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Being part of Canada’s Olympic-champion soccer team an ‘out-of-body experience’ for B.C. woman

South Surrey’s Maeve Glass has been equipment manager for national women’s team since 2008 Games
Equipment manager Maeve Glass (top right) and head coach Bev Priestman (bottom right) – both Semiahmoo Peninsula residents – won Olympic gold with Canada’s national women’s soccer team in Tokyo last week. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld photo)

“It’s up to the gods now.”

Those were the six words Bev Priestman, head coach of Canada’s national women’s soccer team, leaned in and said to longtime equipment manager – and Semiahmoo Peninsula resident – Maeve Glass, in the moments before the penalty shootout began between Canada and Sweden in the final match at the Tokyo Summer Olympics.

The two teams had already battled in sweltering heat at Yokohama Stadium for 120 minutes, each scoring once. Now, a gold medal would be determined by penalty kicks.

And though the shootout took an agonizing six rounds to decide, the soccer deities Priestman had invoked ultimately looked favourably on the Canadians, who won on a strike from 20-year-old Vancouver native Julia Grosso, who was still in elementary school when Glass – the former president of Peace Arch Soccer – made her Olympic debut with the Canadian squad at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

“I’m still on Cloud 9… it hasn’t really sunk in yet. It was absolutely amazing,” Glass told Peace Arch News Wednesday, just two days after arriving home.

That gold-medal match was watched by millions of Canadians – including many on the West Coast, who woke up at 5 a.m. to tune in – and though viewers were no doubt on pins and needles for much of the morning, Glass insisted the team was cool and collected until that final goal.

However, once Grosso scored, “it was like an out-of-body experience.”

Before Grosso’s goal, the Swedish captain had sailed her penalty kick attempt high above the Canadian net. Glass, standing next to Priestman – also a resident of the Semiahmoo Peninsula – said only one thing, a statement of fact to those standing near her.

“We were all quite calm. I just said, ‘If Julia scores, we win.’”

The Swedish goalkeeper got a hand on Grosso’s shot, but rather than deflect the ball up over the net, it stayed under bar to seal the victory.

“Julia turned around after she scored, and Bev ran past me like a 100-metre sprinter,” Glass laughed. “It was just so overwhelming.”

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Glass insisted that the most tense moment of the Olympic tournament for her wasn’t the gold-medal game, but actually the quarter-final match against Brazil – a game that also came down to penalty kicks, with Canada winning 4-3.

That victory set up a dramatic semifinal rematch against the No. 1-ranked United States team, who famously defeated Canada in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics thanks to a controversial penalty call that cost Canada a shot at gold. They finished with bronze – the first medals in Olympic history for Canadian soccer – though the pain of the semifinal loss lingered.

Speaking with PAN at the time, Glass said the team was “well and truly robbed.”

This time around, however, the longtime equipment manager – whose history with the Olympics dates back to 1976 when, as a 16-year-old, she took part in the torch relay at the Montreal-hosted Games – knew Canada would come out on top, which they did, 1-0, thanks to a Jessie Fleming penalty kick.

“I just had a calm about that game. I just had a feeling we were going to win,” she said.

Though she was thrilled to be part of a gold-medal winner, Glass – whose mother, longtime Surrey school trustee Pam Glass, competed for Ireland at the 1948 Olympics as a runner – was happiest for the players she has known for years, like Canadian soccer legend Christine Sinclair and two of the team’s youngest players, Gross and Jordyn Huitema, both of whom Glass has known since the pair were just 12 years old.

Hours after the gold-medal game ended, Glass and Grosso had a moment to reflect on what had just happened.

“I was riding up the elevator with Julia… and I said to her, ‘You guys, this is going to change your life in such a good way, you just have no idea.’”

While the Tokyo Olympics were a unique experience even for Olympic veterans due to COVID-19 protocols – there were countless COVID-19 tests, no fans in attendance and Olympians were only allowed to be in Japan a few days before their event, then were ushered home almost immediately after – Glass said the Games were still incredible.

“After the semifinal, we got to go into the Olympic Village – we hadn’t been there yet, we weren’t staying there. I think for a lot of the newcomers, the first-time Olympians, that’s when it really started to feel like the Olympics,” she said.

“I’ve been to five Olympics now, and this village was one of the best I’ve been to. You have to hand it to the Japanese – in really, really difficult circumstances, they pulled it off and it was amazing.”

Back home in South Surrey, Glass is still battling jet lag and a little bit of a “surreal” feeling, knowing she was a part of such a historic moment for Canadian soccer. She noted that Priestman has also had to adjust since returning.

“I talked to Bev yesterday and she said everywhere she goes – she was down at White Rock beach – people are stopping her and congratulating her,” Glass explained. “She said she’s went out for dinner a couple times and nobody will let her pay. I just told her to enjoy it, because she’s worked her backside off for it.

“It’s very cool.”

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