Olympics-bound Rams coach aims for medal in Tokyo
Carly Clarke, head coach of the Ryerson Rams’ women’s basketball team, is facing one of the biggest challenges of her career: helping lead Team Canada to the Olympics in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Clarke was named assistant coach of the Canadian women’s Olympic team in October 2017. And while it’s an incredible feat, it’s easy to understand why her excitement has been kept at bay.
“There’s been such a long lead-up with the postponement from last year, and then just so much uncertainty,” she said, referring to the Games having been delayed by a full year, and the ongoing concerns around whether the event would even take place.
“So, now that it’s actually happening, it hasn't fully hit me yet,” she said.
“But, I am grateful to Ryerson University for being so supportive of this opportunity, and I’m excited to bring this experience back to the Rams,” she continued.
Clarke spoke with Ryerson Today from the team’s training camp in Tampa, Florida. They were there from May 20 to July 4 - which also included a carefully planned two-week trip to Puerto Rico to compete in the AmeriCup - before flying to Kariya City, Japan. That’s where they’ll train until the end of July, before moving into their new home in the Olympic Village.
Incredible experience to bring back to Ryerson
Clarke has been head coach at Ryerson since June 2012, and part of Canadian national team programming for the last 10 years.
She says her experience with the Rams has played a significant role in her journey to the Olympics, with her learnings from the court at the Mattamy Athletic Centre helping her at the national level too.
“I’ve constantly been bringing experiences to and from both settings,” she explained.
She’ll certainly have a great deal to bring back to Ryerson after Japan. The pandemic, she says, has been an opponent like no other.
“COVID life and trying to work with all of the protocols, that’s the number-one challenge,” she said. “It’s changed the way we do almost everything.”
For example, she says in a regular Olympic year, the team would have had a few opportunities to train together several months before the Games. But this year, due to COVID travel restrictions, it wasn’t until this past May that the team could finally unite for the first time since February 2020.
Even once together again, the complications continue. On a typical day, players and coaching staff are required to get a COVID-19 test first thing in the morning, which can take time. They must also be masked at all times when outside of their hotel rooms (except for players when training), and they can’t exit the hotel and training area for any reason.
“It’s a whole other level of planning,” Clarke said.
Priority number one is trying to win COVID. We can’t allow the restrictions and rules to affect our team chemistry or cohesion, or impact our day-to-day, so we can focus on the basketball piece and perform at our best.
And if they do perform their best, an Olympic medal could be within reach. The Canadian team is ranked fourth in the tournament.
“We’re really excited about our team and the potential that we have. Our goal is to compete and win a medal,” Clarke said, noting that their top competitors include the U.S., Australia and Spain.
“I believe in our ability to do it,” she said.
Gaucher’s victory ‘important change for women and mothers’
One recent victory in particular bodes well for the team: Canadian captain Kim Gaucher recently attracted worldwide attention for successfully petitioning Olympics organizers to allow her to bring her breastfeeding baby with her to the Games. (To prevent the spread of COVID-19, organizers banned fans, including athletes’ families, from attending).
“We’re so proud of Kim. It’s another example of her leadership shining through - she has initiated and led important change for women and mothers for these upcoming Olympics,” Clarke said.
“I'm sure it will also leave a lasting impact on these decisions and policies in sport moving forward. Obviously, for our veteran leader to have this weight off her shoulders is massive as well,” Clarke said, noting that they’re still learning the logistics around the announcement.
“She’s been on the team for 20 years, this is her third Olympics and she brings all of that experience. She’s our leader,” Clarke said.
As for Clarke’s experience travelling to her first Olympic Games, she says despite the challenges, “I’m excited, and I’m proud to represent the university on the world stage. And hopefully, I can bring some success back to our school.”
The 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games begin July 23. Canada’s first women’s basketball game is July 26 against Serbia.