Gillian Apps

Canada has an Apps for women’s hockey hostilities with U.S.

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There is no legal body checking in women’s hockey. There are no enforcers and certainly no fighting allowed, despite recent U.S.-Canada encounters.

But there is a 48-second YouTube clip titled “Big Hit Worlds 2007” uploaded by former U.S. goalie Chanda Gunn.

The video opens with a two-on-one breakaway in the gold-medal game of the 2007 World Championships in Winnipeg. Barreling Canadian forward Gillian Apps receives the puck 10 feet from the goal, misfires, and her momentum slides into the crease and into the path of Gunn.

“Oh my, [Gunn] lost her mask, and I think she hit her head on the post,” the TSN play-by-play man says. “Gillian Apps is a handful. She’s 6 feet tall, 180 pounds. She goes to the net hard, and you’re about to see what happens if you get in her way.”

The network rolls slow-motion replay after slow-motion replay after slow-motion replay of Apps’ right elbow rising and connecting with the helmet of an unaware Gunn, who was looking 90 degrees to the right. Judgment wavers on intent with each view.

A trainer tends to Gunn, who picks herself up after 10 seconds face down on the ice.

“Gillian Apps just skating hard, just going straight to the net for a potential rebound, and, of course, doesn’t really try and stop,” the female analyst says. “I tell you, that’s got to hurt.”

Gunn was asked if it hurt.

“Not a lot, to be honest,” Gunn said in a telephone interview. “I’m just kidding.

“I’m a goalie. Getting run sucks.”

Apps wasn’t penalized. Gunn finished the game – the U.S. lost 5-1 – and, though she didn’t recall a specific diagnosis, is sure she left Manitoba with a concussion to accompany her silver medal.

It wouldn’t be the last time Apps delivered an American such a parting gift.

Apps, 30, was named to her third Canadian Olympic Team on Monday (full roster here). Canada and the U.S. will play for the sixth time in the run-up to the Olympics in St. Paul, Minn., on Saturday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN), eight days after they brawled for the second time this fall (video here).

Physicality will be a focus. Canada has an Apps for that, but is she the bad girl of women’s hockey?

“She doesn’t necessarily play within the confines of the rules, which can be labeled as cheap,” Gunn said, choosing her words. “But I don’t think she’s a malicious player.”

Apps, of the affluent Toronto suburb of Unionville, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, Dartmouth psychology grad and cookbook collector. Her father, Syl Jr., played 10 NHL seasons in the 1970s. Her grandfather, Syl, was a Hockey Hall of Famer, politician and sixth-place finisher in the pole vault at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

The key stat for the family is penalty minutes. Syl had zero for the 1941-42 season (38 games) when he won the Lady Byng Trophy. The Lady Byng is bestowed to players exhibiting “sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of fair play.”

Syl spent less than an hour in the penalty box over his 10-season career broken up by World War II – 56 minutes in 423 games.

His granddaughter played 23 games for the Brampton Thunder of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2012-13, amassing 52 penalty minutes, according to the CWHL website. She led the five-team league.

She had 70 penalty minutes the season before (though the league commissioner said the 2011-12 statistics page is erroneous. It should be more than 70.). The next-highest player had 42.

She had 92 penalty minutes the season before that (and 14 in three playoff games). The next-highest player had 52.

source: Getty Images
Gillian Apps is the all-time penalty minutes leader for Dartmouth and in the CWHL. (Getty Images)

“I prefer not to be in the penalty box,” said Apps, the tallest player on the Canadian national team who was featured in pre-2010 Olympic Nike commercials with Jarome Iginla and Dion Phaneuf swinging the slogan, “Force Fate.” “I think I’m a physical player. I’m one of the bigger players in the game. For me, it’s finding that line between using my size and making sure that I don’t end up in the box.”

Prevailing notion north of the border is Apps is a sufferer for her size. Collisions are inevitable. It doesn’t take Newton to figure the consequences when 6-0, 180, meets 5-4, 150, and who will get sent to the sin bin.

That’s just what happened March 4, 2012, when Brampton hosted the Boston Blades. Apps ran into diminutive American defenseman Caitlin Cahow. How it happened, where it happened, where the puck was and intent are matters of debate.

CWHL teams tape their games, none more vigilantly than Brampton, the league commissioner said. Mysteriously, there was no footage available of this one. Boston asked the league to review the hit for an increase in punishment – Apps had received a game misconduct – the league asked Brampton for video, and the team couldn’t provide any.

