By Kristine Thiessen - South Delta Leader
Published: September 25, 2008 4:00 PM
It’s been a month since the Summer Games in Beijing and the adrenaline high from watching Canada’s elite athletes compete has ebbed.
But for those who were there the experience will not be soon forgotten.
Tsawwassen’s Bob Birarda was on the coaching staff of the Canadian women’s Olympic soccer team as an assistant coach.
“I’ve been to four world championships with our national teams and the difference between a FIFA World Cup and the Olympics was extraordinary,” says Birarda.
“The whole city in Beijing basically shut down around the Olympics. I’ve been to Beijing a few times before and to see the difference—the Chinese did a phenomenal job of putting on a clean and safe and really incredible sporting environment.”
Birarda notes a different “social conscience” in China may have helped in enabling organizers to make those 24 days all about sport, but says the changes made were “remarkable.”
In the athletes’ gym facility the women’s soccer team trained alongside elite athletes from all countries and sports.
“Just being around all that drive and ambition . . . Having the basketball players and tennis players and field hockey players and everybody around carrying on with their programs. That experience alone, and just walking around and having 15,000 of the world’s best athletes walking around you, it was a remarkable thing.”
The squad ended their Olympic experience with a disappointing loss in overtime to the U.S. in the quarter finals (2-1), the team that went on to secure the gold medal.
Says Birarda, “To do that to the team that went on to win it, that shows we were really close. Obviously, had we gotten through that match who knows what would have happened next.”
For Birarda, the post-Olympic season brings no break in coaching. He heads the Under-20 women’s national team, which just returned from a tournament in Chile, a warm-up for the U-20 world championships to be hosted there in November.
The Canadian youth won the pre-tournament—the Torneo 4-Naciones—and on Nov. 10 will return to Chile for the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup and their first match on Nov. 20.
Soccer is a year-round commitment for Birarda, who also coaches the Whitecaps women’s team, whose season ended in early August.
“Right now we’re just in the off season preparing and planning for what direction we’re taking next year,” he says
And while Birarda calls his position with the Whitecaps and Canadian Soccer Association “a great gig,” the father of two young children is unsure whether he’ll see another Summer Games as a soccer coach in the future.
“They’re both pretty young to have daddy going away all the time,” he notes.
“For now I will focus on the Under-20s and the Whitecaps and we’ll figure it out from there.”