Gregg and Vicent: stars on ice

Meet the rookie and veteran talent on the silver-winning women’s short-track relay team

A four-time Olympian—dating back to Nagano—with four relay medals, Tania Vicent, the grande dame of Canadian short track, is starting to believe what others have long suspected: she is the team’s good luck charm.

On Wednesday night at the Pacific Coliseum, 34-year-old Vicent delivered an extra dash of luck in what she says is her final Olympics. She helped the team skate to a thrilling bronze medal finish, and then delivered an upgrade to silver.

Actually, the medal boost came courtesy of the hard-charging Korean foursome. They were disqualified after the race when judges ruled that one of their teammates bumped a Chinese rival, impeding her progress. The Koreans had already skated several laps waving their flags when the bad news was delivered. Their coach did not take the news well. There was much pounding of fists. Harsh words were exchanged. The Korean flags drooped as the players skated sadly off the ice.

The American team, which has skated a distant fourth suddenly found themselves on the podium.

The disqualification, while heartbreaking for the Koreans, is hardly unusual in the relay, which is rightly described as roller derby on ice. “In almost every relay there is a [disqualification],” Canadian coach Sebastien Cros said later. “You have to be fast, you have to have good exchanges—and you have to be smart.” And, as he advised the team, just the slightest bit cautious.

The strategy paid off with “a silver lining,” as Jessica Gregg put it. Gregg had skated a strong race earlier in the week in the 500-metre, only to finish a hair off the podium in fourth, in a race where fellow Olympic rookie Marianne St. Gelais finished second. The relay gave Gelais, 20, her second silver of the Games.

This Wednesday Gregg allowed that she now has bragging rights in her Edmonton-based family. She’s the first Gregg in an extraordinary Olympic family to win a medal. Her parents—hockey-playing father Randy Gregg formerly of the Oilers, and her mother, long-track speed skater Kathy Vogt as she was then known—met while competing at the 1980 Olympics. Thirty years later, they have two children at these Games, 21-year-old Jessica and her 24-year-old brother Jamie, a long-track speed skater.

“It’s amazing, it’s a moment I’ve waited for all my life. All my family was in the stands,” Gregg said. “When I came fourth in the 500 they were so supportive.”

If Gregg is the future of the team, the past and present, as represented by Vicent, is going out in high spirits.

“I love my team, the travel is great, and my job is to stay in shape,” enthused Vicent.

For a moment there it sounded like she was rethinking her retirement plans. “It’s a hard sport, but for this, for this feeling, that’s why I stay on.”

Then she paused for a moment. “But I am stopping. These are my last Games.” Well, maybe.

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