For Canadian Olympic soccer hero Stephanie Labbé, the journey resumes in Paris


A secluded campground in the Rocky Mountains, with no cellphone service to be had, was where Stephanie Labbé found refuge after starring in Canada’s run to women’s soccer gold at the Tokyo Olympics.

It was also where the impact of that historic feat started to sink in.

“People were like, ‘Hey, are you the goalkeeper?’ in our campsite,” Labbé said. “We went for a hike and someone was behind us and they were like, ‘Hey, are you the Canadian goalkeeper?’ We were just like, ‘Wow.’”

She was camping with partner Georgia Simmerling, a four-time Olympian who has competed in both summer and winter and finished fourth in track cycling team pursuit in Tokyo. It was on that trip that they got engaged, Labbé adding a ring to go with her shiny medal.

“Those two things, it’s tough to put into words what those two days mean to me. Two of the best days of my life, and probably always will be,” Labbé said.

The summer of Steph didn’t end there. In late August, the 34-year-old from Edmonton signed for one year plus an option with Paris Saint-Germain Féminine, joining Canadian teammates Ashley Lawrence and Jordyn Huitema on one of the world’s best clubs. Talks about a move from Sweden’s FC Rosengård began before Labbé left for Tokyo. When the deal was officially announced, weeks after beating the Swedes for gold in a dramatic penalty shootout, she joked: “Sweden wanted to kick me out.”

That same Olympic performance endeared her to Canadian sports fans.

It started in the tournament opener against Japan, when she suffered a rib injury during a tackle in the box. Japan was awarded a penalty kick on the play, which Labbé saved before exiting. She missed the next match, then returned for the duration.

“Adrenalin is a wonderful drug,” said Labbé, adding she still isn’t fully recovered but is training with PSG. “I was definitely in a lot of pain, but that’s a very special tournament and that’s what you train your butt off for … It’s going to take broken legs and a bunch of torn ligaments to keep me out.”

She made a pair of saves in each of Canada’s penalty shootouts, against Brazil in the quarterfinals and then Sweden in the final. All told, she stopped five of 12 penalty kicks she faced in the tournament, a record any ’keeper would take.

A lasting image from Canada’s first Olympic soccer title is Labbé’s energy in the decisive shootout: smiling, screaming, fists pumping, jumping around on her line, trailing Swedish shooters, playing mind games with the opposition. She said there was no doubt in her mind that Canada would win.

“I just have this confidence that of the five shooters, I know I’m going to make one save,” she said. “I just have this in my head. I think it’s just telling myself, ‘All you have to do is make one save and you’re giving your team a chance. If you make two saves, your team has a very good chance of winning.’”

The show of mental fortitude in such a high-pressure situation was hardly a fluke. Labbé has been open about her mental health struggles, the work she puts in on that side of the game and in advocating for better resources for athletes.

She quit the national team for a spell in 2012 while struggling with depression, and has been without a professional team at times, missing out on critical playing time while competing for a spot on the national roster.

In 2018, a bid to play for Calgary Foothills FC, a men’s team in the Premier Development League, was denied because of her gender even though coach Tommy Wheeldon Jr. said she had the talent to be among his three goalkeepers.

At the Olympics, she said she had trouble sleeping and eating after the high of Canada’s quarterfinal win, all the way through the final: “It was completely draining me.”

Marco Carducci, a goalkeeper with the Canadian Premier League’s Calvary FC and a close friend of Labbé — they met in training with Calgary Foothills FC — said her “incredible mental game” was the key to Olympic gold.

“It is a skill,” he said. “It’s something you have to practise … she’s been working on it for her whole career.”

In an email from France, Simmerling added: “A lot of people think that success comes easy for those at ‘the top’ and it’s quite often not the case … (Labbé)’s always paved her own way, but been incredibly gracious and kind to those that she met along the way. I was just, and still am, so proud of her for showing the world what she’s truly capable of as a goalkeeper.”

While she had talked about retiring after Tokyo, Labbé plans to take some time to enjoy the gold-medal win, spend time with Simmerling in Europe and see where the stint at PSG takes her. Maybe a Champions League title.

“I still am so excited for the next chapter of my life,” she said. “I’m at that point where I’ve definitely given so much to the sport, and the sport has given me everything in return.

“How can you top an Olympic gold other than, you know, getting a second Olympic gold? I just feel so at peace with where I’m at that I’m just wanting to enjoy it.”


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.

Source link

Denial of responsibility! Planetconcerns is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Leave a comment