TOKYO | Despite the deep disappointments and the many pitfalls, the Olympic flame that has animated Joelle Bekhazi since 2005 has never been extinguished and her dream will finally come true on Friday, when Canada will play its first match of the group round of the water tournament. -polo against Australia.
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“It’s been 16 years that I run after my dream,” summarizes the 34-year-old poloist who has not seen her husband since the departure of the team on May 14.
“I have a different life from my younger teammates, but I didn’t have a choice even though it’s difficult. Even in Montreal since last January, I only saw my husband four days a month because we had formed a bubble in order to be able to hold group training and not just swimming sessions. ”
Bekhazi was able to count on the support of her husband, fencer Étienne Lalonde-Turbide, who took part in the London Games in 2012.
“Because he participated in the Games himself, it’s easier to understand, but he also knows that I am dedicated to my sport and that nothing could stop me.”
Bekhazi still remembers the very painful defeats that spiced up his career with the national team, whose last participation in the Games dates back to 2004 in Athens.
“The loss in the shootout to the Americans at the 2011 Pan-Ams still hurts a lot,” she said. I had made the last shot that came to rest on the post and heard the American fans screaming in celebration of the victory. It was the longest game in the world. ”
And their best ever against the Americans, the world power of the sport.
“We were leading 7-4 after three periods and the regular time ended in a tie of 8-8.”
After unsuccessful attempts to qualify for the 2008 and 2012 Games, Bekhazi had to make an important decision.
“I put aside my dream of pursuing medical studies,” she says.
“My dream of competing in the Games was too big for me to let go. During this Olympic cycle, we had an American coach who was very intense and who was not a good “fit” for Canada. I have known three coaches during this cycle and we did not qualify. ”
FINA’s salutary decision
Believing that her Olympic dream was extinct and wanting to retire like her husband had done at the same time, Joelle Bekhazi nevertheless wanted to stay with the team after the 2016 Games in order to help the new generation of girls by passing on her knowledge to them. vision of the game.
A decisive decision would convince her to pursue her career.
“Fine [Fédération internationale de natation] decided to add two women’s teams to the Olympic tournament for a total of 10, she explains. It was then impossible not to stay with the national team. And we finally managed to qualify for the Pan-Am Games in 2019 in Peru. I will never forget this moment that I have been waiting for for 15 years. I was crying and I was in shock. ”
In Tokyo, she will have a thought for Krystina Alogbo. Arriving with the national team at the same time as her in 2005, her teammate accepted an offer to coach in Italy after the Games were postponed for a year.
“I’m also going to think about all the girls from the previous three cycles who never got their dream come true,” she says.
He would have missed only the presence of his parents so that the student in osteopathy is completely satisfied. “When we heard that foreigners would not be admitted to the Games, my mother told me that it was also her dream to go to the Olympics. It destroyed me to hear it. It will be a big shock not to see them in the stands. In 15 years of career, my parents missed a world championship. They lived it all with me. ”
After a long wait, Bekhazi does not show up as a tourist in Japan.
“We are aiming for the podium,” she says. It’s going to be very difficult, but it’s realistic. We are not in Tokyo to participate. The United States has another mark, but it’s very tight for the other nine teams. ”
After beating Hungary and Russia in the preliminaries, Canada lost to those same opponents in the medal round to take the 4e rank during the World Series final in Greece a few weeks ago.