaka pass. He aggressively pushed the chasing group behind eventual gold medal winner Richard Carapaz of Ecuador, but ended up milliseconds off the podium in the end.
Woods finished the race in good company as part of a group that finished one minute and seven seconds behind Carapaz. Wout van Aert from Belgium and Tadej Pogacar from Slovenia, two cycling heavyweights, took silver and bronze respectively. The decorated Dutch pilot Bauke Mollema was fourth.
A handful of events leading up to the opening ceremony gave way to a full list of contests on a sweltering Saturday that also saw the first handful of medals awarded.
Canada saw victories in beach volleyball and softball, mixed results on the tennis court and a loss in water polo.
The women’s softball team rebounded from a loss to the top-ranked US team with a 7-1 beating over Australia.
Toronto’s Jenna Caira was outstanding in 4 2/3 innings as a reliever, while Jennifer Salling and Erika Polidori drove in two runs apiece.
Caira struck out three, allowed just two hits and did not walk for the win as Canada improved to 2-1 in the six-team tournament.
“ I have great respect for Australia, ” said Salling, 34, of Port Coquitlam, BC. “ They are brave, they fight, they fight, they compete to the end.
“ Just a great victory for us. ”
Canada has never won a medal in Olympic softball, while Australia and the US are the only countries to stand on the podium in the four Games where the sport has appeared _ 1996, 2000, 2004 and 2008.
Canada will now turn its attention to the Olympic hosts for the fourth of their five free-for-all games on Sunday.
On the beach, Melissa Humana-Paredes and her partner Sarah Pavan scored their first victory, defeating the Dutch duo of Katja Stam and Raisa Schoon 2-0.
Pavan and Humana-Paredes have been dominant since they first teamed up five years ago, reaching the final in 14 international events and winning seven.
A world title in 2019 qualified the duo for the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, then the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the Games for a year.
“ We have been waiting for this moment for so long, ” Pavan said. “ Last year was a roller coaster of emotions.
“ But we remained disciplined, motivated and responsible, not only with each other, but also with our federation, our sport and everyone who has supported us. ”
Pavan and Humana-Paredes will play on Monday against Germany’s Julia Sude and Karla Borger.
In tennis, Leylah Fernández needed three sets to win her Olympic debut on a mixed day for the Canadian players.
Fernandez, an 18-year-old southpaw from Montreal, defeated Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 in just over two hours on a hot afternoon at Ariake Tennis Park.
In the women’s doubles game, the seventh duo of Ottawa’s Gabriela Dabrowski and Toronto’s Sharon Fichman lost a 7-6 (3), 6-4 decision to Brazilians Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani.
Dabrowski still plans to play in the mixed doubles draw later in the tournament with Montreal’s Felix Auger-Aliassime, who will face Britain’s Andy Murray in his first singles match on Sunday.
In water polo, Canada lost an 8-5 decision to Australia in Group A action. The Canadians will face Spain on Monday.