IAN EWING, For the Independent
LONDON – The 2012 Paralympic Games have turned into a repeat of 2008 for Katie Harnock and the Canadian women’s wheelchair basketball team.
Four years ago in Beijing, a Canadian team favoured to win gold couldn’t cut it, finishing a disappointing fifth and stunning many both on the court and off. This time around, the team lowered their stated expectations, but still you knew: they wanted to top that podium.
Despite finishing the round robin portion of the tournament with a strong 3-1 record, the tiebreaking formula placed them third and setup a quarterfinal matchup with a hot American squad. The Canadians fell 67-55 and the U.S. team went on to play for bronze.
After beating Mexico to start the 5-8 placement round, the Canada lost a nail-biter to China on Sept. 7 to finish the tournament in sixth place.
Many on the team were visibly upset after the surprisingly intense match against the Chinese. Captain Janet McLachlan, the tournament’s leading scorer, was nearly in tears during a post-game interview. But Harnock swallowed her disappointment.
“Obviously we came here with higher ambitions than this,” the Elmira native acknowledged. “But our division is really tough, and there’s always a chance – when your goals are so lofty, and there’s so few that actually manage to achieve them – there’s always a chance that you won’t.”
“You have to have some perspective about it,” she added. “There’s a lot of people that would give up all they own to be able to play for Canada, to be able to play in front of these amazing fans at a venue like this.”
The definitively pro-Canada crowd at the North Greenwich Arena was nearly 6,000 strong and included Harnock’s parents, who had flown over from Canada for the tournament and were in the stands for their daughter’s last Paralympic game in London – possibly ever.
Speaking after the loss, Harnock sounded at times like she might be preparing for retirement. But the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in 2016 might be too far in the future to think about. For now, it’s just back to reality.
“I’m thinking about the mountain of homework I have to do on the flight home,” the University of Alabama senior groaned. “I’ve missed probably two weeks.”
There won’t be much of a break from basketball for Harnock and the other three Alabama-educated members of Team Canada, either. The Crimson Tide season starts in a just a few weeks, bringing with it early-morning practices and long days trying to balance athletics and academics.
“No rest for the weary,” Harnock laughed.
COACH WANTS HARNOCK BACK
Team Canada head coach Bill Johnson praised Harnock for her dedication, noting he’s seen huge strides in her game even in the last year.
“She can score like very few others in the world in her class. If Katie decides that she wants to stick to this,” he added, “then I think her future is very bright.”
Harnock, though, isn’t yet sure what the future holds for her. The 29-year-old English major had been looking at playing overseas before Alabama recruited her with the alluring offer of a free education and first-rate competition. Playing on the world stage has only increased her desire to travel.
“London’s been so amazing, I wouldn’t mind taking some time away from school and things like that, and having another look when I’m not in a gym or at the village,” she said. “I’ve been to so many different cities and so many different countries across the world.”
Those cultural experiences have had a greater impact on her than the game itself, she highlighted.
“Whenever I’m done playing, I’ll take that away probably more than the games and the wins and the losses,” Harnock said. “That and the tremendous people I’ve met. Those are the things that I’ll remember most fondly about playing for Canada.”
Sounding again as though these might have been her last Paralympics, the aspiring fiction novelist talked about her belief in a well-rounded lifestyle and what might be next for her.
“I really love basketball, but it’s not my only passion, my only thing. The shelf life of an athlete’s maybe not so long as it once was. You have to account for a lot of years of maybe not playing basketball.
“I’m definitely prepared for that.”