Canada’s Michelle Li is like a gazelle on the badminton court, using lightning speed and incredible reflexes to her full advantage.
Partner Alexandra Bruce is a little taller and just as intimidating. Together they use a lethal combination of power, quickness and deft touch to outmatch their opponents.
Li and Bruce were in top form Wednesday at the Pan American Games, winning a gold medal by defeating American sisters Iris and Rena Wang 21-15, 21-15 in the women’s doubles final.
“They’re so young,” Canadian coach Ram Nayyar said. “The sky’s the limit.”
Li, who will go for singles gold Thursday, turns 20 next month, while Bruce is just 21. The victory was the biggest of their career and puts them in good shape in the race for qualification points ahead of the Summer Olympics in London.
Canada sits third in the overall standings with 33 medals (seven gold, nine silver, 17 bronze). The U.S. has a commanding lead with 82 medals, while Brazil is second with 36.
Li and Bruce used their significant height advantage to keep the pressure on the Americans.
“We just tried to use that, get the angles and just power through it,” Bruce said.
Nayyar said the Canadians tried to keep their opponents on their heels throughout the match and that aggressiveness paid off.
“That’s a team that they needed to beat and they did it with confidence and certainty,” he said. “They started off a little bit slow in both games but then they would just kind of get into their heads and take control and say, ‘OK, here we go.'”
Two other Canadian teams received their bronze medals after dropping semifinal matches a day earlier.
Toronto’s Joycelyn Ko and Calgary’s Grace Gao lost to the Wang sisters, while the men’s duo of Adrian Liu of Prince Rupert, B.C., and Derrick Ng of Vancouver lost to Halim Ho and Sattawat Pongnairat, who went on to drop a 21-10, 21-14 decision to Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan in an all-American final.
Ko and Li will meet in an all-Canadian women’s singles final while Gao will team up with Toby Ng of Vancouver against Ho and American Eva Lee in the mixed doubles final.
Li, who’s from Markham, Ont., just north of her Toronto-based partner, floated in the back of the court and stifled the Americans with her range and creativity. Bruce was just as effective and used superb shot selection to fluster their opponents.
The Canadians got off to a slow start in the second set before turning things around.
“We got a little nervous but somehow we managed to get our confidence and come back and win,” Bruce said.
The 850-seat venue was about three-quarters full for the women’s final. The crowd was noticeably pro-Canadian even though only a handful of red Canada shirts could be seen. A pro-Canada chant even started at one point.
“It felt like we were back home in Canada, just with a little Spanish accent,” Bruce said.
The Canadians were coming off a hard match a day earlier when they pulled out a 21-19 win in the deciding set.
“I feel really great. We had a really tough semi yesterday,” Bruce said. “It was really close, but we got through it and were able to recover quickly.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian women’s quadruple sculls team opened the day with a silver medal, before the men’s coxed eight added a silver of its own.
Melanie Kok of St. Catharines, Ont., Isolda Penney of Kingston, Ont., and Elizabeth McCord and Audra Vair, both of Toronto, finished in six minutes 37.68 seconds for the silver in the quadruple sculls.
Argentina took gold in 6:34.46, while the U.S. was third in 6:39.36.
“Argentina is such a strong team, so we decided to work off of them. We caught up and it was a very strong race and I think we did the best we could today,” said Vair, who also won bronze in the double sculls Tuesday. “It’s so satisfying. It’s so wonderful.
“It’s the first time I’ve been to a Games like this and to (come) away with two medals is a very satisfying and elating experience.”
The Canadian coxed eight crew of Steven van Knotsenburg of Grimsby, Ont., Peter McLelland of Aurora, Ont., Victoria’s Joshua Morris, Ben de Wit of Naskup, B.C., Kai Langerfeld of North Vancouver, B.C., David Wakulich of St. Catharines, Ont., Toronto’s Blake Parsons, Spencer Crowley of Lantzville, B.C., and Mark Laidlaw of Mississauga, Ont., took silver in 5:41.01.
The U.S. (5:39.32) took gold and Argentina (5:41.77) finished third.
“Being second in all the Americas is pretty good.”said Morris.
In women’s field hockey, Canada thumped Barbados 10-0. Brienne Stairs of Kitchener, Ont., had a hat trick while Thea Culley of Rossland, B.C., added two goals of her own.
Canada also had a big day in softball, hammering Argentina 11-0. Melanie Matthews of Surrey, B.C., led the way with a run scored and three RBIs. Canada improved to 5-1 later Wednesday with an 8-1 win over Mexico. Shortstop Jennifer Salling of Burnaby, B.C., had a triple and drove in two runs.
In baseball, Canada hung on to beat Puerto Rico 5-4. Vancouver’s Jimmy Van Ostrand went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI for the Canadians.
Canada led 5-1 before the Puerto Ricans scored once in the eighth and added two more in the ninth.
“We got the win,” Canadian manager Ernie Whitt said. “We got into a little funk at the end but our guys battled and we came out on top.”