City Hall honours Ottawa’s golden soccer star

September 14 has been officially declared “Vanessa Gilles Day” in Ottawa – recognizing the Ottawa athlete’s Olympic win.

Gilles was part of Team Canada’s Olympic soccer team that clinched the gold medal in Tokyo in August in a penalty kick shootout.

Gilles says, “I kind of blanked after that moment, especially when we all huddled in on Julia (Grosso) who scored the winning penalty.”

The 25-year-old player didn’t want to let go of her gold medal at first. She says, “I wore it for 48 hours after the gold medal win.”

Gilles is the only athlete from Ottawa to win a gold medal in Tokyo. This is her first trip home since the games. “This is my first time settling in, celebrating the moment, seeing my friends and family and celebrating with them… It will be emotional in a bit.”

Mayor Jim Watson read out the proclamation at City Hall on Tuesday, and recognized Gilles for inspiring young athletes to pursue their goals.

Watson says, “Girls and boys on Ottawa soccer pitches continues to be inspired by your performance both on and off the field. Your dedication to your teammates and your country in the game of soccer… is truly inspiring.”

Gilles’ parents, Denis and Josie, and her brother Sebastien attended the ceremony. Denis says the moment hasn’t quite sunk in and he is looking forward to spending time with his daughter.

Josie says it was a roller coaster of emotions watching their daughter play. “Very stressful, but once I would see her on the pitch and I would look at her eyes, I knew she was okay.”

Her brother Sebastien says it was a proud moment. “Seeing her in the Canadian jersey, playing in the Olympics, was unbelievable.”

Gilles only began playing soccer competitively at the age of 16 with Capital United team. Her coach Raz El-Asmar was at the ceremony. He says, “(I was) extremely proud. What a special moment for Vanessa. She has always been that humble child that never changed. She still comes in with humility and her unassuming nature, but that perseverance and work that she brings…it makes such a difference.”

Her former teammate Delaney Borsato says, “She is a natural athlete to begin win but she is also the hardest worker that I know. Her dedication and hard work led her to this, she is very well deserving of this.”

Gilles will continue to play professionally in France and has her sights set on the Paris 2024 games. In the meantime, she is looking forward to spending some downtime at home with family and friends. She hopes her performance will inspire young girls just like how she was inspired by women like Canadian soccer star Christine Sinclair.

“I remember telling myself… that’s where I want to be I want to be in that field, I want to represent Canada. I want people to be watching me and inspired by me,” Gilles says.