Just over six months after being hired by Canada Soccer, Jasmine Mander came home from Japan with an Olympic gold medal.
The 26-year-old North Delta native joined the coaching staff of the women’s national soccer team as a performance analyst in February and travelled with the team as they sought to best their Olymipc bronze medal-winning performance in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016.
A former national youth team player and UBC’s women’s soccer team captain (leading the team to a CIS National Championship title in 2015), Mander joined Canada Soccer after nearly seven years as a coach with the Vancouver Whitecaps Academy program.
The North Delta Reporter caught up with Mander earlier this week to chat about her Olympic experience. Here are a few excerpts from that conversation…
North Delta Reporter: So let’s just dive right in. How was your Olympics?
Jasmine Mander: It was honestly a really good experience — can’t ask for a better outcome, that’s for sure. Even for us as a team, [it was] right place, right time, just like a dream outcome for us.
I wasn’t in the job a year ago when the Olympics were supposed to happen, so I’m very fortunate to be part of this winning team. It really was like everything just kind of came together at the right time.
You wait your whole career for the big one, so to get it early on is incredible.
NDR: Obviously the Olympics is The Olympics, it’s a different beast altogether, but how does this compare to other big international or national tournaments you’ve been in?
JM: I’ve not had anything to the extent of the Olympics, my major games experiences are the Canada Games, national championships at university, international tournaments as a young player like the Gothia Cup in Sweden.
But I would say the closest thing, this is like Canada Games times a hundred in terms of magnitude, scale, pressures. And it’s very, very special to be part of. You walk around and you see people with tattoos with the Olympics on them, you know that they’ve been there and what it means to be part of something like that.
So yeah, it’s very, very special to have participated in the Olympics in any form, and then let alone to be part of a gold medal-winning team. It’s like, yeah, what absolute dreams are made of.
NDR: At other tournaments usually there are people there. What was it like to be in that stadium and at these high-level games it’s just the players and coaches, no fans in the stands?
JM: What happens [is] we first walk in and do a walk-through, check out the pitch and where everyone’s gonna be working from, and you’re in this facility that’s that big — imagine being in a completely empty BC Place and you can hear the conversation across from you, across the pitch. At times the size of the venue can make it feel eerie, but then once you’re in it, it feels intimate. It really is between you and your team at that point.
You don’t hear the roar of the stadium, but then when we saw the videos of people back home at restaurants and homes waking up early to watch the game, it really was still a crowd following us; it just was a crowd that we couldn’t see or hear at the time.
NDR: What’s been the reaction from people back home or your reaction coming home and seeing people [after the big win]?
JM: I feel like really, really special and warm, I would say. Family and friends organized a surprise get-together at the airport for us, so we were welcomed [with] open arms and it’s been that every day since.
People that I’ve gone to high school with [have been] reaching out, and people related with players that played on the team are like, man, it was so cool to see someone from B.C. in the coaching staff, and they feel connected to the team when you know someone that’s there. So I think that was huge.
I know some of the other staff members, they’re recognized in the streets and getting meals paid for and people wanting autographs and pictures. Things that like you don’t see in women’s sports in Canada very often. So to see that it, like, resonated to that degree…
People were comparing it to the 2010 men’s Olympic [hockey] final. I remember watching that and how connected I felt to the country at that moment when Crosby scored, and for people to say that they had a bit of that feeling back, I was like, wow. (…) It’s really special and it is a total country win in so many ways. This might be the one that we keep celebrating.
NDR: What do you think people should know about the experience or just what it’s like to be at an Olympics from the inside, not as a spectator?
JM: What would be the important bit is these are local homegrown talents. The athletes that we see at the Olympics don’t [just] compete every four years, they are competing on a week-to-week basis in their club environments. Even if we don’t have a Canadian professional franchise for soccer, Christine Sinclair is playing in Portland week in, week out. Quinn is playing in Seattle week in, week out. So there’s ways to follow the women’s team beyond just what they do for Canada.
And then the other one for me was how different body types are also athletic. When I got to the village and seeing, like, a wrestler’s body type versus the gymnast versus a track athlete’s versus soccer and basketball and volleyball. And it’s like, really, there is beauty in so many different forms and strength in so many different forums.
So for me I was like, wow, like in a time when, especially in the girls side, self-esteem and body image is an issue, spend one day at the Olympic Village and you will see that beauty and strength come in all shapes and sizes. I was really blown away by just that diversity at the games. People need to see that you do get gold medalists in all shapes and sizes.
NDR: Now the games are done, what comes next for you?
JM: Well, there’ll be some type of victory tour from what I hear; not sure when that would start. So whenever we find out who we’re playing, the prep for those games would be pretty important.
And then, because of COVID, Canada Soccer hasn’t had any youth projects, so there’ll be U17, U20, senior teams… Canada Soccer will be just guns blazing I’m sure pretty soon.
And then next year is World Cup qualifying. In this sport there are two major tournaments: World Cups and Olympics, and the next major tournament is just around the corner. So before we know it, we’ll be trying to get ourselves a ticket to the World Cup.
NDR: Let’s talk a little bit about North Delta and your growing up here and playing soccer here, and how you got from there to where you are now.
JM: I’m proper Delta born and raised, went to Heath [Traditional] Elementary and then Seaquam Secondary, both [in] North Delta. And then I played for Surdel [Girls Soccer Club] growing up, which is now North Delta [FC]. I coached for North Delta Soccer Club in the community over the years. And then eventually I played for Surrey FC and then joined the Whitecaps. So, I’ve always been connected to community, in the sense, like, the gyms that I work out [at were] always Sungod and North Delta Rec Center, I coached for North Delta [FC], played for Surdel… This community means so much to me.
Even just seeing the [new North Delta] track be opened up the other day — we ran track meets there [in] elementary school. So it’s really, really cool to see the community, the way it’s embraced sports and the athletes that have come from it. Like, you look at Brendan Gallagher playing for the [NHL’s Montreal] Canadians, you look at Max Lattimer [in Olympic] rowing, Gurpreet Sohi in the water polo at Tokyo . It’s pretty special to see a town like Delta support some pretty exceptional athletes and stories.