Desiree Scott reached the zenith of her soccer career at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Now, back in Manitoba’s capital city, she intends to celebrate that moment.
“This is the pinnacle for me. This is best moment of my life and — I’m going to get emotional — I’m so grateful to be here and to bring this home it means a lot,” she said after her arrival home on Monday night, greeted by a throng of family, friends and onlookers at the Winnipeg James Armstrong Richardson International Airport.
Scott and her teammates netted Canada’s first Olympic gold medal in women’s soccer with a dramatic 3-2 victory over Sweden on penalty kicks last week.
After Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe turned aside second-half Swedish substitute Jonna Andersson in the sixth round of the penalty shootout, 20-year-old Julia Grosso sent her Canadian teammates into a frenzy on the Yokohama Stadium pitch with the winning kick from the spot.
The jubilation that followed isn’t the only thing Scott vividly recalled.
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“Hearing your anthem and seeing your flag rise is a feeling I’ll never forget and a memory I’ll never forget,” says Scott.
A three-time Olympian, Scott was part of Canada’s bronze-medal winning squads at both the 2012 Olympics in London and the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro.
Despite the back-to-back Olympic podium finishes, Canada’s goal in Tokyo was to change the colour of the medal.
The Canadians advanced to the knockout stage despite winning only one of its three group-stage games, and needed a 4-3 victory over Brazil in the penalty shootout to advance to the semifinals before they bounced the pre-tournament favourites from the United States 1-0 in the semifinals to advance to the gold-medal match.
After relentless Swedish pressure for much of the first half of the gold-medal match, Emma Blackstenius beat Labbe in the 34th minute to give her country the lead, but Jessie Fleming scored the tying goal from the penalty spot in the 68th minute to pull Canada level at 1-1.
Extra time solved nothing and a nervy penalty shootout followed, but it ended in tears of joy for the Canadians.
“As a champion, it’s a dream come true,” says Scott. “I’m still so in awe and so happy.”
Her mother, Charlene Gusberti, was among those who patiently waited inside the airport for Scott to arrive. Gusberti is proud of the never-say-die attitude her daughter has had throughout her soccer career.
“After all these years of driving her and pushing her and making sure she got where she had to go — I drove her and her friends all over the place — there’s times when you get so involved in this that you just want to quit,” said Gusberti.
“You’re tired, but I pushed her and I pushed her, and I drove her to different places, like university and different places where she played, and look what she accomplished. My daughter is an Olympic gold medallist.”
When she’s not on the pitch, Scott, a former University of Manitoba Bisons standout, is an athlete ambassador for KidSport Winnipeg as well as for the Homeless World Cup.
Growing up Scott was a KidSport kid herself, but fast forward to the present and the local role model is an ambassador for the organization and a newly-decorated Olympic champion.
She hopes what she’s accomplished will motivate the next generation.
“Hopefully this inspires all of the young ones who are playing soccer to continue to grow to play the game and to fall in love with the game,” Scott said.
“Never stop believing in yourself, be your own cheerleader and dream big. I never ever would have imagined being at the top of the podium being a girl from Winnipeg who just loves the game. You just never know where an opportunity is going to take you, so do the work and love what you are doing.”
She plans to spend the next week in Winnipeg, relaxing and celebrating with friends and family before heading to Kansas City to rejoin her National Women’s Soccer League squad.
“This one’s for our province and for our city,” Scott says of her gold medal. “I’m just so happy to come back here and thankful for all of the people who supported this team and supported my career.
“I’m here for the next week so let’s celebrate this medal.”