One week ago, Sophie Schmidt was kneeling on the grass at Old Trafford – the legendary home field of Manchester United – with tears rolling down her cheeks following a devastating 4-3 loss to the United States in the Olympic women’s soccer semifinals.
On Monday, the 24-year-old midfielder from Abbotsford walked through the arrivals gate at Vancouver International Airport to a hero’s welcome, with a bronze medal around her neck and a smile on her face.
“I don’t think there’s two bigger extremes,” marveled Schmidt, who helped her team bounce back from the U.S. defeat to beat France 1-0 in the bronze medal game. “You’re absolutely gutted for the (semifinal) result – you want to be in that gold medal game, but your dreams are crushed. But to end up winning a medal anyway, it’s fantastic.”
Against the U.S., Canada held the lead on three occasions thanks to a hat trick from Burnaby’s Christine Sinclair, but they were undone by a series of controversial calls and ended up losing in extra time.
After the game, sharp criticism of the referee by Canadian players – particularly Sinclair and Melissa Tancredi – prompted FIFA to launch an investigation, and there were rumblings that suspensions could be handed down for the bronze medal match. Ultimately, FIFA held off on any punishment until after the Olympics.
After all that drama, it was a wonder the Canadians were able to compose themselves for the bronze medal game. The French had the lion’s share of the scoring chances, but Canada got the lone goal in the late going.
Schmidt’s fingerprints were all over the play, which will surely go down as the most memorable goal in Canadian women’s soccer history. The ball came to her at the top of the box, and she unleashed a shot that hit a French defender. But the ball deflected onto the foot of Diana Matheson with nothing but net in front of her, and she rolled it home. It was Canada’s first shot on goal of the game.
“I thought I was going to score,” Schmidt admitted with a grin. “But it took a good deflection, and (Matheson) was in the perfect place at the right time.
“I couldn’t even celebrate because I was so tired, but I was so happy.”
The soccer team’s emotional roller-coaster ride at the Olympics captured the attention of the nation, and the flag-waving throng at Vancouver International on Monday gave Schmidt a taste of it.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “The support here is unbelievable. We heard about it, but to come home and see it, it’s heartwarming.”
Schmidt’s parents, Elmer and Cornelia, hung back as their daughter fulfilled numerous interview and autograph requests. When the sea of red-clad fans finally parted, Elmer scooped her up in a big bear hug as Cornelia captured the moment on video.
The Schmidt family, which also includes soccer-playing brothers Bruce and Spencer, watched all of Sophie’s Olympic games on TV together.
“We were screaming the whole time,” Cornelia said with a chuckle. “They did their absolute best, and in my mind, they won gold. We can’t change the (semifinal) result, but they overcame it with grace. I’m very proud of them.
“Abbotsford has supported her. All the girls soccer teams, all the parents, everybody is a part of this. They helped to bring her to this moment.”
Sophie Schmidt (left) and teammates Karina LeBlanc, Christine Sinclair and Emily Zurrer posed for the cameras at Vancouver International Airport on Monday. (Dan Kinvig photo)