Cahow said she lost pieces of her memory. She was bedridden for weeks, off ice for months and credited Dr. Ted Carrick, Sidney Crosby’s concussion specialist, for saving her life in some ways.

“There were days I would wake up and I didn’t know if I could go for a walk, get out of bed and open my eyes,” said Cahow, who was recently named to the White House delegation to Sochi.

Yet she holds no ill will toward her rival. Other Americans aren’t as forgiving.

“Apps is not afraid to muck it up and get in your face and try and intimidate,” said retired U.S. defenseman Angela Ruggiero, now an International Olympic Committee member. “When you get a ref that doesn’t take control of the game, Apps will take control of the game.”

Teammates and opponents agree Apps is quiet on the ice. She never gets the last word.

She’s admired off of it, too, one of the most charitable players on the Canadian national team. Her dad said she’s worked junior hockey camps in the northernmost territory of Nunavut, where average January temperatures are 30 below zero. (Thankfully, these are summer camps).

“I lost my dad [to cancer] in 2007,” Canadian teammate Jayna Hefford said. “I remember getting a card from her, a physical card, which in these days you don’t always get.”

Apps’ gentlemanly grandfather passed away when she was 15, three years after she took up the sport. She was always bigger than the other girls, always adapting to her size and trying to keep from the penalty box. They rarely talked hockey when together. School came first, and she was more or less a straight-A star.

“I think he would enjoy watching her play [today],” Syl Apps Jr. said. “I’ve never seen Gillian maliciously go after somebody.”

Team Russia unveils Sochi Olympic uniforms

Who is Italy’s greatest Olympian?

Alberto Tomba
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Italy ranks sixth on the total Olympic medal list, thanks in large part to its fencers. Italian fencers have won a leading 125 medals, more than double the nation’s total in any other sport. The Italians are known for their personalities, from La Bomba to the Cannibal, with six of their best detailed here …

Deborah Compagnoni
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only Alpine skier to earn gold at three straight Olympics. Compagnoni overcame a broken knee as a junior racer and life-saving surgery to remove 27 inches of her intestine in 1990 to win the Albertville 1992 super-G by 1.8 seconds. It remains the largest margin of victory in the discipline for either gender since 1968. The following day, Compagnoni tore knee ligaments in the giant slalom. She returned to win the GS at the 1994 Lillehammer Games. Compagnoni ended her Olympic career with the biggest rout in a GS at a Winter Games, prevailing by 1.41 seconds in Nagano.

Klaus Dibiasi
Diving
Three Olympic Gold Medals

The only diver to win the same individual event three times. The Austrian-born Dibiasi took platform silver in 1964 at age 17, then three straight golds through 1976. Dibiasi was coached by his father, who was 10th on platform at the 1936 Berlin Games. In his final Olympics, Dibiasi held off a 16-year-old Greg Louganis, who would go on to challenge, if not overtake, Dibiasi as the greatest male diver in history.

Eugenio Monti
Bobsled
Six Olympic Medals

Regarded by many as the greatest bobsled driver in history. Monti captured two silver medals in 1956, missed the 1960 Winter Games that didn’t include bobsled, then two bronzes in 1964 and a pair of golds at age 40 in 1968. On top of that, the nine-time world champion is remembered for an act of sportsmanship in 1964. In between runs, Monti lent a bolt off his own two-man sled to a British team whose sled was damaged. The Brits took gold, ahead of both Italian sleds.

Alberto Tomba
Alpine Skiing
Three Olympic Gold Medals

“La Bomba” dazzled by sweeping the giant slalom and slalom at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games, after dubbing himself the “Messiah of Skiing“ beforehand. Known for his man-about-town ways, Tomba offered one of his gold medals to East German figure skater Katarina Witt should she fall short in her event. After Witt repeated as gold medalist, the story goes that Tomba showed up with a bouquet of roses and an autographed picture of himself, made out out to “Katerina.” “I used to have a wild time with three women until 5 a.m.,” Tomba once said. “Now I live it up with five women until 3 a.m,”

Valentina Vezzali
Fencing
Six Olympic Gold Medals

An 18-year-old Vezzali was an alternate for the 1992 Olympics, forced to watch on TV as the Italian women took team foil gold. Vezzali made the next five Olympics, winning medals in all nine of her events, including three straight individual titles, the last as a mom. Vezzali finished her career with nine total Olympic medals, 25 world championships medals, a flag bearer honor at the 2012 Opening Ceremony and as a member of Italy’s parliament.

