Former Ottawa TFC member and now Olympic gold medalist Vanessa Gilles recently dropped by Millennium Park to answer some question and provide some inspiration to the club’s young players
After playing competitive tennis for a number of years, Gilles switched to soccer when she was 16. She played for the Cumberland Cobras sister club, Capital United, for three years as a central defender before receiving a soccer scholarship with the University at Cincinnati Bearcats.
|Olympic gold medalist Vanessa Gilles is surrounded by members of the Ottawa TFC soccer club during a visit to Millennium Park on Sept 16. See story on page 17. FRED SHERWIN/PHOTO
The École secondaire Louis-Riel grad was named American Athletic Conference Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Tournament in 2015, and in 2016, became the first Bearcats’ female athlete to earn all-conference first team accolades in both the preseason and post-season in American Athletic Conference history.
In 2017, Gilles was named American Athletic Conference co-defensive Player of the Year.
After graduating from university in May 2017, Gilles joined the League1 Ontario side West Ottawa SC. She scored two goals in nine appearances in the regular season and was selected to the 2017 League1 Ontario All-Star third team.
She was also selected to represent League1 Ontario in the All-Star game against the Team Ontario squad competing in the 2017 Canada Games.
In January 2018, Gilles made her pro-fessional debut with the Cyprus First Division team Apollon Limassol and ended up scoring 10 goals in 11 appearances.
In July 2018, Gilles signed a two-year contract with French Division 1 side, Girondins de Bordeaux and in May 2020, she was given a two-year extension.
Gilles made her debut with Canada’s national women’s team in an international tournament against New Zealand on Nov. 10, 2019.
After going through the selection process for Canada’s Olympic team, Gilles was named to the final roster that made the trip to Japan. She played in all six games and scored the decisive penalty kick in the team’s quarterfinal win over Brazil.
Although she missed her penalty kick attempt in the decisive gold medal match against Sweden, it didn’t matter as the team still managed to eek out the win.
Most of the kids at the meet-and-greet at Millennium Park wanted to know what it was like to win the gold medal.
“I don’t remember really,” Gilles tried to explain. “There was a lot of screaming. There was a lot of running around and hugging each other, and a lot of what the hecks, have we really won.
“And after the medal ceremony, I just sat in the middle of the field and called my brother and I was like what the heck? What is going on? And he just said, ‘You’re Olympic champion, believe it,’ and hung up because he was at work.”
As for the Olympic experience, Gilles has mixed feelings. For the group stage of the tournament the team was quarantined to a single floor in a hotel. It wasn’t until just before the gold medal final that they got to stay at Canada House in the Olympic Village and meet some of the other athletes.
“That’s when it really sunk in that we were at the Olympics,” Gilles said. “Everybody would come up and say that they loved the U.S.A. game and that we killed it and we were so good. And it was people I had never met before.”
After the team won the gold medal, they returned to the Olympic Village where they got to eat their first post-game meal in the 24/7 cafeteria at four o’clock in the morning.
“We were sitting there eating with our medals around our necks and all around us there were other athletes and teams from other countries wearing their medals and eating pizza at 4 a.m. It was so surreal, but it was also when I finally realized that I was actually at the Olympics,” said Gilles.
After the question and answer session, Giles was presented with a bouquet of flowers and an Ottawa TFC jersey from several Ottawa TFC players. She then stuck around to take a picture with the rest of the Ottawa TFC youngsters and sign autographs.