Bleary-eyed fans across the country watched nervously as the Canadian women’s soccer team took the field against Sweden in a closely contested Olympic gold-medal match early Friday morning, but Georgia Simmerling was remarkably calm.
“To be honest, I’m pretty chill about it,” said Simmerling, whose partner, Stephanie Labbé, is the starting goalkeeper for Canada.
“I know her so well, so if she gets hit or knocked down, I’m just sending her good vibes. I know she’ll get back up.”
Simmerling, an Olympian herself who just got back from competing at the Tokyo Games in track cycling, has experience steeling herself and steadying her emotions before a big competition.
“I guess I know how to control my nerves,” she said.
“I obviously enjoy it. I love it. I’m her biggest fan. But yeah, I stay pretty calm.”
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Surrounded by fans gathered early Friday at a Calgary bar — eager to see the Canadian soccer team take its first crack at an Olympic gold medal, after earning bronze in their past two efforts — Simmerling said she was confident in Labbé.
“Steph turns into a bit of beast when it comes to stepping onto that field,” she said.
That proved to be prescient.
After giving up a first-half goal, the Canadian team came from behind to tie the game and then endured numerous, dangerous-looking Swedish attacks in extra time, but ultimately emerged victorious in a six-round penalty shootout.
Both teams put on an outstanding display of goalkeeping in the shootout, but Labbé was just that much better than her Swedish counterpart, preventing four of Sweden’s six attempts.
In the sixth and decisive round, Labbé denied Jonna Andersson’s attempt and then Julia Grosso delivered the dagger for Canada by a matter of centimetres.
The Swedish keeper guessed correctly where Grosso would shoot and got a hand on the ball — looking for a fraction of a second like she had saved it — but it deflected off her glove and up into the top of the netting.
There may have been no crowd at the stadium in Japan, but the fans at the Calgary bar erupted in cheers, hugs and high-fives.
As the pandemonium calmed, Simmerling caught her breath and considered the magnitude of what Labbé and her teammates had just accomplished.
“These girls are meant to do this,” she said.
“They know what they need to do and they came up big. That was unbelievable. It was so incredible to watch.”