Armin Zoeggeler
Luge
Six Olympic Medals

“The Cannibal” retired in 2014 as the first athlete to earn a medal in the same individual event at six straight Olympics. Zoeggeler earned silver and bronze medals in 1994 and 1998, then overtook German legend Georg Hackl for gold in 2002, followed by winning at home in Torino in 2006. He held on for bronze medals in 2010 and 2014, behind the new German luge star, Felix Loch, who would be coached by Hackl. Growing up on top of a steep hill, Zoeggeler began sledding at age 7 to catch the school bus at the bottom.

GREATEST OLYMPIANS: Germany | Liechtenstein | Japan

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Kurt Angle recalls devastation, exultation of Olympic wrestling gold medal

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Kurt Angle doesn’t remember much from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, but he won’t forget that moment of deep emotional pain.

In the 100kg final, Angle and Iranian Abbas Jadidi were tied 1-1 after regulation and an overtime period.. Eight total minutes of wrestling. They also had the same number of passivity calls, forcing a judges’ decision to determine the gold medalist.

After deliberation, the referee stood between each wrestler in the middle of the mat. He held each’s wrist, ready to reveal the champion to the Georgia World Congress Center crowd — and to the athletes. Angle, now 51, has rarely watched video of the match. But he distinctly remembers, in his peripheral vision, Jadidi’s left arm rising.

“I thought I lost,” Angle said by phone this week. “So right away, I was like, s—, four more years.”

Turns out, the Iranian was raising his own arm. An instant later, the referee suppressed Jadidi. He lifted Angle’s right arm. The wrestler sobbed.

“I had so much emotion because I was devastated and then I was told that I won,” Angle said. “It was a very odd experience. I didn’t know how to handle it. It felt like my father died all over again. That’s how much grief I had. Then, all of a sudden, you won.”

Angle thought of two people immediately after he won, falling to his knees in prayer. First, his father, David, who died in a construction accident when Angle was 16. Second, the 1984 Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz, his coach who was murdered by John du Pont six months before the Games.

Angle went on to become one of the most famous U.S. gold medalists of the Atlanta Games, due largely to a two-decade career as a professional wrestler, including as a world heavyweight champion with the WWE.

It would have been different if the referee kept Jadidi’s arm in the air. Angle went into the Olympics knowing it would be his last competition, but only if he took gold. Anything less, and he would continue on, perhaps into his 30s and the 2000 Sydney Games. Despite everything Angle went through just to get to Atlanta.

In the year leading up to the Olympics, Angle lost Schultz, broke his neck at the U.S. Open and, five minutes before each match at the Olympic Trials, received 12 shots of novocaine to numb the pain long enough to advance to the next round. Angle later developed a painkiller addiction.

Angle, a Pennsylvania native, was part of the Foxcatcher club when du Pont shot and killed Schultz. Angle said he wasn’t consulted for the 2014 film “Foxcatcher,” but he thought it was well done save a few instances of dramatic license.

“Unfortunately, I hate to admit this, but if it weren’t for Team Foxcatcher, I probably wouldn’t have won my gold medal,” Angle said. “I probably wouldn’t have known Dave Schultz, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to achieve what I did. It sucks because, to have to thank John du Pont for the ability of allowing me to pay me to wrestle full time and win a world championship [in 1995] and Olympic gold medal, that was huge, but he killed Dave Schultz. The club would have thrived to this day. It just sucks it turned out the way it did, because it made me the best wrestler in the world. Dave Schultz had a lot to do with that, but a lot of wrestlers that followed could have not had to worry about money and could have trained and competed.”

Angle shared his gold medal with, he estimated, thousands of people before housing it in a safe.

“The gold was wearing off,” Angle said. “One kid, I remember, I was at an elementary school, and he grabbed my medal by the ribbon and started twirling it around real fast. He let go of it, and it hit the wall. There’s a big dent in my gold medal. That was the last time I brought it to an elementary school.”

Angle announced in 2011, at age 42, that he was training to come back for the 2012 Olympic Trials. He never made it, calling it off with a knee injury.

“But I trained hard for it,” Angle said, noting he still kept up appearances with Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. “I will tell you this, I wouldn’t have made the team. My goal was to place in the top three. I just missed the [thrill of] competition.”

It meant that Angle’s last match remained that Olympic final. His last moment as a freestyle wrestler having his arm raised.

“All I wanted to do was win a world championship and an Olympic gold medal, and I did them both,” Angle said, sobbing, just off the mat that night in Atlanta. “If I died tonight, I’d be the happiest man in the world.”

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