Melissa Bishop of Eganville competes in the opening round of the 800 metres at the London Olympic Games. She did not advance to the semi-final round. Teammate Jessica Smith of North Vancouver did advance.
Claus Andersen/Athletics Canada
She’s cool and famous, in the eyes of Ottawa Valley residents, especially those in Eganville. And they’re proud of her, even though Melissa Bishop went down fighting in her debut at the Olympic Games yesterday.
Back in London, it was just after 12:10 p.m. when she left the starting line in realistic pursuit of a berth in the semi-final round of the women’s 800 metres.
The Eganville middle-distance runner fell well short, placing 30th overall, after a pedantic opening lap played into the hands of her opponents, as an estimated crowd of 700 spectators looked up at the television screen in the Eganville Arena Wednesday morning, just after 7 a.m.
The top three finishers in each heat advanced, along with the next six fastest times. However, none of those six times came in Bishop’s race, the fifth of six heats.
Three of those next-fastest times came in the final heat. The slowest qualifying time turned out to be 2:03.85 by American Geena Gall in an earlier heat.
Bishop’s time of 2:09.33 came in a slow-starting, fast-finishing race. The opening-lap time was the slowest of the day, at 68.7 seconds. She went with the leaders, with 180 metres remaining, but she didn’t have the speed down the straightaway. She finished sixth in her heat.
Bishop, who earlier this season became the third Canadian woman to break the coveted two-minute barrier in the two-lap track race, didn’t have the speed to match the top three racers – Nataliia Lupu of the Ukraine, Elena Arzhakova of Russia and Cherono Koech of Kenya. They each ran in the 2:08s, but each also had faster personal bests than Bishop.
A dignified Bishop, 24, expressed her disappointment in a track-side interview.
“It was a tactical race,” she said with an arena of more than 700 supporters looking up at the screen. “I was there … It is what it is. It happens, but I’m happy to be here.”
And the many supporters have been happy to enjoy the huge wave of support for the rookie Olympian, whose parents Doug and Alison of Eganville were in London with track-side seats.
“I was right there with them, but was impatient and started kicking too early,” she said later. “It happens, I guess, but this is not the way I wanted it to go.”
When it was clear Bishop would not qualify for the semi-finals, most spectators filed out of the arena before the sixth and final heat started.
Some looked disappointed, but no one was saying that, standing behind the gal that has made Eganville-and-area residents proud.
Those in attendance included Whitby resident Jennifer Allan, who has been attending the nearby Lutherlyn Camp for 26 years. With one-and-a-half-year-old son Gabriel asleep on her shoulder, said she was pleased to show her support.
“I hope to be like Melissa some day,” said Morgan McGrath, 13, of Douglas. Her cousin, Rory McGrath of Eganville, was told maybe a few dozen cars would show up, so he was surprised to see the sea of red Melissa Bishop T-shirts making up most of the huge crowd.
“I’m sad for Melissa. She was hoping to make the semi-finals” said Jason Swant. “But she’s our Olympian and we’re very proud of her. We’re not disappointed, but I’m sure she is. 2016, here we come.”
Entertainer Dai Bassett, who played during the arena extravaganza, called it one of the most exciting events he’s ever been part of.
Bassett also had the privilege of writing a song that he played, as supporters sang along, in the arena.
“Go Melissa! Go Melissa! Go Melissa!” started the song that went on to refer to the “true Canadian golden girl” who has “trained so hard” and “is known in every household.”
Part of the chorus also saluted her, saying:
She runs 800 metres – the fastest in this land
At 2012’s Olympic Games
In London with such famous names
The Maple Leaf flies proudly
For this lady, oh so grand.
Dana Jennings, community development officer from Bonnechere Valley Township, said the event run by the municipality, and financially assisted by Conway’s Pharmacy and the Eganville Figure Skating Club for the bargain breakfasts, far exceeded expectations.
Hoping for a few hundred fans, Jennings called the turnout of more than 700, excellent and moving.
Even though the golden gal didn’t qualify, Jennings says Bishop’s performance “definitely brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart, seeing the support in her first Olympics and I’m sure what will be the first of many Olympics (for her).”
Echoing the feelings of many in the crowd, Jennifer Power of Arnprior said, “She’ll always be gold to us.”
“Yeah, we’re proud,” said Moon Power of Eganville. “She’s a winner all the way.”
Bishop’s teammate, Jessica Smith of North Vancouver, did advance to the semi-final round. She placed second in the third heat in 2:07.75, just behind Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi.
The same morning that fans watched from within the Eganville arena, it was announced that Canada had just won two medals in kayaking, to bring Canada’s medal total in London to 13.
Tuesday, Derek Drouin captured a bronze medal to become the country’s first Olympic high jump medallist since Greg Joy took silver in 1976. Drouin cleared 2.29 metres to earn a trip to the podium.