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 all 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.
In water polo, Canada lost an 8-5 decision to Australia in Group A action. The Canadians will face Spain on Monday.