LONDON - Canada's women's soccer team left everything on the venerable Old Trafford soccer pitch and delivered one of the most inspiring — and heartbreaking — moments in the recent history of Canadian Olympic team sports.
The United States overcame a hat trick from Canadian captain Christine Sinclair and continued its 11-year domination of its North American rival with a 4-3 extra time win in women's soccer semifinal action Monday.
Playing at the famous home of Manchester United, Canada looked every bit equal to the top women's team in the world, taking the lead on three separate occasions.
But every time Sinclair would put Canada closer to the gold-medal game with a sublime finish, the Americans had an answer. Then, with penalty kicks mere seconds away, Alex Morgan's header beat Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod and sent the Americans to a date with Japan in the championship game.
"Christine, to come and score a hat trick in a semifinal of an Olympic Games against our biggest rivals and not to come away with something. . . there something that isn't right about it," Canadian coach John Herdman said.
Canada hasn't beaten the U.S. since 2001, and the latest unfavourable result was made even more cruel as the Americans' third goal came in controversial fashion.
Abby Wambach scored on a penalty to tie the game 3-3. The penalty came after the Americans were awarded a free kick outside the Canadian box by Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen. She penalized McLeod for holding the ball for more that six seconds. Marie-Eve Nault was then charged with a handball in the penalty area on the ensuing kick.
"We feel like we didn't lose, we feel like it was taken from us," Sinclair said. "It's a shame in a game like that that was so important, the ref decided the result before it started."
Herdman was livid with Pedersen.
"She'll have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays, she's got that to live with," he said "We'll move on from this, I wonder if she'll be able to."
Sinclair pleaded with Pedersen to reconsider the call.
"She actually giggled and said nothing," Sinclair said. "Classy."
Canada will still play for the bronze medal against France on Thursday. And a number of other Canadian athletes put themselves in position to step on the podium later in the week.
Kayaker Adam van Koeverden appears to be on track in the K-1 1,000 metres after winning both his morning heat and semifinal Monday.
"I felt fast and comfortable," he said. "I was just gauging my stroke rate and feeling the wind."
Van Koeverden will race for gold on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old from Oakville, Ont., says he's experiencing nerves despite the fact this is his third Games.
"I didn't sleep very well last night," said van Koeverden, before adding: "I slept well until like 4 a.m. and then I got up. But nerves are good and pressure's a luxury. This nervous energy's got to fuel me somehow."
That wasn't a problem for good friend Mark Oldershaw of Burlington, Ont., who reached the C-1 1,000-metre canoe final by placing second in his semifinal.
Oldershaw failed to make the final in Beijing and blamed a nervy performance. Four years later, he's much more comfortable.
"And whether I win a medal, I just feel like I have done everything I can," said Oldershaw. "And when you have that feeling, it's easier to sleep and it's a lot less nerves."
Meanwhile, track cyclist Tara Whitten of Edmonton was in fourth after three events in the women's omnium, setting herself up for a medal when the final three events go Tuesday.
The only event where Canada was in medal contention Monday was equestrian team jumping. Jill Henselwood of Oxford Mills, Ont., Eric Lamaze of Schomberg, Ont., and Ian Millar of Perth, Ont., were looking to follow the country's silver-medal performance from the 2008 Olympics.
Canada had a number of good performances in the morning session on the track.
Calgary's Jessica Zelinka led the way in the 100-metre hurdles with a second-place finish in her heat to advance to the semifinals. She'll be joined by Phylicia George of Markham, Ont., and Nikkita Holder of Pickering, Ont., in that race on Tuesday.
For Zelinka, Monday's heats marked her return to the track after a disappointing seventh-place finish in the heptathlon.
"I'm just glad I found my legs again and this is just like a reminder saying, 'Body, you're not done, and tomorrow, keep it going even more,"' said the native of London, Ont.
Meanwhile, Geoff Harris of Halifax advanced in the men's 800 metres with a personal-best time of 1:45.97 while Hilary Stellingwerff of Grand Bend, Ont., and Winnipeg's Nicole Sifuentes each moved on in the women's 1,500 metres.
Later, Toronto's Crystal Emmanuel qualified for the women's 200 semifinal in a time of 23.10 seconds.
There will be no medal for Canada in women's boxing, as middleweight Mary Spencer of Wiarton, Ont., lost her quarter-final bout in a 17-14 decision to China's Jinzi Li.
It was a surprising loss since Spencer beat Li in their two previous meetings and a semifinal appearance would have guaranteed her a medal. Li's swarming, physical strategy paid off as she effectively mixed haymakers with some clutching and grabbing.
"She got that lead and it was hard to get it back," Spencer said.
Later Monday, super-heavyweight Simon Kean of Trois-Rivieres, Que., lost his quarter-final 20-6 to Kazakhstan's Ivan Dychko.
In diving, Alexandre Despatie of Laval, Que., and Francois Imbeau-Dulac of St-Lazare, Que., qualified for the semifinals of the men's three-metre springboard, finishing ninth and 12th respectively.
Synchronized swimmers Marie-Pier Boudreau-Gagnon of Riviere-du-Loup, Que., and Elise Marcotte of Quebec City were fourth heading into the duet final.